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Some company is selling software through Apple's App Store which uses portions of code that I released publicly under the GPL. The company is violating the licensing terms in two ways, by (1) not preserving my copyright statement, and not releasing their code under the GPL license and (2) by distributing my GPL-licensed code through Apple's App Store. (The Free Software Foundation has made clear that the terms of the GPL and those of the App Store are incompatible.) I want to report this to Apple, and ask that they take appropriate action. I have tried mailing them to ask for more information about the reporting process, and have received the automated reply quoted below.

The last point in the list of things one needs to provide, the “a statement by you, made under penalty of perjury,” sounds as if they mean some kind of specific legal document. I'm not sure. Does this mean I need to contact a lawyer just to file the report? I'd like to avoid going through that hassle if at all possible.

(Besides an answer to this specific question, I'd welcome comments and experience reports from anyone who has already had to deal with a GPL violation on Apple's App Store.)

Thank you for contacting Apple's Copyright Agent. If you believe that your work has been copied in a way that constitutes infringement on Apple’s Web site, please provide the following information:

  • an electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright interest;
  • a description of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed;
  • a description of where the material that you claim is infringing is located on the site; your address, telephone number, and email address;
  • a statement by you that you have a good faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law;
  • a statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your Notice is accurate and that you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on the copyright owner’s behalf.

For further information, please review Apple's Legal Information & Notices/Claims of Copyright Infringement at: http://www.apple.com/legal/trademark/claimsofcopyright.html

To expedite the processing of your claim regarding any alleged intellectual property issues related to iTunes (music/music videos, podcasts, TV, Movies), please send a copy of your notice to iTunesStoreNotices@apple.com For claims concerning a software application, please send a copy of your notice to AppStoreNotices@apple.com.

Due to the high volume of e-mails we receive, this may be the only reply you receive from copyrightagent@apple.com. Please be assured, however, that Apple's Copyright Agent and/or the iTunes Legal Team will promptly investigate and take appropriate action concerning your report.

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closed as off-topic by gnat, GlenH7, MichaelT, jwenting, ChrisF Jun 1 at 20:50

  • This question does not appear to be about software development within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This is only one reason that I hate the GPL and use MIT and BSD instead –  Anto May 8 '11 at 7:28
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@Anto: I'm no big fan of the GPL, but really, save your hate for people who respect an author so little that they can't abide by the licence that author chooses to use. –  Frank Shearar May 8 '11 at 9:43
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Have you tried contacting the company first? As Tim Post points out, some ppl just don't realise what GPL means. Get in touch, point it out and see what the response is. Only go to Apple, FSF or whatever if the response isn't adequate. –  James May 8 '11 at 23:48
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Could we have a question concerning the GPL without discussions about whether the GPL is good or bad sometime? Please? –  David Thornley May 12 '11 at 16:11
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This question appears to be about legal assistance which is explicitly off-topic per help center –  gnat May 31 at 20:37
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5 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The people you want to contact are the Software Freedom Law Center, who may initiate a dialog with Apple for you. While contacting the FSF directly might get you a sympathetic ear and a list of people you could contact for help, there is little they can do as they don't own the copyright to your software. You should contact them to report a GPL violation regarding software that they own, but not just GPL violations in general.

When contacting the SFLC:

  • Be as succinct as possible, while providing every relevant detail
  • Show proof of the violation (preferably in a way that Apple can reproduce)
  • Include several ways to reach you (including phone, e-mail, street address)
  • Include a list of times you attempted to correspond with Apple, and the result. In other words, tell them what you've already tried.

What you need is a notice of the violation and request to become compliant on legal letterhead sent to Apple, which will probably result in the speedy removal of the offending software. If that's your only goal, your problem is solved at that point.

If you want to seek damages or something similar, you'll probably need to retain your own lawyer who is familiar with this type of issue. Through years of consulting and serving as a compliance officer for several organizations, I can estimate that 8/10 violations are unintentional. A lot of people just don't understand what the term 'combined work' means, and how the GPL and LGPL differ when it comes to that. The difference is huge, and I'm sure you were aware of that when choosing the GPL.

Addendum

The text you received from the robot at Apple is basically the standard DMCA take down legal speak. Usually, upon receiving one of those, any content provider (such as Apple) will take down the content in question while asking the other party (the person who made the app) to refute your assertions, with the same 'perjury' clause.

What you are doing here is enforcing a software license, not really a DMCA request. In the end, the app will have to be taken down because (as you noted) Apple's policies prohibit the application in question from becoming compliant.

This is why I'm guiding you to the SFLC, as you really do need the help of an attorney who is well versed with free software licenses and Apple's policies.

Final Edit

Somehow, I may have (mistakingly) assumed that since you were contacting Apple directly you had already contacted the offending application's author and I've been writing as though you had. I'm not sure why I assumed that, I think I was speaking more based on what steps I would have taken at this point than what you actually wrote. I apologize for that.

The FSF itself played a five year game of violation 'whack a mole' with Cisco prior to starting the litigation process. It is always better to try to get the other party to understand how they aren't in compliance and help them reach that goal, before even thinking about legal action.

Antagonizing another party is almost always a bad idea, unless you have exhausted every friendly option at your disposal.

