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EFF releases iPhone developer license agreement


In a step towards transparency, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has made the entire iPhone Developer Program License Agreement available for the general public. This is the document that all iPhone developers must agree to when they become part of the iPhone developer program.

As EFF points out, public copies of the license agreement are pretty scarce thanks to developers being locked under a non-disclosure agreement as part of the contract. EFF used the Freedom of Information Act to get its copy from NASA, which is the version from approximately a year ago (Rev. 3-17-09). The agreement has been updated since then.

The EFF characterizes the agreement as "a very one-sided contract, favoring Apple at every turn," and that's not an overstatement. Some of the clauses and conditions in the Apple developer agreement do smack of "our field, our ball, our rules" thinking from Cupertino. Highlights from the 28-page document include:

  • A ban prohibiting developers from making public statements about the license agreement; however the contract itself is not considered "Apple Confidential Information."
  • Apps developed from Apple's SDK are only allowed to be sold through the App Store. You can't push it anywhere else (Cydia, etc.), even if Apple has rejected the app for any reason.
  • Developers are forbidden to tinker with any Apple products, not just the iPhone. This includes jailbreaking.
  • Apple is not liable for more than $50 in damages in case something happens on their end to your app. This is laughable, and I'm honestly surprised that Apple has not had a legal challenge over this yet.
  • Devices used for testing purposes could be locked into a "testing mode," and may not be able to be restored to their original condition. That is one way to brick your device.
I discussed the EFF's post with Mike Rose, and he offered some editorial comment; read on for more.

Mike's Op-Ed Soapbox Dept.

To get a sense of where the EFF is coming from, it's worth taking a moment to review the first sentence of Fred von Lohmann's post: "The entire family of devices built on the iPhone OS (iPhone, iPod Touch [sic], iPad) have been designed to run only software that is approved by Apple -- a major shift from the norms of the personal computer market." While that's a snappy lead, it's not technically accurate; all three of the devices are designed to run any compiled & signed application for the platform, and all developers may distribute ad-hoc builds of their apps to a limited number of users without Apple knowing or caring; enterprise developers (who pay $299 for the privilege) can distribute unapproved apps much more widely.

The point von Lohmann is aiming for is that the iPhone OS ecosystem and application distribution channel is almost entirely controlled by Apple; that's obvious and clear. While it's certainly "a shift from the norms of the PC market," it's far less alien to the norms of the cellphone and consumer electronics market, and none of the devices in question is a personal computer in the traditional sense of the term -- not even the iPad. There doesn't seem to be a similar degree of campaigning for openness around the Xbox Live or Wii online marketplaces, for example.

Although developers aren't supposed to talk about the program agreement, I'm sure we will be seeing and hearing quite a bit of public comment around it now that EFF has lifted the veil. The EFF post concludes with a call for developers to demand better terms and for users to support them; while it's unlikely that Apple is going to shift on this, some public feedback from prominent developers might make some difference.

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