Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

The Ethics of Selling GPLed Software For the iPhone

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the should-vs-does dept.

Classic Games (Games) 782

SeanCier writes "We're a small (two-person) iPhone app developer whose first game has recently been released in the App store. In the process, we've inadvertently stepped in it, bringing up a question of the GPL and free software ethics that I'm hoping the Slashdot community can help us clear up, one way or the other. XPilot, a unique and groundbreaking UNIX-based game from the early/mid nineties, was a classic in its day, but was forgotten and has been dead for years, both in terms of use and development. My college roommate and I were addicted to it at the time, even running game servers and publishing custom maps. As it's fully open source (GPLv2), and the iPhone has well over twice the graphics power of the SGI workstations we'd used in college, we decided it was a moral imperative to port it to our cellphones. In the process, we hoped, we could breathe life back into this forgotten classic (not to mention turning a years-old joke into reality). We did so, and the result was more playable than we'd hoped, despite the physical limitations of the phone. We priced it at $2.99 on the App store (we don't expect it to become the Next Big Thing, but hoped to recoup our costs — such as server charges and Apple's annual $99 developer fee), released the source on our web page, then enthusiastically tracked down every member of the original community we could find to let them know of the hoped-for renaissance. Which is where things got muddy. After it hit the App store, one of the original developers of XPilot told us he feels adamantly that we're betraying the spirit of the GPL by charging for it." Read on for the rest of Sean's question."That left us in a terrible spot. We'd thought we were contributing to the community and the legacy of this game by reviving it, not stealing from them by charging for it — and we didn't think $2.99 was unreasonable (and, again, the source is available for free from our page). It never occurred to us that one of the original creators would feel that we were betraying their contribution. We've discussed the philosophical fine points of free-as-in-speech vs. free-as-in-beer with him, and have suggested a number of remedies — such as reducing the price (it's now $1.99), profit-sharing with previous contributors, making the game free at some point in the future (once we'd at least recouped our costs), or going 'freemium' (offering a fully-functional free version plus a paid version with enhancements we added ourselves, with both GPLed of course). But in each case, the bottom line is that this developer feels the app should be free-as-in-beer period, and anything less is a sleazy betrayal of anybody that made contributions under that license. Which is a shame, because we deeply respect his work on this game and would love for him to be on board with the port — but at the same time this was months worth of work and we honestly believe we're going about this in a reasonable way.

Obviously, one of us has a non-mainstream understanding of open source ethos, but it's become clear we can't come to a consensus on which of us it is, and whether the 'spirit of the GPL' should allow selling GPLed software (especially when one wasn't the original creator of the software, but a more recent contributor). The only way to determine that, it seems, is to poll the open source community itself.

We're determined to do the right thing by the GPL and the community, and we'd like to hear opinions on this. Remember, we're not talking about whether it's practical to base a business on GPLed software, nor the best business model for doing so, and certainly not whether the source must be distributed for free (obviously it must be), but just whether charging for the binary version of an enhanced/ported version of a GPLed app (while releasing the corresponding source for free) is an ethically defensible thing to do."

cancel ×

782 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Yes (5, Informative)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909411)

Yes it's fine

Re:Yes (5, Informative)

akgoel (153089) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909473)

+1. GPL'd software can be ethically sold if the source is available. Head out to Fry's and check out the shelves of Linux distributions and OpenOffice packages available for sale even though they are free to download.

It's been like that since I can remember.

Re:Yes (5, Insightful)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909613)

Not only that, but anyone who has a problem with the price is free to download the code and put it up for a lower price, free, whatever they want. Which is, of course, the spirit of the GPL.

Even better, this GPL'd code can be used as a basis for other GPL apps. The barrier to get more software up there is lowered. I say, thanks for putting this up there! Online games that can be played over 3G are sadly rare, hopefully this makes it a little easier to put more of them up and I can finally get some excitement on the crapper.

Re:Yes (3, Informative)

firl (907479) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909721)

I don't think you understand the appstore. I can not download the source, recompile it, package it and put it up on the app store as it exactly is. If the appstore wasn't governed then maybe what you are saying would be true.

Re:Yes (2, Informative)

edmicman (830206) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909795)

But why couldn't you download the source, compile it, sign up yourself to be able to submit apps to the app store, submit your own version, and charge nothing for it? That's the whole point, no?

Re:Yes (1, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909853)

Because A) It restricts you to an -expensive- platform, x86 Mac OS X B) I believe you need to pay Apple I think like $99 to get it on the app store

Re:Yes (1)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909871)

It's still perfectly true. I also can't just download Redhat and give it away for free--I need to have a server, and an Internet connection that can handle the bandwidth. Say I don't want to do that--well, now I need to buy blank CDs, a computer to burn on, etc. The costs to distribute are just different, and honestly not significantly higher than they would be otherwise.

I challenge you to come up with a distribution method that is perfectly free that isn't speaking the individual lines of code to someone.

The only thing that doesn't have a parallel is Apple's control over whether or not you're allowed to distribute it at all. Even then, the only debate is whether a jailbroken phone counts. If not, then it does (imo, slightly) break the spirit, if so then there is no problem at all.

Re:Yes (0)

teg (97890) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909715)

GPL'd software can be ethically sold if the source is available.

