Apple’s iBooks Author EULA Restriction is Dumb, Not Evil

on January 21, 2012
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Apple created a fair stir around the internet with a provision in the end-user license for its new iBooks Author software that requires that content created using the tool can only be sold through iTunes. ZDNet’s Ed Bott called the move “greedy and evil” while even the normally Apple-friendly John Gruber denounced it as “Apple at its worst.”

iBooks Author iconIn fact, that EULA language is merely stupid not evil. Apple is not asserting any sort of control over the contents of your book, just the formatted output of iBooks Author. That output can only be used to create an iBook and iBooks can only be sold through iTunes, so the language doesn’t actually create any restriction that isn’t already inherent in the software. Besides, no one has to use iBooks Author; there are other tools for creating iBooks.

But while the language of the Apple license may be ineffectual, it is not meaningless. In asserting this sort of control, Apple violated a longstanding principle of software: A program may not impose restrictions on the content it is used to create. Even the Free Software Foundation’s General Public License, in many ways one of the most restrictive licenses around,  doesn’t try to prevent conventional copyright terms on say, a book written using the GPL-licensed emacs editor. And certainly neither Microsoft nor Adobe has ever attempted any control on the output of Word or Photoshop. Tools should be just that; the uses of their output should be solely up to the creator (subject, as in the case of iBooks Author, to purely technical restrictions.)

Perhaps the best face you can put on this mess is Gruber’s interpretation: “Let’s hope this is just the work of an overzealous lawyer, and not [Apple’s] actual intention.”