EFF dubs Apple a 'jealous feudal lord' over iPhone dev contract

Publishes iPhone developer license, blasts Apple for 'troubling' clauses

Apple Inc.'s agreement with iPhone developers contains several "troubling" clauses that paint the company as a "jealous and arbitrary feudal lord," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said yesterday.

The nonprofit digital rights advocacy group on Tuesday published a January 2010 version of the iPhone Developer License Agreement obtained from NASA through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"It's only because Apple still 'owns' the customer, long after each iPhone (and soon, iPad) is sold, that it is able to push these contractual terms on the entire universe of software developers for the platform," said Fred von Lohmann, an EFF senior staff attorney, in a message on the organization's site that accompanied the license.

The EFF has criticized Apple before for the strict control it maintains over the iPhone's hardware and the software it allows on the smartphone. Last year, for example, the group blasted Apple for claiming that "jailbreaking" an iPhone was illegal. The term jailbreaking refers to modifying an iPhone so that unauthorized software can be installed. The EFF has asked the U.S. Copyright Office to rule that installing non-Apple software on an iPhone is not a violation of copyright laws; Apple has asked the agency to deny the request.

Apple can call the shots, including inserting "troubling" sections in the developer license, because of its control over all aspects of the iPhone -- and the soon-to-be-released iPad, which will use the same software distribution model -- said von Lohmann.

The EFF questioned a number of the sections in the agreement, starting with the secrecy Apple demands of developers. The contract prohibits "public statements regarding this Agreement, its terms and conditions, or the relationship of the parties without Apple's express prior written approval, which may be withheld at Apple's discretion."

Von Lohmann called that clause "particularly strange" because the license agreement itself is not confidential as defined by Apple. "So the terms are not confidential, but developers are contractually forbidden from speaking 'publicly' about them," he said.

The license also bars developers from distributing software created with the iPhone SDK, or software developer kit, via any avenue other than the App Store; bans them from jailbreaking an iPhone or helping others do so; and lets Apple yank a program from the App Store at any time.

"Apple may cease distribution of Your Licensed Application(s) and/or Licensed Application Information or revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time," the agreement states.

Apple also can be as arbitrary as it wants in deciding what goes into the App Store, a charge developers have leveled at the company. "Apple may, in its sole discretion... reject Your Application for distribution for any reason, even if Your Application meets the Documentation and Program Requirements," reads the contract.

"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 than the PC era that came before," von Lohmann argued. "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."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.

The license agreement can be downloaded from the EFF Web site (download PDF).

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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