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If the 8/10 estimate applies, I should think contacting the person who made the software would be more efficient. Or is this not an option OP? –  Jonta May 8 '11 at 16:52
    
@Jonta - I'm not sure why, but I kind of assumed that if the OP was already knocking at Apple's door that he already had contacted the app maker. –  Tim Post May 12 '11 at 11:12
    
@Jonta - Updated my answer. –  Tim Post May 12 '11 at 11:19
    
If I understand the law enough (I am not a lawyer) the only person who can ask for something is the copyright holder - random people can't go around doing it, they have to have standing. The person that would need to be contacted is the person(s) who hold the copyright for the software in question that is infringed upon. law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/512 - section c3Ai and c3Bi. c3Bi states that if you aren't authorized, it doesn't count as notification for awareness. Granted, this is getting much into the reading of law rather than code. –  MichaelT Oct 3 '13 at 1:56
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Before you start getting a bunch of lawyers involved, you really ought to contact the company doing the publishing. It's possible that this is an act of ignorance and not malice on their part, and if you were to talk with them you could resolve things. Among the various things that could happen is them purchasing a commercial license to your code from you, which allows them to keep publishing it without GPL problems, and you to make some money off your work as author.

If they decide to be obnoxious about it, though, then yeah, you should definitely talk to Apple and the SFLC. But that should really be your last resort, not your first.

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I'm not sure why I assumed he had contacted them at this point when writing my answer. +1 for not assuming like I did :) –  Tim Post May 12 '11 at 11:20
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What you are asked doesn't imply you actually need a lawyer.

Common sense suggests you should however.

I think you should contact the SFLC and seek advice from them.

In the meantime you could follow the steps described in the mail. Maybe it would be easier than you think to have the app removed.

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Contacting the FSF really won't help, they don't own the copyright in question. They'd likely point the OP to the SFLC. –  Tim Post May 8 '11 at 14:08
    
@Tim Post thanks for pointing that out, I corrected my answer –  Federico Culloca May 8 '11 at 15:24
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There is a standard process for handling copyright violations in a situations like this, and that is sending a DMCA notice to Apple, just as they described it. What happens after you send a correct DMCA notice is that Apple will remove the app from their store and inform the app developers. The app developers have the choice to give in, or to send Apple a counter notice saying that they are not infringing on your copyright. If that happens, Apple will put the app back on the store, and then you have the choice of suing the app developers - at that point you definitely need a lawyer. (Apple may look at the situation and decide that they don't want the app if they believe there is copyright infringement, but they don't have to).

What you are worried about is the "under penalty of perjury" bit. You say that you have the copyright on some software X, and you believe that software Y on the store infringes your copyright. You must absolutely make sure that you do indeed have the copyright on software X. So you wrote it and didn't sell the copyright, and it wasn't a work for hire that a company owns that paid you. Or you bought the copyright from the copyright holder. That must be true, and if it isn't, then you commit perjury. But that is something I assume you would know. If you are not sure whether you own the copyright, you'd need a lawyer. Obviously when you license under the GPL or any other license, you still own the copyright. If you transferred the copyright to the FSF, for example, then you are not the copyright holder and sending a DMCA notice claiming you are would be perjury.

On the other hand, when you say that software Y infringes your copyright, you might be wrong. They might not use your code at all, or they might have a valid license. That's Ok, nothing can happen to you because you made a mistake here, as long as you have you have a good faith belief that there is copyright infringement. So all in all, as long as you are 100% sure that you are the copyright holder, you don't need a lawyer at this point. And if you are not the copyright holder, a lawyer can't help you.

Now all that said, you should think very hard whether the app store is indeed incompatible with the GPL license. I personally don't think so at all. The Free Software Foundation is frankly not an unbiased source. Nor am I. (Apple will still remove the software, since it's none of their business. It's between you and that app developer. And not providing the source code is definitely wrong, app store or not). If all you disagree with is the principle of distribution through the app store, you really need to think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to give people the freedom to use your software by denying them to use your software?

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If this matters to you, talk to a lawyer. Short consultations are usually available inexpensively, and there will be a Bar Association or other organization to arrange it. Lawyers do like to attract customers, after all. Acting without legal advice may work, or it may screw up your case.

I assume you've got good evidence that the app is infringing.

Have you tried informing the infringers that they're in infringement? If they're a company and not a one-man show, it's entirely possible that somebody put your code in without notifying anybody responsible in the company. They may or may not be reasonable about it, but it's one avenue to explore, and one you want to before starting any sort of legal action. It's polite to give them a chance to deal with the situation before starting other action. Remember that you can always start out polite and then get aggressive, and the reverse isn't possible.

You could send back the information Apple has asked for. The "perjury" part means that, where it applies, lying is illegal and can be punished in court. Stick to the truth.

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The SFLC is a gigantic lawyer that is very familiar with software and software licenses .. and available for contact,often working pro bono. Some on their board actually helped to write the GPL3. –  Tim Post May 12 '11 at 17:15
    
Given that Eben Moglen,helped to start it, I'm inclined to take the organization at its word. I'm sorry, but -1 for not reading a rather lengthy discussion prior to answering. –  Tim Post May 12 '11 at 17:20
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