VLC for iPhone Pulled From App Store, Now Available On Cydia

By , Jan 8, 2011

Awhile back, we reported that the popular, open source media player “VLC for iPhone” was released in the App Store. It was a pretty big deal, because the VLC client duplicated a lot of functionality that was already in the native iPod app. (Apple doesn’t usually like apps that duplicate the iPhone’s native features.)

The biggest pro to VLC for iPhone was its ability to playback file formats that iTunes doesn’t support. iTunes has a somewhat limited amount of video formats it can playback. VLC was a simple, free app that allowed more types of videos to be playable on the iPhone.

While it was nice for an app like VLC to be in the App Store, the media player was very buggy. Lots of users reported problems with playback and file format support. However, the bugs were not the reason that the app was pulled. In fact, Apple had nothing to do with the takedown…

VLC was pulled based on licensing issues. As we reported, the VLC iPhone app was released back in October (the already-existing iPad app was made universal). For an app to be in Apple’s App Store, that app is under Apple’s DRM (Digital Rights Management) policy through the App Store and iTunes’ Terms and Conditions.

VLC is “open source” software, meaning that it is protected under the GNU General Public License (GLP). This license states that software must be freely distributed and can be collaboratively developed, which is the way that the VLC desktop client has operated for years.

An open source contributor, Applidium, ported the VLC code to work on the App Store. The VideoLAN organization, the community responsible for the development of VLC, had nothing to do with Applidium’s original submission of the VLC app to Apple. VideoLAN also did not purse any kind of takedown when this licensing issue was recognized. Apple didn’t even seem to care.

You can attribute the pull of VLC from the App Store to one developer with a vendetta. Rémi Denis-Courmont (lead contributor to the VLC project, and a Nokia employee) is responsible for the app’s takedown. Because of Rémi’s status with VideoLAN, he had the rights to pursue a licensing claim based on the code he had contributed to the VLC project.

Back in November, Rémi filed a complaint to Apple about the VLC app approval,

“Today, a formal notification of copyright infringement was sent to Apple Inc. regarding distribution of the VLC media player for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. VLC media player is free software licensed solely under the terms of the open source GNU General Public License (a.k.a. GPL). Those terms are contradicted by the products usage rules of the AppStore through which Apple delivers applications to users of its mobile devices.

At the time of writing, the infringing application is still available. However, it is to be expected that Apple will cease distribution soon, just like it did with GNU Go earlier this year in strikingly similar circumstances: http://www.fsf.org/news/2010-05-app-store-compliance . Thus, users of iOS-based devices would be deprived of VLC media player, as a consequence of the intransigently tight control Apple maintains over its mobile applications platform.

In any case, while the rules for distribution of open-source or “free” (as in speech) software are extremely relaxed, they do exist and have to be abode by. VLC and open-source software in general would not have reached their current quality and success if it had not been for their license. Therefore, blatant license violation cannot be tolerated at any rate. Concerned users are advised to look for application on more open mobile platforms for the time being.”

Today, Rémi posted another comment to the VideoLAN project saying that,

“At last, Apple has removed VLC media player from its application store. Thus, the incompatibility between the GNU General Public License and the AppStore terms of use is resolved – the hard way. This end should not have come to a surprise to anyone, given the precedents.”

The reason that VLC is no longer available in the App Store is that one developer felt the need to fight for the principles of “open source.” The open source community has always been incredibly passionate about the principle of free and open software, but VLC was being offered for free in the App Store. It wasn’t like Applidium was pocketing money from an open-sourced project.

Whether Rémi was right to fight for the pull of a free app based on licensing principles is a debate that I’m sure will never be resolved. The end result is that the consumer doesn’t have the option of VLC in the App Store anymore.

If you didn’t manage to download VLC while it was on the App Store, it has now been made available on Cydia. Ryan Petrich, one the most prominent jailbreak develepors, has added the VLC app to his personal Cydia repository for others to download. When giving his reasons, he simply said, “It was pulled from the App Store and deserves a new home in Cydia.”

