Apple's iPhone App Contract Nails Developers

iPad and iPhone developers beware. Apple reserves the right to kill an app at any time with no reason, and Apple's liability in any circumstance is limited to $50 (£30).

This is one of the highlights of the secretive iPhone developer program license agreement, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published in full.

Software developers who want Apple's approval must first sign the contract but, by signing the licence agreement, developers also agree not to disclose the agreement itself.

The EFF managed to get hold of the document through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to NASA as an app-making US agency. The entire agreement (PDF) is up at the EFF's site.

Under the contract, any applications developed using Apple's SDK may only be publicly distributed through the App Store. But Apple can reject an app for any reason, even if it meets all the formal requirements disclosed by Apple. Apple can also remove the app from sale and remotely disable it in user devices.

Section 14 dictates that Apple will never owe a developer more than $50 in damages.

"That's pretty remarkable, considering that Apple holds a developer's reputational and commercial value in its handsit's not as though the developer can reach its existing customers anywhere else. So if Apple botches an update, accidentally kills your app, or leaks your entire customer list to a competitor, the Agreement tries to cap you at the cost of a nice dinner for one in Cupertino," said EFF senior IP attorney Fred von Lohmann.

EFF also points out that the contract prohibits "any reverse engineering (including the kinds of reverse engineering for interoperability that courts have recognised as a fair use under copyright law), as well as anything that would 'enable others' to reverse engineer, the SDK or iPhone OS".

"Overall, the agreement is a very one-sided contract, favouring Apple at every turn," concludes von Lohmann. "How can Apple get away with it? Because it is the sole gateway to the more than 40 million iPhones that have been sold. In other words, it's only because Apple still 'owns' the customer, long after each iPhone (and soon, iPad) is sold, that it is able to push these contractual terms on the entire universe of software developers for the platform."

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