Source doesn't need to be generally available either. You have an obligation to provide the ones you distribute the program to with the source code - either included, or upon request. They must be made aware of their rights. You have no obligation to a third party. If the ones you sell the product to distribute the program, they are the ones with the obligations for the new set of licensees.

Re:Yes (5, Insightful)

whiting (163605) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909505)

Agreed, If you've provided the link to your site in the released game with the information that the source is available, then you've complied with the GPL. If you're really bothered, then donate the profits to an Open Source game development. But personally, I think $2 is a perfectly reasonable fee for a decent game. If I don't want to pay the fee, I can grab the source and compile it for myself.

Re:Yes (0, Redundant)

Nikker (749551) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909599)

I can grab the source and compile it for myself.

Not with out a mac and a $99 devel fee.

Re:Yes (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909735)

Don't forget your $99 development fee, you cocksmoking tea baggers!

- Steven Jobs

Re:Yes (1)

poolecl (170874) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909861)

Or you could port it as a jailbreak app, duh! Another benefit of the spftware being open. Besides, I am sure there are many other open source software tied to proprietary development environments. If you don't like it you are free to untie it!

Re:Yes (1)

Andreas Mayer (1486091) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909621)

If I don't want to pay the fee, I can grab the source and compile it for myself.

Well, yes. But you can't install it on your iPhone unless you jailbreaked the device or you pay the yearly $99 developer fee.

Just saying.

Re:Yes (3, Insightful)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909727)

I believe you can download the iPhone SDK and run it on the included emulator without paying anything.

But I mean, you could make the same sort of argument about GPL'd software for Windows. You need to pay for the Windows license before you can run it. The application code is free; the platform is another matter entirely.

Re:Yes (0)

masshuu (1260516) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909847)

Yes but windows is a 1 time fee, and it is usually added into to original devices price. Even then, you can go under the law and run a pirated version of XP in a VM under linux and not pay anything.

This on the other hand, you pay for the original device, and then you have to pay to release software for it. If you want to jailbreak it, you still have to buy the original device.

Re:Yes (5, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909525)

On a related note, it's also absolutely fine for someone else with an iPhone developer license to download the source code and put it on the app store for free.

Re:Yes (4, Funny)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909761)

Good point! In particular, you can tell the whining original dev that he can pony up 99 bucks to free his app if he finds this so important.

Re:Yes (2, Insightful)

benob (1390801) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909771)

That also makes the point that you *need* to pay for a mac and a developer license if you want to compile the application for your iphone. You are jailed once again.

Re:Yes (4, Funny)

heson (915298) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909537)

If you feel bad about getting filthy rich, use the money to hire coders (prolly yourself) to port more stuff and maybe even develop new stuff. GPL is all about win-win business, if someone think it's too expensive they fork.

No ethical problem at all (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909419)

This is a retarded issue, there is nothing in the GPL to prohibit charging whatever the fuck you want as as long as the code freely available.
There's no "spirit of the GPL", that is just a made up construct, like saying the Constitution is "living document".
It either violates the terms or it doesn't.

Next.

Re:No ethical problem at all (4, Interesting)

Animaether (411575) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909527)

For now, anyway.

Remember when TiVo went by the letter of the GPL (v2) but not the apparent spirit? A new section of GPL v3 was born.

I'm not saying that in the future, a GPLvN -will- exist that includes terms regarding sale of GPL(vN)'ed software - but in the given case, why wouldn't there be.

Sure, the source to this game is available. Hooray for every other iPhone developer. However, if you're not a developer, you can't just install it on your device even if you compile it.

In addition, -if- a developer were to pick up the code and compile it.. they, in turn, can't distribute it outside of the iTunes store. ( I seem to recall Apple being okay with source code distribution when it concerns GPL - but a Google search seems to bring up lots of (old) blog posts about it being prohibited. )

On top of that, there's probably little chance that it would be accepted into the iTunes store, seeing as it's a 1:1 duplicate of an existing app.

Re:No ethical problem at all (3, Interesting)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909571)

Remember when TiVo went by the letter of the GPL (v2) but not the apparent spirit? A new section of GPL v3 was born.

And do you remember the huge, long, debate over whether what Tivo did really *did* violate the "spirit"? I don't think it did, and I think the GPLv3 is an overreaction to a complete non-issue. Even if you do acknowledge there is such a thing as a "spirit" to the contract, you still have to recognize that there are as many different interpretations of that "spirit" as their are users of it.

Re:No ethical problem at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909623)

Why can't they distribute outside of the iTunes store? Ever heard of Cydia? Wolf3D was on Cydia practically the same day it was released in the app store (maybe before, depending on the approval process).

Re:No ethical problem at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909609)

there is nothing in the GPL to prohibit charging whatever the fuck you want as as long as the code freely available.

Damn straight. In fact, if you feel the game is worth $2.99, you should charge $2.99 for it. As others have said, many other companies have based their business model on selling GPL software, so why can't you?

 

If he keeps pressing the issue, you point him to gnu.org as mentioned below and tell him to bugger off.

Re:No ethical problem at all (0, Flamebait)

Lazlo Woodbine (54822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909693)

Right. And what does the constitution say about black people again?

Re:No ethical problem at all (2, Insightful)

J. T. MacLeod (111094) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909815)

He's talking about reinterpreting the document at whim.

