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Many Android makers may have lost Linux rights, face threats

updated 10:55 am EDT, Mon August 15, 2011

Android firms' Linux violations may trigger suits

Google's Android partners may have made a costly mistake in ignoring the Linux licenses behind the very foundation of the OS. New findings have emerged that many phone and tablet makers aren't properly giving out source code to meet the GPL version 2 license requirements at the heart of the Linux kernel Android uses. As such, these same companies have officially lost their rights to distribute Linux and could be found responsible for violations in lawsuits and trade disputes, Florian Mueller noted.

Some of these companies assume that Google's posting of open-source Android code qualifies. GPL terms, however, require that any modifications made to a distribution with a Linux kernel have to be republished on their own. Google may have compounded the problem by the decision to withhold Android 3.0 source code under the guise of the OS not being ready, as companies that shipped Android tablets could still be responsible for releasing Linux-based software on their devices that didn't have any source code option.

Precedent comes from a lawsuit from the Software Freedom Conservancy and the Software Freedom Law Center against Best Buy over its distributing devices running BusyBox's version of Linux. Although many of the devices sold using BusyBox met the requirements, Best Buy was in legal trouble as soon as it sold anything that didn't meet the terms of the license.

Google hasn't responded to the new claims and the potential risks. The company may have trouble defending assertions of openness as both it and some of its partners haven't been abiding by the terms of he open licenses.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. prl99

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Mar 2009

    +24

    why open-source isn't for everyone

    Anyone who has worked with truly open-source software knows about this. I remember Linksys running into this problem with their wireless routers based on Linux. They ended up having to publish all their internal code, which allowed 3rd parties to open the routers to all sorts of advanced development. Of course, once this happened and a user reloaded their router, there was no way Linksys could support them. This is a problem with open-source support. Apple publishes all source code for the open-source products they use--up to the point it's no longer open-source. Even though Google is buying Motorola, it's not going to stem the anger from users and phone manufacturers who are going to be sued and lose. They will point back at Google but, hey, Google can't be sued because they give away the software (found in other article). For all of you using Android phones, good luck, you'll need it.

  1. facebook_Dennis

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Aug 2011

    +16

    So if it's not open source...

    It thereby isn't covered under the added clause for the Nortel patents to allow the open source community to use it. The companies could be sued by Apple or the consortium yet again for violating the Nortel patents.

    And since Google didn't release the changes to Android 3, it opened itself up if it released those changes to any of the third party builders (which it has). OOPS.

    This could be fun.

  1. facebook_Collin

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Aug 2011

    +17

    Go Open Source!

    It's good to see the Open Source communities have some teeth to stand up to violations of their licenses. I hope they can make this stick. It might shut up some of the rabid Fandroids out there - especially the ones who equate "Open Source" with "Free to Steal."

  1. SockRolid

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Jan 2010

    +5

    Double bag of hurt

    FIrst, Google anoints Motorola Mobility as its hardware b****. Now, many of Google's other Android partners are getting thrown down the long staircase to "open source h***." And Google could have saved them if they cared enough to encourage them to publish their code.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -2

    Re: Go Open Source

    It's good to see the Open Source communities have some teeth to stand up to violations of their licenses. I hope they can make this stick. It might shut up some of the rabid Fandroids out there - especially the ones who equate "Open Source" with "Free to Steal."

    Most people don't equate 'open source' to 'free to steal'. And those that do aren't limited to 'fandroids' or even the android platform.

    Sometimes these violations are just misunderstandings of the license, and sometimes they're just caused by idiots. But the same holds true of any software you license. You need to follow the license.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -2

    Re: Double bag of hurt

    Now, many of Google's other Android partners are getting thrown down the long staircase to "open source h***." And Google could have saved them if they cared enough to encourage them to publish their code.

    It isn't Google's position to continue to remind their partners that they must obey the license. That's the whole point of the license. It's always there, so you know. That's like saying they'd be all set if they used Symbian. Well, it has a license as well, and they'd have to follow the rules of that.

    And Open-source h*** isn't h*** if you know what you're doing. Just because HTC, say, has no clue how to deal with android source, even though it would be part of the agreement they signed to use it from Google. And this is what they get for mucking with the kernel anyway. If they left the OS alone and just worked with the peripheral stuff, they'd have no problems.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -3

    By the way

    If you read the story, you'd see that the people raising these questions aren't the Linux core folks, but lawyers. Yes, a set of lawyers, most likely looking for a big money-grab on some issue they claim to have.

    But, I guess since they aren't suing Apple, then these lawyers must be class acts looking out for the good of the people.

  1. SkepticalGuy

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2011

    -2

    Lawyers

    The people raising these questions aren't lawyers, they are/is Florian Mueller. Who, it turns out, isn't actually a lawyer. His blog sure is chock-a-block with anti-Google FUD, though, not much else there. A professional operation?

    I read Herr Mueller's take a while back on something I know a little about, and he was totally clueless about software. He's probably pretty clueless on legal matters too. Doesn't seem like either of those areas are in his job description.

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