This question is specifically about GPLv3, LGPLv3, and Apple's App Store for iOS devices. Given

  1. the additional restrictions Apple imposes on iOS users (i.e. not allowing them to modify and run GPLv3 software or LGPLv3-licensed portions of software without additional conditions or at all), and/or
  2. the terms of service Apple users must agree to in order to receive software from the App Store,

Is it legal for Apple to redistribute GPLv3 or LGPLv3 software in the iOS App Store?

The only material I've managed to find about the GPL and Apple is from the early 10s when Apple pulled several GPL-licensed projects from its App Store [2] [3]. However, that incident involved the GPLv2 and Apples old TOS [4] which apple has since changed [5]. Furthermore, that incident drew focus on Apples's TOS for the App Store without giving too much consideration to Apple being both the distributor and the entity imposing additional restrictions on device users.

As of this writing, the FSF's FAQ doesn't seem to include anything that can help answer this question.

  1. Removed my reference to GPL's Installation Instructions requirement since it's limited to object code sold with a device.
  2. https://www.fsf.org/news/2010-05-app-store-compliance
  3. https://www.fsf.org/blogs/licensing/more-about-the-app-store-gpl-enforcement
  4. https://static.fsf.org/nosvn/mirrored/apple.com/legal/itunes/us/terms.html
  5. https://www.apple.com/legal/internet-services/itunes/us/terms.html
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  • Is there a specific GPLv3 app that you have in mind? As I recall Apple tried to distribute only GPLv2 components in their Mac OS X system due to licensing restrictions; not sure about things that they put in the app store though. – Brandin Mar 25 at 12:58
  • @Brandin No, I don't unfortunately. I'm asking this question from the perspective of a developer whose LGPLv3-licensed library is used in an iOS App made by a third party. – Tenders McChiken Mar 25 at 13:19
  • Even if it is allowed by the (L)GPL(3), remember that Apple can set whatever rules it wants for its app store. They can remove your app for any arbitrary reason or no reason. – Brandin Mar 25 at 15:06
  • Apple can indeed set whatever rules it wants, but they can't infringe on the rights of (L)GPL software authors by redistributing their software without complying with the terms of the license. This question aims to clarify a few issues regarding Apple's legal standing as a licensee of (L)GPL software. – Tenders McChiken Mar 25 at 15:48
  • If there is something inherent in Apple's app store which makes it impossible to comply with the GPL or LGPL requirements, then it is the responsibility of the application developer not to publish it there. Apple has no obligation to make their app store GPL friendly, for example. They certainly don't need to check for GPL compliance before allowing your app in the app store. The most they probably need to do is respond to a DMCA takedown request in case that the copyright holder complains (in case a developer did violate the license). – Brandin 2 days ago

I emailed Mr. Richard Stallman, the primary author of the GPL, for his opinion on this issue. I received the following reply:

I studied this question for a while. It is clear that that matter of distribution violates GPLv3 overall. However, I couldn't be sure what courts might say. To work out the answer would require a very capable lawyer.

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