The US Constitution was ratified through the proper channels to rectify this. It wasn't just a matter of some one saying "it's a living document, so we'll just interpret it to mean whatever we want it to say".

Simple (5, Informative)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909435)

You're not doing anything wrong. You've not in violation of any licenses. By choosing the GPL, the pissy developer:
1) Already answered the question of whether people can charge for it (the answer: yes)
2) Gave up control of the project; you could just call yours a "fork" and he'd have to shut up anyway

So, in short, go tell him to piss up a rope.

First post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909437)

Fp ethics are not wüst they used to be!

It's a perfectly ethical thing to do (1)

delirium_9 (26055) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909439)

The GPL does not say you can't charge for software. You can charge. Someone else can take your source code and give it away for free. All is fair.

Charge but continue to contribute (5, Insightful)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909441)

It's fine to charge for a product that is based on a GPL'd project as long as you are contributing back to GPL'd project. That is what the GPL is about. Nothing says you can't make money. Redhat does it every day and no one complains. And CentOS came along and created a free version of Redhat but it really didn't impact Redhats business model.

Re:Charge but continue to contribute (3, Interesting)

micheas (231635) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909667)

Lots of people complain about Redhat charging every day.

As for CentOS, it is probably core to Redhat's business, as no body is going to develop an app on Fedora, and deploy on RHEL as you would have to retest everything, may as well use Ubuntu as RHEL if you are moving off Fedora, Ubuntu might even be easier to move to.

CentOS is what people that think they might have to deploy on RHEL for production use for skunkworks projects.

Re:Charge but continue to contribute (1)

Macka (9388) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909867)

Lots of people complain about Redhat charging every day

Rubbish. Redhat target small business through to enterprise customers, not the home hacker, and (strangely enough) business people place greater value on something if they have to pay for it than if they don't. They might want to be charged less, but that's a different kettle of fish.

Re:Charge but continue to contribute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909697)

It's fine to charge for a product that is based on a GPL'd project.

period. "as long as you are contributing back" has absolutely nothing to do with it, legally (ie, by the terms of the GPL) nor ethically. The GPL is not about contributing back.

Totally agree (1)

Macka (9388) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909827)

I was going to bring up Redhat as an example too but you beat me to it. Totally agree with you.

Bullshit (2, Informative)

49152 (690909) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909443)

There is nothing wrong with charging for GPLed software as long as you provide the source code for free to anyone who asks.

The GPL is about keeping the source code available or to put it another way: Free speech, not necessarily free beer!

Re:Bullshit (1)

volxdragon (1297215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909681)

There is nothing wrong with charging for GPLed software as long as you provide the source code for free to anyone who asks.

I thought you only had to provide source to those that you provided binaries to...minor quibble, but he would only have to give the source to people who bought the app, not just ANYONE who asked for it...(although as others have said, there is absolutely NOTHING to prevent someone from buying the app, getting the source, recompiling, and then placing it on iTunes for free, which is the way it should be)

then they picked the wrong license. (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909445)

Well then the original developers picked the wrong license, didn't they? It's not your fault.

Ask RMS and his acolytes about it. After they ask for your penance for using the evil Apple Store, I'm sure they'd rather you donate the $ to FSF, than to the original developers. :)

The GPL is a very clear license. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909447)

You can charge for the software.

If the original developers have problem with that they should have used a different license.

I don't think there is any moral problem here.

Here is how GPL does allow (5, Informative)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909449)

Those people are idiots!!!

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DoesTheGPLAllowMoney [gnu.org]

Does the GPL allow me to charge a fee for downloading the program from my site?

        Yes. You can charge any fee you wish for distributing a copy of the program. If you distribute binaries by download, you must provide âoeequivalent accessâ to download the sourceâ"therefore, the fee to download source may not be greater than the fee to download the binary.

You did everything right, and nothing wrong. I am more thinking that the people who are angry are jealous that they did not think of it first.

this seems like the "TiVo" situation to me (2, Informative)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909565)

I think that section is more to cover "transport fees". That is, the fee to actually download it, not to buy it.

Besides, they're not downloading it from his site, they're downloading it from Apple's site. So Apple's 30% cut is covered by this section, not the developer's 70%.

I personally am quite certain this situation is equivalent to the one that brought about the GPLv3. In this case, the source is given out but it's useless to most people in terms of recreating the actual binaries (because you cannot make the binaries runnable, only Apple can, by signing them).

So it would be (I would thing) unethical in RMS' mind and therefore presumably against the spirit of the GPL. It's quite likely even giving away the program on the app store would also be unethical, because you still cannot modify it, recompile it and run it unless you pay Apple $100.

Of course, this code isn't GPLv3, it's GPLv2, so these guys likely aren't in any legal trouble, they're within the letter of the rules, just outside the spirit of them.

Re:this seems like the "TiVo" situation to me (3, Interesting)

Shisha (145964) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909701)

I can see where your arguments are coming from and I think your opinion makes sense.

However anyone can download the code from their website and compile it on the iphone simulator (which, together with XCode is a free download from Apple). You could argue that you still need a non-free os to run it which won't make RMS happy, but then again on a PC you more often than not have a non free BIOS that's needed to run the OS. And pretty much any computer has a non-free hardware.

