Does the Mac App Store allow commercial use?

Confusion over licensing restrictions examined

Does the Mac App Store allow commercial use

There's been a fair amount of confusion around the web over the license of applications bought from the Mac App Store, with some people claiming that you can't use the apps for any kind of commercial purpose.

Check forums where Mac users congregate, and you'll find this repeated whenever discussing the Mac App Store. And, as often happens, some people have got very heated about this indeed, claiming that store is "useless" or "brain dead" because of it.

Ironically, one of the things which added fuel to the fire was the huge difference between the price of Apple's own Aperture photo editing software as a boxed product (£173) and on the App Store (£44). The difference, so some people assumed, was that the App Store version was for personal use only - so no using it if you were, say, a professional photographer.

To get to the bottom of this, I checked through the licenses and talked to a few developers to get their perspective on it. And, although I can see why the issue arose, taking everything into consideration and with the usual caveat that "I am not a lawyer – nor do I play one in a popular TV show", I'm convinced that software bought on the store is, in fact, usable in a commercial context.

Looking at the license

For the Mac App Store, Apple has followed the same model as for iOS apps, music and video sold from iTunes, and content from the iBooks store. All the items Apple sells have a single license: there are no variations on a per-app (or song, or book, or video) basis.

This makes things much more easy to understand and friendly for customers. For example, you aren't going to buy an app which only works on a single machine you own, or a song which you can play on iTunes but not on your iPod.

So what does the license say about how you can use the apps you buy? Under the section on "MacAppStoreProductUsageRules", there are two clauses. The first deals with "personal" use:

(i) You may download and use an application from the Mac App Store ("Mac App Store Product") for personal, non-commercial use on any Apple-branded products running Mac OS X that you own or control ("Mac Product").

That's clear enough. If you have a Mac and a laptop for home use, you can install anything you buy on the Mac App Store on both machines. If you have kids with a Mac which you "control", you can install the software on that machine, too.

What about business use? The next subsection of the license covers that:

(ii) If you are a commercial enterprise or educational institution, you may download a Mac App Store Product for use either (a) by a single individual on each of the Mac Product(s) that you own or control, or (b) by multiple individuals on a single shared Mac Product that you own or control. For example, a single employee may use a Mac App Store Product on both the employee's desktop Mac Product and laptop Mac Product, or multiple students may serially use the Product on a single Mac Product located at a resource center or library.

So yes, you can use that copy of Aperture on a machine you use for business. If you're using the product for business, though, the terms of use are slightly different to "personal use". You can't install the software on machines you "control" (as you could with your kids' Mac), so you can't put the software on the machines of other employees, even if you own the business or manage the Macs. If you have multiple Macs which only you use, that's fine – you can install all your apps on all your machines.

As with all things legal, there are edge cases where the license is open to interpretation a little.

For example, what if you mostly use your machine for "personal" use, but occasionally have a spot of commercial work on the same machine? Does that mean you have to stop your kids using iPhoto while you're doing a little editing for work?

The answer is probably "technically yes, but no one's ever going to sue you for it." What Apple is trying to do with the license is simply set rules which allow home users to use the software they buy on all their personal Macs, while stopping businesses from buying a single copy of, say, Pages and letting 100 employees use it.

What about developers?

This commonsense approach largely reflects the feeling within the developer community, too.

Most echoed the feelings of Ken Case of OmniGroup, who told me "from our perspective, we have no problem with people using our App Store software for commercial purposes. After all, several of our apps are listed in the "business" section of the App Store; isn't that what that section is for?"

What they do care about is not losing sales because a company that might have bought ten licenses for ten employees instead downloads one copy.

As Daniel Jalkut of RedSweaterSoftware said: "Obviously, a company like the New York Times shouldn't be able to buy my software once with their Apple ID and then install it on thousands of Macs. I expect Apple to do something reasonable to limit the number of Macs that software can actually be installed on."

And that, I think, is what Apple is trying to achieve: A balance that gives customers the freedom not to have to worry about licensing, while not creating a free-for-all which would fail to reward developers.

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