OpenLogic Research Finds Mobile Apps Fail to Comply with OSS Licenses

Mar 08, 2011

The OpenLogic research into new mobile applications found that many iPhone and Android apps containing open source fail to comply with OSS licenses.

Using OSS Deep Discovery, OpenLogic says it "scanned compiled binaries and source code where available for 635 mobile applications to identify open source under GPL, LGPL and Apache licenses."

According to OpenLogic, the top paid and free apps for iPad, iPhone and Android that were used came from a variety of categories and included apps featured in TV ads and apps from the top 20 US companies in the Fortune 500. A representative sampling of 635 apps were selected and included banking, sports, and game applications. Not only did selected applications represent recognized brands and media organizations, the selected applications represented popular applications from smaller companies as well.


The results:

  • 71% of Android and iPhone apps containing open source failed to comply with the fours obligations of the open source licenses that OpenLogic analyzed.
  • Out of the 635 apps scanned, OpenLogic identified 52 applications that use the Apache license and 16 that use the GPL/LGPL license.
  • OpenLogic found that among the applications that use the Apache or GPL/LGPL licenses, the compliance rate was only 29%. Android compliance was 27% and iPhone/iOS compliance was 32%. Overall compliance of Android applications using the GPL/LGPL was 0%.
  • Although the research did not specifically analyze conflicts between different licenses, OpenLogic noted that 13 of the applications came from the Apple App Store℠ used GPL/LGPL. The App Store has already removed other applications that included GPL/LGPL licenses. In addition, two of the applications on Android contained LGPLv2.1. This license could have potential conflicts with Apache 2.0 – which is the major license of the Android operating system.
  • OpenLogic found several apps with extensive EULAs that claimed all of the software included was under their copyright and owned by them – when in fact some of the code in the app was open source.

Kim Weins, senior vice president of products and marketing at OpenLogic is scheduled to reveal these results at the AnDevCon in San Francisco, California today.

More information on can be found on the OpenLogic Website and in the press release.

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  • What does "representative sample" mean, here?

    Sure, it sounds scientific, but in statistics, the term "representative" comes with specific caveats and qualifications -- in particular the rather difficult problem of ensuring that the "representative" sample is in fact representative. I would be very surprised if this term was used in any statistically meaningful sense here.

    A random sample would be much more informative (and easier and cheaper) -- and then this study might even give a useful additional perspective. But as it is, this story could just as easily be spun as "Big Corporations trample GPL/OSS licenses when they distribute Mobile Apps"

    I'm sure there are licensing problems over OSS/GPL code in iOS and Android apps -- but this study doesn't really tell us how big the problem actually is.

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