Because of this, and other reasons, in my opinion there's nothing wrong with selling a GPL program on the Itunes store as long as anyone who bought it can get the source code.

Re:this seems like the "TiVo" situation to me (1)

Stupendoussteve (891822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909733)

"any fee you wish for distributing a copy of the program" The source is available. You may charge *any fee you wish* for distributing a compiled binary. It does not appear this is only meant to cover transport fees or else it would be limited; you could distribute via free email and still charge any fee you wish. The fact is you can modify it (with source provided), recompile it and run it, but you may have a hard time doing so on the Apple platform. There is nothing stopping someone from grabbing the source, modifying it, and porting it to Android.

Re:this seems like the "TiVo" situation to me (1)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909793)

No, the transport fee you've heard about is what you can charge to distribute the source. That's right, you can charge to give people GPL'd software's source--it's just more complicated to do it that way, so people generally don't, but distributing the source to anyone who requests it for $5 or something is perfectly legal. Charging, say, $500 wouldn't be legal, because there's no way it costs that much to send out a CD.

Re:this seems like the "TiVo" situation to me (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909891)

I think that section is more to cover "transport fees". That is, the fee to actually download it, not to buy it.

In the latest version of the GPL FAQ, they specifically say that the right to sell software is one of the fundamental rights of free software, and link to a longer explanation [gnu.org] .

Some quotes from that:

Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If this seems surprising to you, please read on.

Since free software is not a matter of price, a low price isn't more free, or closer to free. So if you are redistributing copies of free software, you might as well charge a substantial fee and make some money. Redistributing free software is a good and legitimate activity; if you do it, you might as well make a profit from it.

Except for one special situation, the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) has no requirements about how much you can charge for distributing a copy of free software. You can charge nothing, a penny, a dollar, or a billion dollars. It's up to you, and the marketplace, so don't complain to us if nobody wants to pay a billion dollars for a copy

Re:Here is how GPL does allow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909615)

Most open sourced programs I've run across are free, but that doesn't mean the license requires that it be free. A previous post here quoted the GPL Q&A on whether you can charge money or not. You can. And it's not wrong to do so just because much of the open sourced software is free. You're ding the right thing, and I don't think you even needed to drop the price, unless you feel it will make a difference in sales to your benefit.

lame dev. GPL allows this doesn't it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909453)

Sounds like an OSS zealot who can't see the wood for the tree's tbh. iirk GPL allows you to charge reasonable distribution/medium costs as long as you keep the source freely available, which you are.

Tell him he can pay for the Apple Dev fee, and bandwidth then you'll gladly let it go totally free. Otherwise he should stfu and appreciate your hard work and time doing the port, and your full compliance with the GPL.

Source code on webpage satisfies it (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909463)

It isn't possible to distribute the source code with the app purchase, making the source code available on your website satisfies the GPL. If you wanted to go a little extra you could put a link to the source code in the credits.

Lots of "GPL" software is sold.

Absolutely fine with me (1)

Ogun (101578) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909475)

Presumably you spent time on making it work on the iPhone in the first place, why not be paid for that.

Also, if this was against the "spirit" of GPL, why are people not complaining about commercial distributions?

OSS != FOSS (1)

Hunter0000 (1600071) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909479)

There isn't an 'F' in the first one for a reason. You're doing absolutely nothing wrong.

The original developer is full of it, GPL has nothing to do with selling a product and everything to do with the open-sourcing of it's code.

Re:OSS != FOSS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909625)

There isn't an 'F' in the first one for a reason.

Um. GPL = FOSS, or F/LOSS, or whatever. But it's free as in freedom, not free as in gratis binaries. Meaning you need to let anyone else copy your source code and build system and sell their own copy.

Re:OSS != FOSS (1)

Hunter0000 (1600071) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909893)

Lets not get dragged into an idiotic discussion about the various meanings of 'free'.

The point is the game's source is open, but the binaries are not free. This makes it OSS not FOSS.

GPL (V2) only requires (ok, so this is a major simplification) that the work be OS, but has no baring on the level of 'free' the binaries have, if any at all.

Of course, as others have mentioned, an iPhone developer could download the source and make a FOSS version.

Nice (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909481)

I didn't realize slashdot editors will run user-submitted advertising as a story. I thank you in advance for the sales when you run a similar non-story about my iPhone app.

The Spirit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909487)

It was my understanding that the spirit of the GPL was to enable sharing of information and knowledge. First, did you use code form the original? If so, you may need to release the code to the public as part of the GPL. Other than that, there is nothing wrong with selling it, but if everyone can compile their own version, the usual outcome is a zero cost. In this case, there is a barrier to entry, so I don't think the economics will work the same here. Free as in speech, not beer.

Kudos to you and thanks for bringing the game back (2, Insightful)

neo (4625) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909501)

Sour grapes are what that man is feeling. He wishes either that he could have done what you have done or that is probably hoping you ask if you can mollify him by giving him some money. No matter the case, he is wrong. There's absolutely nothing wrong with making money from GPL'd software... but you have to offer up the code. So:

Offer up the code. Where can I download it? Your code, BTW. The Apple app code.

