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Microsoft is clarifying which open source apps are allowed in the Windows Phone Marketplace just as a survey reckons that a number of iPhone and Android open source apps are breaking those platforms' licensing rules.

Microsoft says it will update the agreement governing contributions to the Windows Phone Marketplace to make it clear that applications licensed under the Eclipse Public License, Mozilla Public License, "and other, similar licenses" are permitted.

The company also says that apps licensed under BSD, MIT, the Apache Software License 2.0, and Microsoft Public License (MS-PL) are allowed. Still not acceptable, apparently, are GPLv3, Affero GPLv3, and LGPLv3.

Todd Brix, senior director of mobile at Microsoft, wrote in a company blog that Redmond is continuing to "explore the possibility of accommodating additional OSS licenses," and that Microsoft understands the "desire for clarification with regard to our policy on applications distributed under open source licenses."

Brix announced the change as part of other updates to the Windows Phone Marketplace.

The soon-to-be-reworded Windows Phone Marketplace Application Provider Agreement had said that applications licensed under the happy GPL trio could not be sold or distributed via the marketplace. Microsoft has also reserved the right to exclude "any equivalents".

It wasn't clear what "equivalents" it meant, but Microsoft's problem with the GPL trio was that recipients of the code are granted the right to copy, distribute, or modify code in a way subject to the terms of the original license.

GPLv3 and its brothers are growing in use but are still not as widely used as GPLv2, according to license specialist Black Duck Software. GPLv2 remains the number-one open source license, used by 45 per cent of the 230,000 projects that Black Duck tracks.

It's easy to pillory Microsoft – and rightly so – for failing to clarify which open source licenses are permitted instead of merely delivering broad generalities. Microsoft should have known better in its dealings with the open source community. However, one thing Microsoft has been anxious to avoid elsewhere in its business has been exposing itself to litigation over patents or IP in code from other parties that it distributes either through its own products or via its services.

Just as Microsoft is nailing its marketplace policy down, a survey from OpenLogic shows the potential risks that companies run if apps built under an open source license aren't policed.

Apps licensed under the GPL, LGPL, and Apache living in the Apple App Store and in the Android market are failing to comply with some of the conditions that Microsoft is being picky about.

OpenLogic claims 77 per cent of apps for Android and iOS don't comply with four key obligations of the GPL, LGPL, and Apache licenses.

For GPL and LGPL, that means the apps aren't providing source code or an offer to get the source code, or aren't providing a copy of the license. For Apache, they aren't providing a copy of the licenses, nor providing notices or any attribution that says the software is copyrighted and developed at the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

OpenLogic says it also came across several apps with extensive end-user license agreements that claim all of the code belongs to the app's developer and is copyrighted, when some of the code was open source.

This is something that could leave not just the developers but the app-store provider open to action from those whose original code is being claimed as somebody else's. Also, the makers of the licenses could chose to step in should the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or ASF see fit.

Furthermore, OpenLogic paints a picture of confusion not just in wicked wild, wild west that is the Android market, but also in the supposedly well-policed walled garden of Apple's App Store.

Thirteen apps came from the App Store and use GPL or LGPL, despite Apple weeding out other apps licensed under the FSF pair for being incompatible with its terms of service. Two of the Android apps containing LGPL 2.1, OpenLogic said, could have potential conflicts with Apache 2.0, the major license of Google's operating system.

OpenLogic, which sells open source support, governance, and scanning services, said it scanned and compiled binaries and source code for 635 "top paid and free" iOS and Android apps, as well as apps featured in TV ads from the top 20 US companies in the Fortune 500.

The apps spanned banking, sports, and games "from the world's most recognized brands and media organizations as well as popular applications from smaller companies." Sixty-six of the apps were under the Apache or GPL/LPGL licenses, with 71 per cent failing to comply. ®

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