To install VLC in Cydia, open Cydia and tap “Manage.” From here, tap “Sources, then “Edit,” then “Add.” Now you will be prompted with an entry field for your new source. Add “http://rpetri.ch/repo” and click “Add Source.” Cydia will then verify the source.

Once you’ve done that, head over to “Search” in Cydia and search for “VLC media player.” You can then install Applidium’s app for free. Enjoy!

What do you think about the way that VLC was pulled from the App Store? Did you use the app when it came out? Do you know of any good alternatives (whether jailbreak or App store) for VLC?

[via TUAW]

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  • http://www.eldaria.net Eldaria

    On this I have to stand on the side of the developer.
    GPL came to exist for a reason.
    And just because it is a populair app, does not mean they can break the rules.

    • Emre SUMENGEN

      Of course, but it’s Applidium not Apple to be blamed. Apple has not violated any copyrights, but if there’s a copyright infringement, it’s done by Applidium.

      So, this all does NO SENSE at all :)

      Like all “xxx-gate” scandals about Apple. Hype!

      • Simon Forsman

        Actually Apple is the distributor and Apple is the one that added additonal restrictive terms on top of the GPL for VLC, so Apple is the one violating the copyright.

  • Bob

    I agree but would like to know what part of the GPL was infringed (in layman’s terms).

    • Simon Forsman

      6. 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<–. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties to this License.

      Apples terms of use for the appstore places restrictions on use and redistribution of any software distributed through it.

      Basically you're not legally allowed to make a copy of a GPL licensed app you've obtained through the appstore and distribute it (Doing so violates Apples terms of use for the appstore) But the GPL explicitly gives you that right and prohibits distributors(Apple was the distributor in this case) from taking that right(or any other rights granted by the license) away

  • FinePrint

    I agree but would like to know what part of the GPL was infringed (in layman’s terms).

  • http://littlepoopmachine.wordpress.com Zach B

    The app was free in the app store. It’s not like the app developer was making a profit from this app. If he was, then I would agree with Rémi.

    • Emre SUMENGEN

      As far as I know, it was about having the restriction of installing the app on up to 5 devices per Apple ID, max.

      GPL states free distribution, and this can rightfully be considered a violation.

      But, again, it’s Applidium who’s violating GPL.

  • Anaptiras

    I agree with the developper on this 1. An awesome alternative for VLC is CineXplayer. It even supports .srt files for subtitles :)

    • mplsboywonder

      Air Video > CineXplayer

      Air Video is far superior to CineXplayer….IMO:)

      Not only does it convert flv files that CineXplayer will not convert. It converts almost everything under the sun “mp4, m4v, mov, avi, wmv, asf, mpg, mpeg, mkv, 3gp, dmf, divx, flv”

      It will not only do .srt subtitle files, but SSA, SUB (MicroDVD) subtitle formats.

      Any Uber large (.MKV Blu-Ray) files that I have had CineXplayer almost grind to a hault, Air video breezes right through them.

      If you are in the market check both out, but remember boywonder pointed you towards Air Video.

      *Wish someone had done it for me:)*

      • TruthOutThere

        Air Video IS NOT A VIDEO PLAYER!!!! Please don’t fool people.

        Air Video is a great app but IT PLAYS BACK VIDEO STREAMED FROM YOUR PC/MAC where a “server” app links to your iDevice over WiFi. Your PC is actually doing the convertion/playback but once you are not connected to your local network, let’s say, on the move on the street guess what? Doh! no movies to play…

        Player programs that DO actually play the video in your device are as mentioned CineXplayer, MoviePlayer, AVPlayer, OPlayer among docens others.

        Please don’t troll on blogs and forums spamming or fooling people about apps with missleading features.

        Please inform yourself before accepting anyone’s advice and before you recommend and app to someone.

