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A Practical Legal Guide to iPhone Application Development

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Carefully navigating the legal landscape in which application development operates is essential to launch and maintain a successful iPhone app. Legal expert Robert McHale examines the common legal pitfalls specific to iPhone application development, and the measures developers can adopt to minimize risk and maximize protection of their intellectual property rights.

It’s the iPhone Application developer’s worst (and increasingly justified) fear: Spending significant time, money, and resources building an app only to have it rejected, or worse, pulled from the App Store for alleged legal violations.

Carefully navigating the legal landscape in which app development operates is therefore essential to launch and maintain a successful Application. Prudence dictates being mindful of the common legal pitfalls to iPhone application development before and during the development process — and not after — when it is oftentimes too late.

By examining the iPhone SDK Agreement, Apple’s End User License Agreement, and federal copyright and trademark registration, this article provides an introductory overview of the common legal issues surrounding iPhone Application development, and the measures developers can adopt to minimize liability and maximize protection of their intellectual property rights.

The iPhone SDK Agreement

Apple’s iPhone SDK Agreement imposes several significant legal requirements, the most notable of which include:

  • Privacy laws: Developers are required to comply with all state, federal, and international privacy laws regarding user data collection, and picture or voice capture. Accordingly, personal information collected from a user may not be disseminated without the user’s consent; the unauthorized use of a user’s name or likeness for gain is prohibited; and a user’s voice may not be recorded absent a conspicuously displayed notice indicating that a recording is taking place.
  • Copyrights in music and content: Any music incorporated into your Application must be wholly owned by you or licensed to you on a fully “paid-up” basis. (Such a license should provide that the one-time, lump-sum payment is final, and that you are released from any and all further payment obligations to the Licensor, no matter how successful the Application becomes.) Further, any and all content in your Application must be owned by you, or be used by you with the owner’s permission. If you are using content other than music by virtue of a license, the license should state the royalty terms, if any, resulting from any and all sales of your Application.
  • Objectionable content and materials: Applications may not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive, or defamatory content, or other content that Apple deems objectionable. What is “objectionable” is a matter of Apple’s reasonable discretion; legal challenges to a rejection of your Application on this basis will prove difficult.
  • Free and open source software: Applications that include Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) must comply with all applicable FOSS licensing terms. The SDK Agreement also requires (perhaps superfluously) that your use of FOSS may not in any way infect the SDK itself.
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