Re:Kudos to you and thanks for bringing the game b (3, Informative)

meza (414214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909653)

The source-code seem to be downloadable http://7b5labs.com/xpilotiphone [7b5labs.com]

Re:Kudos to you and thanks for bringing the game b (3, Informative)

meza (414214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909843)

Also looking at the videos from that web-page it seems to me that the developers have contributed significantly to the project, especially in coming up with innovative controls for the game suiting the iphone.

To me the whole thing also seems pretty clear, they are not doing anything wrong at all.

No Worries! (5, Insightful)

lancejjj (924211) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909507)

one of the original developers of XPilot told us he feels adamantly that we're betraying the spirit of the GPL by charging for it

No, you're not.

You're betraying what he feels is the spirit of the GPL. However, the GPL was specifically designed to allow for such charging. If he didn't like the GPL, he and the other "original" developers should have chosen a different license. The fact that he didn't understand what rights he was transferring by choosing the GPL is his own fault.

I appreciate that this developer is put off by your fees. However, he is free to take your efforts (the GPL'd code you've published) and release the application for free.

I think you've gone above and beyond by hearing the guy out and expressing your concerns. However, you're following the rules HE set out.

Straight from the horse's mouth (3, Informative)

vivaoporto (1064484) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909539)

Does the GPL allow me to sell copies of the program for money? [gnu.org]

Yes, the GPL allows everyone to do this. The right to sell copies [gnu.org] is part of the definition of free software. Except in one special situation, there is no limit on what price you can charge. (The one exception is the required written offer to provide source code that must accompany binary-only release.)

Why was this posted on Slashdot anyway. They may call programmers rude, but this is clearly a case to RTFM before asking.

Re:Straight from the horse's mouth (1)

rossifer (581396) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909641)

He wants an open and public discussion about exactly this situation so that he can point the whiner to it and show consensus on what the GPL does and doesn't say. Smart, actually.

The money is not the issue (5, Interesting)

MeanMF (631837) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909541)

If you don't want other people making money from your work, then you shouldn't release anything under the GPL. That's easy...

But is it legal to release any iPhone application under the GPL? Apple puts restrictions on what you can do with the application once you've downloaded it - i.e. you're not allowed to redistribute or modify it. Unless all of the copyright holders of the GPL code give their permission to release it under these more restrictive terms, that be a violation wouldn't it?

Re:The money is not the issue (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909797)

The GPL applies to the source. Not the binary.

The only connection to the binary it has is that you must make the source available for free to anyone who buys/downloads the binary.

Naturally, they may turn around and reproduce the binary themselves and not have any of the app store restrictions on it.

Reminds of this story (2, Interesting)

Norsefire (1494323) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909547)

Back in 2006, the UK Government confiscated Firefox CDs from a company that was selling them [slashdot.org] . A UK Trading standards officer contacted the Mozilla Foundation informing them of this. When Mozilla's rep replied saying it wasn't a violation of Mozilla's copyright the officer flipped their lid and couldn't understand how this could possibly be. Some people just don't get it.

Re:Reminds of this story (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909711)

The "UK Government" didn't confiscate anything. It's not clear that any confiscation actually happened. It's not some dimwitted action of central government. If you read the letter in the linked Times article [timesonline.co.uk] :

'They had encountered businesses which were selling copies of Firefox, and wanted to confirm that this was in violation of our licence agreements before taking action against them.'.

BEFORE. The only mention of confiscation is: "we would like her to return any confiscated CDs".

It was one trading standards officer. There are thousands of them all around the country. It was an honest misapplication of a policy which stops pirated software/DVDs/music being sold at town markets and small stores around the country, and it was confusion that was corrected. No lid was flipped, she just got a bit over-official. The officer in question was just doing her job and experiencing some confusion when encountering a new (to her) business model. The problem was resolved.

Go ahead and charge (1)

taoye (1456551) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909555)

Of course you can charge for it... you put time and work into it and you deserve to get paid for it. You haven't broken the spirit of the GPL or any of that crap. Methinks this dev is simply unhappy that you are making some money off of his work, even though you put some work into it to. I guess this is where we see the divide between open source and free software.

Your price is fine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909561)

You spent months developing this game? Of course it's okay to charge for it!

Only in the IT industry have we decided that our work should be free. Why we developers think it's "normal" to not be paid for our work, is completely beyond me. I wonder what the reaction would be from, say, an engineer who is told he shouldn't charge for his work, or any other worker?

is this free advertising? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909567)

did a 1000 geeks just go buy this app now?

Re:is this free advertising? (1)

Norsefire (1494323) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909579)

Nope, just one geek.

1000 times.

Don't even see the point of arguing (4, Insightful)

kylemonger (686302) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909583)

If the original developer wants the iPhone app to be free, he can take your source, pay Apple the $99 SDK nuisance fee and list the app for free at the app store. The GPL permits this and such undercutting is the main deterrent to trying to sell GPL'd apps. No scarcity = no leverage to maintain your prices.

The Charging is fine... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909589)

But that doesn't mean you may not be violating the GPL in other ways. For example, how are you distributing the source? If you are just putting it on your web site, you have made modifications, and the original license is GPLv2, then you are violating the GPL by putting the app in the app store. There are three ways (see clause 3 of the GPL) in which you can comply with the provision to make the code available:
  1. You can include it with the binary. This is typically the easiest way.
  2. You can provide an offer, good for three years, to provide the source on a physical medium for not more than the cost of sending it.
  3. If you did not make any changes, you may provide a copy of the offer that you received when you got it.

