iPhone developers: What they give up to get into Apple's app store

Lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation gets its hands on a copy of the iPhone developer agreement and takes exception with a few of the provisions within it.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

It should come as no surprise that Apple has a pretty strong hold on the apps that run on iPhone OS devices - which includes the iPhone, iPod Touch and, coming soon, the iPad. But just how tight is that hold?

Until now, it's been kind of a secret of sorts. Apparently, copies of the "iPhone Developer Program License Agreement" have been hard to come by - until now. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, spotting a NASA App for the iPhone, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the agreement "so that the general public could see what rules controlled the technology they could use with their phones."

What the EFF got back was a copy of the agreement (PDF) from March of last year (which has reportedly since been updated). In a post on the agency's Deeplinks blog, senior attorney Fred von Lohmann analyzes and critiques the agreement, starting with the wording that prohibits developers from making public statements about what's in it. Hard to believe? Here's the excerpt from Section 10.4 of the agreement:

The EFF notes that the version it's dissecting appears to be an older version, but goes on to break out what it calls "a few troubling highlights."

Section 7.2: Applications developed with the use of Apple's SDK must be distributed through the App store only. In addition, Apple can reject an app for any reason, even if it meets all of the requirements.

Section 8: Titled "Revocation," this section goes down a list of reasons that may pull the plug on an app. For the most part, the list of reasons is pretty much what you might expect - the app has harmful code or damages the devices and so on. What's interesting is the last provision - "Apple has reason to believe that such action is prudent or necessary" - which basically gives the company a catch-all reason.

Get alerts on Apple

Section 14: Titled "Limitation of Liability," this clause notes - with the Caps Lock key depressed - that the company will never be liable to any developer for more than $50 in damages - no matter what. In his analysis, von Lohmann offers this analysis:

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.

His conclusion is that the agreement is a "very one-sided contract, favoring Apple at every turn." I'm no expert at user agreements, though I should have a better understanding of them considering how many I've agreed to over the years. Still, some of the language seems a bit extreme and, clearly, some of it is in there so Apple can maintain control.

Of course, developers don't have to agree to the terms. But - at least in today's environment - anyone making a mobile app should have the iPhone OS at the top of its list. It is, after all, the smartphone that raised the bar and changed the game. And it appears that anyone who wants to play this game, has to play by Apple's rules.

Editorial standards