Study: 70 percent of iPhone and Android open source apps violate licenses

Findings from OpenLogic's study brings some redemption to companies that refuse to sell open source apps

Open source advocates have vilified Apple and Microsoft for shunning certain types of  open source applications from their respective mobile app stores. However, the companies' decisions are easier to appreciate in light of a recent study that found around 70 percent of mobile apps containing open source code fail to comply with their respective licenses.

OpenLogic, a provider of various open source products and services, examined the code of 635 of top mobile applications in the Apple App Store and Android Market Place. In all, OpenLogic identified 52 applications that use the Apache license and 16 that use the GPL/LGPL license, yet only 29 percent of those apps were in compliance with their respective licenses.

Notably, the apps OpenLogic examined weren't just created by independent developers or small companies. Rather, the sampling included banking, sports, and game applications from recognized brands and media organizations as well.

By OpenLogic's assessment, the noncompliant apps failed to meet four key obligations: The GPL/LGPL licenses require developers to make source code available and to provide a copy of the license; the Apache license requires the developer to provide a copy of the license and to provide notices and attributions.

Broken down by app marketplace, Android compliance was 27 percent, and iPhone/iOS compliance was 32 percent. Overall compliance of Android applications using the GPL/LGPL was 0 percent. Additionally, the company found several apps had extensive EULAs in which the developers claimed to own all copyrights and code when, in fact, some of the code was open source.

Whether developers are flouting open source licenses out of ignorance or out of sheer disregard for the law isn't entirely clear. The potential ramifications are, however -- developers may have their noncompliant apps flagged and removed from stores. Worse, they may find themselves the target of legal action.

OpenLogic's findings also shed light on at least one of the reasons companies like Apple and Microsoft forbid open source apps in their respective app stores: The effort necessary to ensure that all the software they sell is compliant with necessary licenses likely isn't worth the risks or the headaches.

Rather than grousing at Apple and Microsoft for making business decisions that result in excluding particular open source apps, perhaps open source advocates should focus more on educating -- and targeting -- developers who continue to ignore the spirit and letter of open source licensing.

This story, "Study: 70 percent of iPhone and Android open source apps violate licenses," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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