If you are distributing it on the app store, without including the source code, then you are violating the GPL. Remember, the GPL does not require you to make the source available to the public, it requires you to make the source available to your customers.

Re:The Charging is fine... (1)

mpcjans (1258784) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909679)

Partially quoting 3a might make it look like you are right, however the whole clause is:

a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

Providing a link to download the source is a customarily used medium for software interchange, and thus perfectly fine,].

Re:The Charging is fine... (2, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909841)

You'd have a hard time arguing that a URL was a medium. The FSF's lawyers agree, which is why this clause was rewritten to allow download links in v3.

Clever...they figured out step 2! (5, Funny)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909591)

Step 1: Port game
Step 2: General controversy over game
Step 3: Profit!

Charging does not go against the spirit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909593)

You are doing nothing wrong and in fact I think your doing everything right. This is one of the ways I think free software really works well. People pay for the convenience and I would "love" more applications to do this. Just because i want to know I have the ability to modify a program doesn't mean I really want to or that I don't want to pay for the continued development of the program. I don't have the time to contribute to every piece of software I use but I don't want to use software that doesn't respect my freedoms.

I think the knee-jerk consensus has it (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909611)

Yes! By all means sell! If ever there were a case where making a few bucks was appropriate, it is true in this case. After all, not only do you stand to make a few buck, but you also maintain some liability if/when the people want a refund.... remember, Apple doesn't need to return their portion... YOU do. The risk of actually losing money on this is all on you. So because there is some risk, there should also be some reward. And as long as you are providing the source, you're in complete compliance.

Evil Genius (0, Offtopic)

mindbrane (1548037) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909619)

So you're selling a revived game and in the most self deprecating manner front page it's availability on /. where it's most likely to garner the most exposure to the audience most likely to buy it. All the while dismissing any thoughts of making a buck. I salute you sirs, you're evil genius marketing talents are truly evil. Day job in MS marketing?

The answer is in the GPL FAQ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909627)

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DoesTheGPLAllowMoney [gnu.org]

  Does the GPL allow me to sell copies of the program for money?

        Yes, the GPL allows everyone to do this. The right to sell copies is part of the definition of free software. Except in one special situation, there is no limit on what price you can charge. (The one exception is the required written offer to provide source code that must accompany binary-only release.)

    See also http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html [gnu.org]

Unfair (1)

Celeste R (1002377) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909629)

It's not unreasonable to ask for a way to recoup your development/porting costs.

It's also not unreasonable to try to abide by the wishes of the development team.

I'm guessing that the original development team already have stable jobs -- do you? is your freelancing consistent? I'd venture "not completely"
I'm also guessing that this individual developer feels that the only business model for Linux is to make free software, and screw any bottom-line business model.

This specific developer in question sounds like he got burnt by focusing on the development of xpilot at the sacrifice of his finances. While I admire his support of the community to such lengths, it's not fair to think that everyone should make the same mistakes he made.

You can do a multitude of things. The single BIGGEST thing you can do for this project is bring this back into the public eye, which you're doing now. A microtransaction of a few dollars isn't going to break anyone's bank (compare free Linux to commercial UNIX, and it's a very clear distinction). I feel that you're on the right track myself.

DO keep the source code available though. You're looking at this as under a VENDOR paradigm.

This is trickier than it sounds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909645)

In theory the app is free because you can just compile the code and run it yourself. However, Apple does not allow that. You must either spend $99 for a developer license (and probably buy a Mac to compile it on) or get somebody who has a license build a copy keyed for your iPhone.

This means that anybody who wants to run Xpilot has to either spend $2 to get it from the app store or $99 to run it from source -- which makes the source code a lot more expensive than the app. And that may actually not be in the spirit of the GPL.

Of course you could jailbreak your iPhone and run any damn thing you want, up until Apple decides you're breaking the DMCA and sues you. So I don't consider that a valid option either.

dom

Re:This is trickier than it sounds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909699)

You can build it and run it in the SDK emulator for free, except that you need a computer.. and electricity!

Charge 'em! (5, Insightful)

dkf (304284) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909665)

Did you know that the FSF charges for GPL software if you buy a copy from them? (Yes, you can also get it for nothing. That's not the point.) So don't feel bad about charging. Yes, give the source away too; if someone else decides to put a version built from the same source in the App Store, they can (assuming they get it past Apple's asinine guardianship, of course).

Ethics were not violated. (5, Interesting)

MrMacman2u (831102) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909705)

IMHO, Ethics isn't the issue here. Someone either misunderstood or doesn't want to accept that GPL'd software can have a price put on it... So long as the source is available for free or less than the cost of the binary (I prefer free of course ^_^).

I checked out the authors site and lo! There was the source code and I even downloaded a copy for good measure.

There really isn't any reason that someone who has put a lot of work and money into building/porting/developing/fixing a GPL application can't charge for the complied binary other than having to listen to those who don't wish to pay and are far too lazy/technically lacking to compile their own from the source.

The only person "in the wrong" here was the one complaining.

I own a copy of XPilot for the iPhone as I couldn't resist the classical goodness. The author put a LOT of work into making it exceptionally polished and playable on a platform that it wasn't intended for. Not to mention (as the author did) the cost of development.