  • http://www.eldaria.net Eldaria

    @Bob & @ FinePrint:
    If I have understood everything, the problem is that when Apple adds DRM to the app, it breaks the possibility to redistribute the app, something you can not prevent the user from doing with GPL.

    Section 6 of GPL states the following:

    “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. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties to this License”

    On the iPhone it is not possible to redistribute the app unless you Jailbreak and remove Apples DRM.

    I’m not sure if the last line, but I think that this means that you could submit the app to Apple, and this would be ok, since automatically according to GPL you would also allow Apple to redistribute the app according to GPL, the problem is that Apple adds DRM to the app preventing others from doing the same.
    So in this case Apple is breaking the license of GPL.
    The last part, means that the person who submits the app to Apple, is not responsible for the fact that Apple is breaking GPL.

    @Zach B
    GPL does not care weather you charge money for the app or not, this is in regards to the app being free as in freedom, not free as in free beer.
    When a person is no longer allowed to redistribute the app, their rights according to GPL is violated.
    They could be charging $1000 for it, and a buyer could give it away for free.

  • http://www.eldaria.net Eldaria

    I forgot to add my sources:
    The first one is also linked above, but here it is again.
    http://www.fsf.org/news/2010-05-app-store-compliance

    And here is a link to the actual GPL license:
    http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html

  • Francesco Suarez

    FYI it’s also available on the install0us app :) so now it’s on Cydia and install0us :)

  • Sy

    Great app but way way too buggy “movie player” plays all vlc and more looks as good and no bugs!

  • Marco444

    A nice and free alternative: Movies2iPhone

  • josh

    PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!!!!! i restored my iphone 4(jailbroken), and now its displaying error code 1013 at the end of the restoration process. help?

    • thy

      run tinyumbrela to kick it out out Recovery mode

      • josh

        didnt work. still in recovery.

    • krissy

      When that happened to me, I restored it from a different computer and it worked fine.

  • Sid

    I just bought my iPhone 4 a few days back so dont wanna jailbreak it so soon just in case I have to return it for some reason. I already have installed vlcplayer on my iPhone 4, and have it in my iTunes library. can someone tell me what happens to the version I have? Will I get to keep it or it will be removed from my app when I uprgade iTunes or iPhone to the next version as and when it comes?

    • Ricardodelsidney

      You get to keep it, BUT you will not get upgrades to address bugs.

    • Eric

      you can jailbreak and RESTORE it if you need to return the iphone for any reason, i have jaibroken every iphone i have had and had many warranty replacement iphones with no problem, dont be scared to jailbreak and void your warranty, apple will never know. Ciao!

  • Antony_256

    It’s now on ZodTTD’s repo too(a default one). http://twitter.com/#!/rpetrich/status/23883685942001664

  • Polemicist

    Or you can get the original IPA files from apptrackr for VLC, Air Video and even CineXplayer instead of doing all of this adding of Repo’s etc etc.

    Just a thought…

  • MrMister

    GLP? You mean GPL?

  • http://thesaj.wordpress.com Jason the Saj

    Seems to me a couple of solutions could have been implemented.

    1. Include the source code as a viewable text to create your own app.

    2. Provide a link to the raw app, outside the store. It’s free distributable then.

  • moo

    no way i can agree with developer. jerk.
    ‘doesn’t want to attract attention’ yet lapped it up numerous rambling blogs that didn’t even really address the point.
    if its open source, his bitching about other dev’s posting it in app store without asking him are moot. also childish.
    who cares if its not redistributable? yes it is a part of it but limiting the user base severely is pointless also. if its about the dev and not for the user base at the end of the day then stop open sourcing, go screw yourself and plaster your dev name all over all your projects.
    this would have opened up iphones to playing more video formats more freely, is losing that not limiting the iphone user’s freedom?
    for the sake of taking a stupid stand ‘freedom’ of using iphone is restricted without JB. this would have ‘opened up’ the iphone a little – working within apples system to change it bit by bit. asking for a drastic change from apple was unrealistic and the uncompromising nature od the dev making the complaint comes across as immaturity rather than being principled.
    on a long term view this could have helped be the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ to get things moving.
    but hey jerk dev, i guess we cal all just go over to windoze phones or something? lol

