GPL software is not allowed onto the Apple App Store.

The FSF shows how the GPL2 is not compatible with the App Store terms of service.

Along the same lines, we'll be talking about GPLv2 specifically in this blog post, since that's the license at issue, but this analysis would apply to all versions of the GNU GPL and AGPL. Section 6 of GPLv2 says:

Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein.

(Emphasis added.) This last sentence is a crucial part of the strong copyleft in the GPL and AGPL: it prevents distributors from using separate legal agreements, like Terms of Service or NDAs, to take away the freedoms that the license is supposed to grant. This is the license condition that Apple is violating when it distributes GPL-covered software through the App Store.

In the App Store Terms of Service, the programs that you download from the App Store are called "Products" (the definition is in section 4). In section 9(b), the Terms set out "Usage Rules" for the software:

You acknowledge that Products contain security technology that limits your usage of Products to the following applicable Usage Rules, and, whether or not Products are limited by security technology, you agree to use Products in compliance with the applicable Usage Rules.

The Terms go on to list the specific usage rules. In effect, the Usage Rules do the same thing as Apple's Digital Restrictions Management—narrowly limiting what you can do with the software—but the method is different: they work legally instead of technologically. Rules (i) and (iii) say that you are required to accept the Terms of Service to use the software, and that you may only install the software on five approved devices. These rules are exactly the kind of "further restrictions" that are prohibited by the GPL: they limit your ability to use and distribute the software.

Some people have pointed out that the App Store Terms of Service say that a separate license to the software is provided to you by the developer, and that's true. But the Usage Rules are imposed on you no matter how the software is licensed. The Terms themselves make this explicit this in section 9(c), which says:

The Usage Rules shall govern your rights with respect to the Products, in addition to any other terms or rules that may have been established between you and another party. (Emphasis added.)

That's the problem in a nutshell: Apple's Terms of Service impose restrictive limits on use and distribution for any software distributed through the App Store, and the GPL doesn't allow that. This specific case involves other issues, but this is the one that's most unique and deserves explanation.

I was wondering if there is a GPL2 like license which would require the following:

  1. If the program is unmodified -> you can distribute it under any terms you want (don't like it? Go to www.videolan.org/vlc/ and grab a copy)
  2. If you modify the source -> you must distribute your source.
  • 4
    Related: opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/1762/… (including some of the comments of @slebetman on the accepted answer)
    – Martijn
    Nov 20, 2015 at 9:45
  • The first line is partly wrong: Apple doesn't object to you putting GPL-licensed software on the store. However, if the copyright holder complains, they won't put apps on the store where the copyright is disputed.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 23, 2022 at 8:34

1 Answer 1


If you're the sole copyright holder of a work (or you have signed CLAs from everyone) would dual licensing the app be enough?

In any case, one license that might work is

The Q Public License

The Q Public license seems to allow free distribution of unmodified software:

  1. You may copy and distribute the Software in unmodified form provided that the entire package, including - but not restricted to - copyright, trademark notices and disclaimers, as released by the initial developer of the Software, is distributed.

But if you want to distribute modified versions of the software you must make the source code available in the form of the original unaltered source code and a set of patches.

  1. You may make modifications to the Software and distribute your modifications, in a form that is separate from the Software, such as patches. The following restrictions apply to modifications:

    a. Modifications must not alter or remove any copyright notices in the Software.

    b. When modifications to the Software are released under this license, a non-exclusive royalty-free right is granted to the initial developer of the Software to distribute your modification in future versions of the Software provided such versions remain available under these terms in addition to any other license(s) of the initial developer.

  2. You may distribute machine-executable forms of the Software or machine-executable forms of modified versions of the Software, provided that you meet these restrictions:

    a. You must include this license document in the distribution.

    b. You must ensure that all recipients of the machine-executable forms are also able to receive the complete machine-readable source code to the distributed Software, including all modifications, without any charge beyond the costs of data transfer, and place prominent notices in the distribution explaining this.

    c. You must ensure that all modifications included in the machine-executable forms are available under the terms of this license.

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