That was $3 gladly spent. As much as I rely on free apps, I don't much mind spending >10 on REALLY good portable device apps and >20 on desktop apps here and there. The thing is, they need to be significantly better than average to be "worth buying" in my mind. This is why I actually donate to authors of apps that are one, two or even three cuts above.

Show them some love people and perhaps fewer developers would charge you for the pleasure of initially using it in the first place!

Emacs used to be distributed for a Price (1)

unmadindu (524636) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909709)

At this point, people began wanting to use GNU Emacs, which raised the question of how to distribute it. Of course, I put it on the anonymous ftp server on the MIT computer that I used. (This computer, prep.ai.mit.edu, thus became the principal GNU ftp distribution site; when it was decommissioned a few years later, we transferred the name to our new ftp server.) But at that time, many of the interested people were not on the Internet and could not get a copy by ftp. So the question was, what would I say to them?
I could have said, âoeFind a friend who is on the net and who will make a copy for you.â Or I could have done what I did with the original PDP-10 Emacs: tell them, âoeMail me a tape and a SASE, and I will mail it back with Emacs on it.â But I had no job, and I was looking for ways to make money from free software. So I announced that I would mail a tape to whoever wanted one, for a fee of $150. In this way, I started a free software distribution business, the precursor of the companies that today distribute entire Linux-based GNU systems.

This is from http://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html [gnu.org] - and the person referred to is Richard Stallman.

Please do continue selling the software - as long as you provide the source code to anyone who demands for it, you are within the limits set by the GPL, legally, morally and ethically.

Compiler clause missing from FOSS licenses (1)

dybvandal (535813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909713)

To me one of the general short comings of FOSS licenses is the question of the compiler. To me something is only truely FOSS if along with the binary I get I also have access to a compiler that is available under a FOSS license and the compiler flags. Anything else may be readable in source, but simply not really enabling me to reproduce the binary in the original or in a slightly altered way.

"Spirit of GPL" (2, Informative)

Thalaric (197339) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909729)

On the "spirit of GPL" issue, the developer is wrong. As long as I can remember RMS has encouraged companies to sell GPL'd software.

http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9911/08/freedom.GNU.idg/index.html

I've done business in the world of free software for 14 years now, ever since I began selling tapes of GNU Emacs in 1985, and I agree with Jamie Zawinski (as quoted in Stig's article) that free software and greed are not incompatible -- at least, most of the time they can coexist. But greed alone will not protect our freedom. There are occasions where defending freedom requires a special effort, an effort that requires a motivation beyond material gain.

Yes, but.... (1)

Sjefsmurf (1414991) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909753)

Only if the complete source for what you are selling is available to everybody (and you state that it already is).

If all that is good, I think the response should really be that if you need to recover your cost, then you should of course be able to do that. However if anyone wants wants to make binaries available for free, then they can always compile the source themselves and make a free app available on app store or offer it through on of the installers available on jailbroken phones.

The GPL specifically allows sale (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909767)

Yes [gnu.org] ; Free software does not mean gratis: If the developer claims charging for the software violates the spirit of the GPL they are mistaken. They may feel it violates the spirit of the community around the software, or the spirit in which they themselves gave away the software at no charge, but this doesn't mean you are doing anything wrong by charging; $3 is such a trifle compared to other costs of operating the iPhone, that it doesn't seem you are doing anything unreasonable -- although a lower price might encourage more buyers, and lead to more cash for your service in the long run.

You have to permit free redistribution, that doesn't mean you have to distribute it free yourself. You are actually providing a service that you deserve to be paid for, in fact, that you deserve to profit from. The fact the original creator didn't charge for the distribution doesn't mean you don't have a right to charge for the service you are adding.

As long as you are careful to follow the terms requiring distribution of source and notifying users of the app that it is GPL'ed software, using (for example) a banner when the application is first started.

whyphone? (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909777)

YouTube [youtube.com]

Your Ethics look fine to me (4, Insightful)

jeremy_white (598942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909779)

The GPL, as many have commented, does not preclude or even discourage charging money for the software. The primary ethical thrust of the GPL is that your users must have unbridled freedom to use, modify, and redistribute the software you have provided to them. You appear to have met that cleanly.

But, as a considerate human being, you've also taken the time to consider the original authors personal wishes. That's a gracious thing to do, but obviously it's now landed you in an awkward position. Candidly, I'm with you; I'm rather biased, and think that folks deserve to receive compensation for their work on Free Software. However, it's up to you to decide how far to go in satisfying their personal wishes. So, it remains an interesting ethical dilemma, but I think it has nothing to do with the GPL.

Of course, if this is all a clever marketing stunt, and you're in cahoots with the original developer to create a fake controversy, then my hat is off to you, sir. :-).

Cheers,
Jeremy

On compiler costs (1)

jd142 (129673) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909787)

Ok, so the compiler costs money. It costs money to purchase the computer that software runs on. What is the first step of running or compiling any piece of software? Purchase a computer. It seems wrong to get hung up on the the price of purchasing the compiler software while ignoring the investment costs of simply purchasing a computer and internet access. Or in this case the cost of purchasing an iPhone.

There doesn't seem to be anything requiring the compiler to be free.