    • Cesar

      Hey man, calm down.. The dev to start with, is not a jerk.. porting a application like VLC to the iphone platform is not an easy task, and sure enough, not everybody have the skills to do it. Moreover, non-jerk devs, opt to open source their projects (and license them through the GPL), since this is a good method for everybody to access their work without paying him/her a cent.

      Apple is slapping DRM to the application, so Apple is the one to blame here.. they are the ones that are obsessed with the control of their platform, and thus, infringing the spirit of the GPL.

      If i want to open source something, it means that I want everybody to be capable of copying my work, and giving it away for free, under the condition that all the copies are also free of charge and copy protection.

      Stop blaming the developer, and get his application from the other alternatives out there.. but more important, realize that apple is being ridiculous at protecting something that should be free of any copy protection.

      • Emre SUMENGEN

        Hey Cesar, just a point: The “bitching” dev “moo” mentions is not the one that have done the iOS Port :)

      • http://ivan.vucica.net/ Ivan Vučica

        Cesar, please note that Remi did not port VLC to iOS – Applidium did. Your first paragraph makes it seem as if Remi is also responsible for the port to iOS – he isn’t. While his work on VLC is certainly appreciated, removing the app like this is just being a jerk toward the end user. Apple doesn’t care one way or another.

  • cool

    it has already removed from “http://rpetri.ch/repo” source
    is there any other source to download vlc on my iphone 4.2.1?

    • Nick

      dowload installous and get it from there. :)

    • http://www.eldaria.net Eldaria

      This is the precise reason the developer complained.
      Due to Apple policy, I’m unable to send you a copy off the application even though I have it, something the GPL license allows me to do.

      • Dave Van den Eynde

        That’s pretty much bullshit as well.

        If I were to submit a GPL’d piece of software to the App Store, I could offer the same piece of software for download from my site, as well as post a link in the app’s description to instruct the user where to find the sources should he need them. I just wouldn’t expect the App Store to do the distribution of the sources for me. It’s just a way to enable anyone with an iTunes account to install the software to their phone, and in no way are they now unable to get the sources from upstream.

        Apple doesn’t change the binaries that I submit to the App Store, they simply provide the transport channel to have it delivered to an iPhone that is unable to redistribute the software from within itself. That’s the exact same situation as when I buy a Linksys router that is unable to reproduce the GPL’d code on it from within itself. I can always browse to the Linksys and download the sources that was used to compile the firmware, I just don’t expect the router itself to contain those sources.

        The dev is wrong here, and is simply using the GPL as a ploy to stick one up Apple’s arse. He doesn’t care about the freedom of the user.

      • Emre SUMENGEN

        Actually, you can send the application (ie. the IPA file).

        GPL does not state anything about the app being allowed to “install”…

        iTunes would add it to the library, if you sent me the app. It just won’t install it onto my iPhone.

        So, kinda weird situation here, I guess.

      • http://ivan.vucica.net/ Ivan Vučica

        “http://rpetri.ch/repo” is a repository for jailbroken software. What does that have to do with Apple’s restrictions? Software offered via one repository can just as easily be offered on other repositories, too. Please understand: DRM is not active for the jailbroken content. That’s precisely the point of “breaking the jail”.

  • cr0ft

    While it is regrettable it’s not in the general app store, in this case having it removed was absolutely the right thing. Monkeying around with the GPL and its applicability isn’t a good idea, and attacking the person who did the right thing isn’t exactly cool in my book.

  • Anonymous Coward

    The free-tards strike again!

    Love the OSS movement but cmon… This was a great app that provided a much needed feature to the iPhone. Now what? I’ve gotta freaking jailbreak my phone?

