iPhone app contract shows Apple is the enemy of open source

Many open source fans consider Apple a friend. But revelations about Apple's previously secret agreement with iPhone developers show that when it comes to iPhone apps, Apple is an enemy of open source. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) goes so far as to call Apple a "jealous and arbitrary feudal lord."

The EFF has published previously secret details about the contract that iPhone developers sign with Apple. It managed to get its hands on the contract by requesting it via the Freedom of Information Act from NASA, because NASA has the NASA App for iPhone. There are many disturbing things about the contract, as detailed in this Computerworld article.

Overall, though, what strikes one is how almost every aspect of the contract is anathema to the idea of open source. Start with the very fact that the terms of the contract itself are supposed to be kept secret. Here's the offending clause:

"public statements regarding this Agreement, its terms and conditions, or the relationship of the parties without Apple's express prior written approval."

What may be the worst section from the point of view of open source is a provision that the EFF says

"appears to prohibit developers from tinkering with any Apple software or technology, not just the iPhone, or 'enabling others to do so.' For example, this could mean that iPhone app developers are forbidden from making iPods interoperate with open source software."

Here is the section, Section 3.2(e):

"You will not, through use of the Apple Software, services or otherwise create any Application or other program that would disable, hack, or otherwise interfere with the Security Solution, or any security, digital signing, digital rights management, verification or authentication mechanisms implemented in or by the iPhone operating system software, iPod Touch operating system software, this Apple Software, any services or other Apple software or technology, or enable others to do so."

There's plenty more bad in the contract regarding open source. Here's what the EFF has to say about another section:

"Ban on Reverse Engineering: Section 2.6 prohibits any reverse engineering (including the kinds of reverse engineering for interoperability that courts have recognized as a fair use under copyright law), as well as anything that would 'enable others' to reverse engineer, the SDK or iPhone OS."

The EFF concludes that the Apple contract will stifle innovation and creativity, and shackle the market. Overall, it says that Apple is acting like "a jealous and arbitrary feudal lord." Here's the conclusion:

"If Apple's mobile devices are the future of computing, you can expect that future to be one with more limits on innovation and competition (or 'generativity,' in the words of Prof. Jonathan Zittrain) than the PC era that came before. It's frustrating to see Apple, the original pioneer in generative computing, putting shackles on the market it (for now) leads. If Apple wants to be a real leader, it should be fostering innovation and competition, rather than acting as a jealous and arbitrary feudal lord. Developers should demand better terms and customers who love their iPhones should back them."

If another company, such as Microsoft, every required developers to sign this kind of contract, there would be an uproar. The reaction is always far more muted when revelations of this kind come out about Apple. Maybe after this latest one, that will change.

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