The Problems with older versions of the Apple Public Source License (APSL)
FSF Position on the Older Versions of APSL
Apple released an updated version, 1.1, of the APSL but it remained
unacceptable. They changed the termination clause into a
“suspension” clause, but it still had the same kind of bad
In January 2001, Apple released another version, APSL 1.2. This
version fixes two of the fatal flaws, but one still remains: any
modified version “deployed” in an organization must be
published. The APSL 1.2 has taken two large steps towards a free
software license, but still has one more large step to take before it
Below, is the original commentary on the first version of the APSL,
Original APSL Commentary
After studying Apple's new source code license, the APSL, I have
concluded that it falls short of being a free software license. It
has three fatal flaws, any of which would be sufficient to make the
software less than free.
Disrespect for privacy
The APSL does not allow you to make a modified version and use it for
your own private purposes, without publishing your changes.
Anyone who releases (or even uses, other than for R&D) a modified
version is required to notify one specific organization, which happens
to be Apple.
Possibility of revocation at any time
The termination clause says that Apple can revoke this license, and
forbid you to keep using all or some part of the software, any time
someone makes an accusation of patent or copyright infringement.
In this way, if Apple declines to fight a questionable patent (or
one whose applicability to the code at hand is questionable), you
will not be able to have your own day in court to fight it, because
you would have to fight Apple's copyright as well.
Such a termination clause is especially bad for users outside the
US, since it makes them indirectly vulnerable to the insane US
patent system and the incompetent US patent office, which ordinarily
could not touch them in their own countries.
Any one of these flaws makes a license unacceptable.
If these three flaws were solved, the APSL would be a free software
license with three major practical problems, reminiscent of the NPL:
- It is not a true copyleft, because it allows linking with other
files which may be entirely proprietary.
- It is unfair, since it requires you to give Apple rights
to your changes which Apple will not give you for its code.
- It is incompatible with the GPL.
Of course, the major difference between the NPL and the APSL is that
the NPL is a free software license. These problems are
significant in the case of the NPL because the NPL has no fatal flaws.
Would that the same were true of the APSL.
At a fundamental level, the APSL makes a claim that, if it became
accepted, would stretch copyright powers in a dangerous way: it claims
to be able to set conditions for simply running the software.
As I understand it, copyright law in the US does not permit this,
except when encryption or a license manager is used to enforce the
conditions. It would be terribly ironic if a failed attempt at making
a free software license resulted in an extension of the effective
range of copyright power.
Aside from this, we must remember that only part of MacOS is being
released under the APSL. Even if the fatal flaws and practical
problems of the APSL were fixed, even if it were changed into a very
good free software license, that would do no good for the other parts
of MacOS whose source code is not being released at all. We must
not judge all of a company by just part of what they do.
Overall, I think that Apple's action is an example of the effects of
the year-old “open
source” movement: of its plan to appeal to business with the
purely materialistic goal of faster development, while putting aside
the deeper issues of freedom, community, cooperation, and what kind of
society we want to live in.
Apple has grasped perfectly the concept with which “open
source” is promoted, which is “show users the source and
they will help you fix bugs”. What Apple has not
grasped—or has dismissed—is the spirit of free software,
which is that we form a community to cooperate on the commons of