Spirit of the GPL (1)

blitzkrieg3 (995849) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909791)

There are too many people answering wheather this is legally possible and not the fundamental question on wheather it's right to go against the lead developers wishes. The reason the GPL was created was not to form communities that want free things, but more to ensure that you have the right to change whatever you want; port to other platforms for example. For better or worse this "freedom" already costs $99 on the iPhone, but enables other developers with cool ideas to add them as soon as they come in. That is what the GPL is protecting.

The reason most GPL programs are free as in beer as well is that the cost of compiling is negligable. Interstingly, in this case it is not. The average person makes out much better by buying a copy from you then compiling the source. If the developer expets you to go into debt to offer this game, he is out of his mind. I think profit sharing is the best model personally, but I have trouble believeing that this guy is not amenable to letting you sell the game at cost.

If he wants the game to be free, let him go through the trouble of maintaing the servers and recompiling for the iPhone. See how he likes paying money every month in order to keep with the "spirit of the GPL".

GPL answers (1)

dandart (1274360) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909801)

To sell GPL'd software: OK. To link GPL'd software with non-GPL'd software (e.g. Iphone libraries) : Not OK to distribute. Verify if you are linking with non-GPL, and if so, change the GPL to something else, perhaps BSD or MIT.

Yes you are violating the spirit of the GPL (1)

Alterion (925335) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909811)

Your software was released under the GPL v2. According to the FSF compliance officer (http://www.linux.com/archive/feature/131752) - While the new provisions fo the gpl v3 would be violated by the app store code signing the GPL v2 does not contain such a provision and therefore you are not in violation of the license. As pointed out the fact that you are "selling" the software clearly does not place you in violation of the GPL. However, as the FSF point out - it is not currently possible for you to produce "free" software - according to the FSF definition of the term, for the iphone as it does not meet the 4 requirements of free software - an end user cannot modify your software and run it on their own iphone without also signing up for an apple developer account. because of this you are very much in violation of the spirit if not the letter of the GPL - you must decide whether you want to continue in this regard. If you wish to continue the project in the spirit of the GPL i would suggest you port it to jailbroken iphones and remove it from the app store

If you believe in the "spirit of the GPL"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909813)

... then you shouldn't be writing applications for the iPhone, which is probably the most corrupt, closed, and bullshit platform ever invented.

Can you release something for free in the appstore (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909819)

I thought the minimium price was 99 cents, in which case there is no practical way to distribute it to the public (who dont have jailbroken phones nor will pay the developer fee) for free. So IMO the original developer needs to suck it up.

Richard Stallman agrees with you (2, Informative)

rgmoore (133276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909829)

Richard Stallman, the original author of the GPL, agrees with you. To quote what the Free Software Foundation says about it [fsf.org] :

Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can...

Since free software is not a matter of price, a low price isn't more free, or closer to free. So if you are redistributing copies of free software, you might as well charge a substantial fee and make some money. Redistributing free software is a good and legitimate activity; if you do it, you might as well make a profit from it...

Distributing free software is an opportunity to raise funds for development. Don't waste it!

(Emphasis is in the original.) So not only does the FSF think that it's acceptable to charge money for GPLed software, they strongly encourage it.

Spirit of GPL (1)

kurtdriver (897294) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909833)

I don't think this guy understands the GPL. Its essence is that you give up control of your software after the release. The beauty of that is that everyone gets freedom. He can post the earlier versions on his site, which, I gather he hasn't been doing, you can add to it, and I can download or not as I choose.

Technical GPL violation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909857)

You're technically violating the GPL by having the binary on the App Store and not having the source on the App Store. Since they are not in the same place, they may not have the same availability and a long time in the past Stallman has said that they must be on the same server. Ideally you should bundle the source and put it up on the App Store as well.

Practically you are fine since if someone did sue you and was able to explain the issue to the judge, the judge might possibly order you to make the source available on the App Store, but that would be about all.

The issue of charging money for GPLed software is a red herring, and the dev kit is ok since the GPL explicitly allows system libraries and compilers to not be distributed with the source.

IIRC, Ok with the GPL, NOT apple... (2, Interesting)

nweaver (113078) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909887)

IIRC, the apple developer agreement basically specifices that your code is effectively under NDA, because you are under an NDA to access the API etc.

Thus you can't legally do GPL code for the iPhone: you can't release the source under Apple's liscence, but you must under the GPL.

Another way to look at it (1)

skwirl42 (262355) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909889)

If you want to look at it from a different angle, you are charging for the distribution of the app. In order to distribute the app, you incurred certain costs. Apple incurs costs distributing it as well. I'm sure they take a cut of your app's selling price, and so, in essence, you are also compensating them for their effort.

My biggest complaint about the Google app store (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909895)

I try hard to only use Open Source software for a wide variety of reasons. I'm definitely only willing to pay for Open Source, except for games. The Google app store does not make it possible for me to exercise this preference in a reasonable way. Licensing is not a required field for someone to fill out, and the phone shows you nothing about it.

One thing I really like about the GPL is that it is perfectly fine to charge for GPL software. I think many people forget this, or are too cautious about business models surrounding it. A lot of people want to pay for things because it makes them feel like they're getting something valuable and/or because they want to support the developer.

I thought the google app store represented an ideal environment to test this out models in which people pay for FOSS applications. But they blew it by not telling people how the software they're paying for is licensed.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>