Electronic Frontier Foundation Examines, Stomps On iPhone Developer Agreement

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 09, 2010

More than 100,000 app developers have reportedly signed the iPhone Development Program License Agreement allowing them write software for the iPhone, however few people outside the inner circle of developers have ever seen the documents thanks to a non-disclosure clause included in the agreement.When NASA released the NASA App for iPhone, The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) seized the opportunity to get a copy from the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act.

The EFF scoured the pages and released a fascinating look at the agreement, teasing out some of its finer points for closer inspection.

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.

Kill Your App Any Time: Section 8 makes it clear that Apple can "revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time." Steve Jobs has confirmed that Apple can remotely disable apps, even after they have been installed by users. This contract provision would appear to allow that.

We Never Owe You More than Fifty Bucks: Section 14 states that, no matter what, Apple will never be liable to any developer for more than $50 in damages. That's pretty remarkable, considering that Apple holds a developer's reputational and commercial value in its hands—it's not as though the developer can reach its existing customers anywhere else. So if Apple botches an update, accidentally kills your app, or leaks your entire customer list to a competitor, the Agreement tries to cap you at the cost of a nice dinner for one in Cupertino.

You'll want to check out the EFF's post for the full scoop on what they found. For instance, there's a clause that forbids developers from publicly distributing apps that Apple has formally rejected. It essentially turns iPhone app development into a crap shoot: If your app is turned down, you have no chance to recoup your losses via unauthorized app venues like Cydia.

The agreement no doubt raises the hackles of most developers in the open source community, however, it's important to consider that Apple's Developer Agreement is opt-in. Most likely, the attitude out of Cupertino is, "If you don't like it, don't sign it."

In the end, Apple shoots itself in the foot by shutting out developers who would bring a great deal of talent to the Apple development community, if the agreement weren't so off-putting. On the other hand, seasoned and novice developers alike will always have a home in mobile app FOSS communities like Moblin and Android.

What's your take on Apple's Developer Agreement? Is it about what you expected, or are you surprised by its constraints? Share your thoughts in the comments.