    These zealots sure know how to punish themselves and their fans.

    Can’t they just publish the source code to their app on the web to comply with the gpl? If it’s any consolation — I’d be willing to pay up to $20 for an app like this.

  • Mark Neuwirth

    you guys are being so naive that its actually painful to read repeatedly:

    Apple’s policies on software and open-source have been well known for more than a decade: there was no rational way Rene could possibly have thought that Apple would enforce the GPL over its own policies for VLC but not for all apps.

    To develop an iPhone port for VLC, and allow it to proceed to completion and submission to the AppStore, is only understandable if it was always intended to be a rallying point for Rene’s own personal attack on Apple’s internal policies.

    It doesn’t hurt that Rene also benefits from this fight with his current employers who are desperately struggling to survive Apple & HTC’s attacks on their past cellular phone empire.

    It is obvious that the VLC iPhone port was always intended politically as a blackmail device in a transparent attempt to get hurt Apple, help Nokia, and advance the otherwise stalled (and possibly dead) open-source movement.

    Rene has made himself the open-source Rev Al Sharpton, which insults both Rene and Open-Source.

    • Emre SUMENGEN

      Excellent view. (All true, all agreed :))

    • http://ivan.vucica.net/ Ivan Vučica

      Rene did not develop iOS port of VLC. His code was used as a part of original VLC code, and, as such, was also used in the iOS port.

  • Joseph

    I honestly believe since no profit was being made, and since the application was not being singled out and modified but it is simply a feature of this device, then the only true infringement on the open license was the coder’s vendeta against the free release of the software on the apple network. Apple gained nothing directly by this application, it is only the users that gained from it… Shame on the author for what I think is a silly vendeta against ‘the man’….

  • craig

    The interpretation of the GPL in this matter is taken too strictly. The spirit of the license is to allow the redistribution of the core work, not specific installations. For example, when you install a GPL licensed work on your home PC, you would not attempt to re-package the installation and distribute it because your own personal settings would be included, potentially violating your own privacy. The app store is an installation mechanism, not a sole point of distribution.

    Furthermore, just because a GPL app was installed through the app store, does not mean that it cannot be redistributed again. First, as the source is freely available, anybody can compile and distribute the work. Additionally, as jailbreaking is perfectly legal and the tools are available, one can easily make copies of the app and redistribute it.

    The interpretation of the GPL by Rene and the FSF makes it seem like they want to control the channels with which GPL’d works can be distributed, which is contradictory to the spirit of the licence.

    This is the fundamental case we will be taking to the FTC.

    • Simon Forsman

      craig, while you can technically make copies of the app and redistribute them, you’re not legally allowed to, that is the problem. Apple attaches their own restrictive license to all software distributed through the appstore and a distributor is simply not allowed to do that with GPL licensed software.

  • Jesse

    BS!! I definitely used vlc for iPhone a lot and hate vendettas that result in reduced availability for the consumer. But bravo to the guy who made it available on cydia. Yet another reason to jailbreak your iPhone, folks.

    Btw, even tho I still have my AppStore-dl’d vlc, I usually use vlc streamer now, since I mostly watch at home anyway. That’s a good app.

  • http://watch-tv-on-iphone.com/ Tv on iPhone

    Luckily I downloaded this before it was taken down :D Really nice app this one, just as awesome as on the comp.

  • phuck-I-dont-know

    WHY Do Applidium ( vlc) not add code to streamer app then so you can also watch your movies from same app Simples ! no ?

    D’oh!

    [IMG]http://i56.tinypic.com/161z2va.gif[/IMG]

  • phuck-I-dont-know

    RE: ^^^^

    WHY Do Applidium ( vlc) not add code to streamer app then so you can also watch your movies from same app Simples ! no ?

    D’oh!

    [IMG]http://i56.tinypic.com/161z2va.gif[/IMG]

  • Elvin

    Can we sue this Remi guy? He is limiting the distribution of the software via his move, too!

