March 09, 2010, 4:45 PM — If you've followed the news of App Store rejections over the past couple years, you may have wondered what exactly is engraved upon the stone tablets that govern the terms of Apple's App Store and developing for the iPhone. The trouble is we haven't been able to tell you, as the agreement itself contains terms that prohibit publicly discussing it. But on Monday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) legally obtained and published a copy of the agreement for the first time.
In order to do so, it had to take advantage of a legal loophole. EFF noticed that NASA had created an application for the iPhone, and NASA--being a government agency--is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. EFF requested a copy of the SDK agreement and a revision dated March 17, 2009 was provided. (If you're curious about the date, note that it was the day that Apple held its event announcing iPhone OS 3.0. The SDK agreement has reportedly been revised since then, so parts of the document may have changed.)
While EFF draws attention to what it terms "troubling highlights" of the agreement, there isn't necessarily very much that's surprising if you've been following the iPhone development scene for any amount of time. Apple has written in a number of restrictions, including preventing apps developed with the SDK from being distributed outside of the App Store, a ban on reverse engineering, and a prohibition on interfering with the iPhone's security software, which is the foundation of the fight over legalizing jailbreaking. (If you're interested in reading the full document, it's available on EFF's site as a PDF.)
The EFF portrays the agreement as woefully one-sided, but as an organization dedicated to advocacy of technology issues, that's not supremely shocking. No document--especially one concocted by lawyers--is perfect. While I'm not a lawyer, my understanding is that legal professionals tend to paint agreements like this with broad strokes, to prevent their clients from running into unforeseen circumstances. In this case, though, I think that the language of the agreement has to be balanced with Apple's track record in enforcing it.