Apple and Open Source

Richard Stallman rms at
Sat Mar 20 10:01:16 UTC 1999

After studying Apple's new source code license, the APSL, I have
concluded that it falls short of being a free software license.  It
has three fatal flaws, any of which would be sufficient to make the
software less than free.

* Disrespect for privacy.

  The APSL does not allow you to make a modified version and use it for
  your own private purposes, without publishing your changes.

* Central control.

  Anyone who releases (or even uses, other than for R&D) a modified
  version is required to notify one specific organization, which happens
  to be Apple.

* Possibly of revocation at any time.

  The termination clause says that Apple can revoke this license, and
  forbid you to keep using all or some part of the software, any time
  someone makes an accusation of patent or copyright infringement.

  In this way, if Apple declines to fight a questionable patent (or
  one whose applicability to the code at hand is questionable), you
  will not be able to have your own day in court to fight it, because
  you would have to fight Apple's copyright as well.

  Such a termination clause is especially bad for users outside the
  US, since it makes them indirectly vulnerable to the insane US
  patent system and the incompetent US patent office, which ordinarily
  could not touch them in their own countries.

Any one of these flaws makes a license unacceptable.

If these three flaws were solved, the APSL would be a free software
license with three major practical problems, reminiscent of the NPL:

* It is not a true copyleft, because it allows linking with other
files which may be entirely proprietary.

* It is unfair, since it requires you to give Apple rights
to your changes which Apple will not give you for its code.

* It is incompatible with the GNU GPL.

Of course, the major difference between the NPL and the APSL is that
the NPL *is* a free software license.  These problems are significant
in the case of the NPL because the NPL has no fatal flaws.  Would that
the same were true of the APSL.

At a fundamental level, the APSL makes a claim that, if it became
accepted, would stretch copyright powers in a dangerous way: it claims
to be able to set conditions for simply *running* the software.  As I
understand it, copyright law in the US does not permit this, except
when encryption or a license manager is used to enforce the
conditions.  It would be terribly ironic if a failed attempt at making
a free software license resulted in an effective extension of the
range of copyright power.

Aside from this, we must remember that only part of MacOS is being
released under the APSL.  Even if the fatal flaws and practical
problems of the APSL were fixed, even if it were changed into a very
good free software license, that would do no good for the other parts
of MacOS whose source code is not being released at all.  We must
not judge all of a company by just part of what they do.

Overall, I think that Apple's action is an example of the effects of
the year-old "open source" movement: of its plan to appeal to business
with the purely materialistic goal of faster development, while
putting aside the deeper issues of freedom, community, cooperation,
and what kind of society we want to live in.

Apple has grasped perfectly the concept with which "open source" is
promoted, which is "show users the source and they will help you fix
bugs".  What Apple has not grasped--or has dismissed--is the spirit of
free software, which is that we form a community to cooperate on the
commons of software.

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