  • Mattsons

    I dunno… The DRM is on all apps.
    Seems a bit sus. Sure, it was the right thing to do but would the complaint have anything to do with the fact that he happens to work for a competitor.

  • Shanky

    If GPL is about freedom, how come Rene is able to prevent people from putting VLC on the iphone? Legally speaking, I’m not qualified to say how sound the ground is under Rene’s feet, but I tend to agree with Craig that the app store is an overly strict interpretation of GPL.

    The problem is, I feel, one of misapplication of intent. The license itself – GPL was meant to free intellectual property. It is a copyright mechanism – ie protects the source code and the methods used to build the software. Making VLC available on the app store in no way changes that – Apple has not created any new IPR rights by this. I suspect Apple does not even care to fight this battle. Why do they care?

    Unfortunately, Rene’s crusade sounds a little like fanaticism, an insistence on his version of freedom alone – imposed upon others rather than persuaded.

  • French Bastard

    Rene is a cock!

  • Vive Quebec

    Rémi should stick to eating Escargo – what’s the problem if the dang app is free?

  • ashish

    hey i dont have a cydia store in my phone so hw can i get vlc now pls help

  • ashish

    wat r the advantages of jailbreaking??? my iphone is already an unlocked one

    • http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com Sebastien

      Ashish,

      Read this and make sure to check out the links at the top: http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com/jailbreak/

      It will tell you everything there is to know about jailbreaking

      s

  • ashish

    thankyou sebastien…

  • shivaa

    after i jailbreak my iphone4 i installed vlc player but while connecting through itunes i cant able to see the vlc player to transfer the files

  • Bbob

    people it’s a free app who cares who’s name is on it no one well almost no one looks at who made the app and or cares as long as it works so people stop crying about a name and grow some balls and just post it back on app store under a new name I guess since some cry baby wants to cry about Ohhh my name isn’t on it take it down or fine just add his name to it as well or get the baby his bottle

  • zumbafu

    I would personally repost the vlc app to the AppStore, and tell Rémi to piss off. Stand up and fight for the rights of the users. As long as you provide a link in VLC (or the AppStore) to a website with the downloadable app (free distribution), and the source code, there is nothing they can bitch about. Even the authors cannot restrict your ‘fork’ of the VLC project, since they gave up their rights to the GPL which explicitly allows you to do this.

  • http://profiles.google.com/homerj141 Ryan Sharp

    I don’t understand. If the app was free, why does it matter if it wasn’t able to be distributed?
    How does this benefit it’s userbase?
    From where I am sitting, it appears that Rémi is just being completely selfish.

  • http://jamesspratt.org jamesspratt

    Actually using the app is a real hassle for non-techies though – openssh/ sftp in, wtf?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JS3E3PYI4M7QDW357EDAIYSGHU oim oim

    The problem was: one couldn’t modify the source code and freely (as in freedom) run it on the iPhone. because you needed then Apple to reapply its DRM around your modified app. This is a big GPL no-no. Thanks Remi for defending the GPL. If ALL the VLC devellopers aggree (and this mean every line used in the code) , they could grant Apple a licence for VLC use on the iPhone.

  • http://twitter.com/RobertTindle Robert Tindle

    Complete tosser!!thanks for that. I enjoyed using and being able to watch films easily on my iPhone with vlc and now I can’t. As long as Vlc is free and distributed freely what’s the problem?

  • carl

    hope it work’s :(

  • carl

    still not work..

  • rushsantos

    I can’t see the vlc on rpetrich’s repo

  • rushsantos

    get it from zodtd

  • aero

    Hey. I still can’t find VLC when I connect my iphone to my pc.

  • Blake

    However good intentioned the flouting of this minor infraction might be.
    UK law being based on precedence… If you allow this it becomes an agreed practice and a stepping stone for other more Machiavellian breaches, essentially eroding open source…