Android Isn’t Free: Google Licensees Might Face Global Crackdown Over Linux License Violations



Google, along with a number of other companies who distribute the Android operating system, could be without the necessary license required to distribute Linux-based software and may therefore be using the operating system unlawfully, potentially at the risk of a complete shutdown of the Android OS.

Here’s the deal in a nutshell. Google’s Android OS is built upon Linux’s source code, which is under a GPL license. GPL licenses insist that any projects built upon the source code in question must in turn have its source code released. Google used to release Android’s source code up until Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Now, with Honeycomb, it doesn’t. Hence, it violates the Linux license.

That’s not all. Because Android is tweaked by dozens of different phone and tablet makers for their own needs, each of these gadget makers also need to be sharing the source code of their custom Android builds… and that’s not happening at all.

According to a report from FOSS Patents, it’s a “pretty serious” issue for Google that isn’t too difficult to understand:

  • rampant non-compliance with the source code disclosure requirement of the GPLv2 (the license under which Linux is published) — especially but not only in connection with Honeycomb — has technically resulted in a loss of most vendors’ right to distribute Linux;
  • this loss of the distribution license is irremediable except through a new license from each and every contributor to the Linux kernel, without which Android can’t run; and
  • as a result, there are thousands of people out there who could legally shake down Android device makers, threatening to obtain Apple-style injunctions unless their demands for a new license grant are met.
The report notes that the conclusions above fall in line with legal positions taken recently by two prominent Free Software organizations: The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC).
The only way this issue can be rectified is for the Linux distribution license to be reinstated, which would require Google and other Android distributors to contact each of the thousands of contributors and ask for permission, or replace their code. However, instead of doing either of these things, these companies have chosen to ignore the license and use the work of free software contributors unlawfully.
Check out the full FOSS Patents report for a much more detailed explanation of the issue.
  • BrianVoll

    So… What major mobiles would we have left? Just iOS and WP7?

  • zagatosz

    What happened to don’t be evil?

  • gregbraddock

    oh boy…i don’t want android to disappear. not one bit. if that happens, Apple will drag their feet on bettering the OS. I mean, it took Android to enter the ring before they added MMS. A lot of people forget that we early adopters went 2 years without the joys of being able to send a frickin photo! 

  • Ed_Kel

    Wow! Interesting! Can’t wait to see the outcome of this one.. It’s worthy to note that Linus Torvalds said “We’ve always made it very clear that the kernel system call interfaces do not in any way result in a derived work as per the GPL.” meaning that “[a more] substantial amount of code is needed to create a derivative work”.

  • billxxxx

    ios is based on???????

  • gautamad

    that’s a very bad news indeed. pls don’t do this google! :( :'(

  • WVMikeP

    iOS is based on BSD, which has a more permissive license.

    Google’s cavalier attitude toward copyright and IP in general is going to do them in if they don’t do the right thing.

  • WVMikeP

    Excuse me while I get some popcorn.

  • Ciclismo

    Just a wee bit off topic, but I’ve had the ability to send MMS on diverse Nokias that I have owned (still on a Nokia until the iPhone 5 gets released) over the years and I can tell you exactly how many MMS I’ve sent – and that number is 1. I usually send them as e-mail attachments, and that’s something my current Nokia sucks at.

  • Ed_Kel

    Hybrid (XNU) kernel type. Developed and licensed by Apple. They don’t need to worry about this kind of stuff..

  • Ed_Kel

    Don’t forget the all too popular BlackBerry!

  • David Alexander Harrison

    Chrome OS isn’t free either…  Both Chromebooks cost about as much as regular PC laptops of the same spec, meaning that Google’s effectively charging the consumer the cost of an OEM Windows install for a Linux-based OS that should be (& they market as) free.

  • Honey Badger

    I’d rather not see Android disappear either. It’s a decent OS. It should be, they modeled it on iOS (ripped-off iOS?) and then simply focussed on refinements.

    Android keeps the pressure on Apple and that is good.

    BUT… what I want is Google to start paying royalties for the tech and IP that they “borrowed” to create Android. Android is not really free. Google offering up other companies IP willy-nilly is not cool and it’s very anti-competitive. It’s pretty tough for other players to compete with free.

    If Android finally has a cost associated with it, the playing field for all is more level.

    For far too long Google have just been doing whatever they please. They have become a big, nasty beast.

  • lls4747
  • Mike Rathjen

    Companies expect individuals to comply with their licensing. They do not bother to comply with the licensing themselves.

  • baby_Twitty

    Google being the all-evil company, will just splash another 12.5 billion bucks to buy the whole LINUX and GPL License whatever thingy. Problem sovled!

  • baby_Twitty

    It now updated to,
    “Google is evil. 
    Don’t be Google.”

  • Tash Wahid

    Sue the eff out of em all.

  • Leon Hart

    Agree completely, Google needs to start respecting other’s IP instead of hiding behind open source. They are basically parasites now, they expect the others to do the initial work, then they swan in, hijack everything and claim to “open source it” while keeping everything locked down and accessible only to the people they want to have access. The way they “feed” off the information on the web is almost parasitic as well, especially the way they use people personal information for advertising, the less Google has to do with Android the better.

    This issue could be solved easily, Google needs to actually do what it has always said it will in regards to Android, and that is make it COMPLETELY open source… not “half” open, or “partially” open when they feel like it, but completely open up the source to anyone and everyone and stop trying to control everything. But they are too invested in making Android as dependent as possible on Google services, and the handset makers and mobile companies don’t want people running code they can’t control on their networks.The sad fact is the history of both Google and its Android collaborators almost completely rules out any of them coming together and admitting their mistakes and then making the right decision, which is let go of controlling Android, stop locking down the handsets, let anyone run any version of Android they choose, and let the community develop as many crazy assed versions of Android as there are linux distros out there, some of them will be awesome/faster/cleaner coded and probably more secure than anything these companies are doing now.

  • ElVox

    And webOS, if anybody dares to license that :)

  • BrianVoll

    Don’t know why that one slipped my mind. As long as RIM stops plummeting down, it can still be a ‘fierce’ competitor.

  • Lance_G


  • gareth edwards

    couldn’t agree more.

  • prof_peabody

    Another kick in the butt for the whole concept of GPL licensing.  

    For the first time in history a GPL product gains huge public traction, and all those using and promoting it simply violate the licence. This is the difference between ideology and reality folks. 

    GPL licensing is simply unworkable except for the most arcane and small projects.  In a world more selfish and less community minded than any other period in recent history, this kind of Utopian stuff just doesn’t work.   

  • prof_peabody

    If that was a joke, it’s kinda funny.  :)
    If it isn’t, you need to read up on what the GPL is. 

  • twitter-45932299

    “Android Isn’t Free: Google Licensees Might Face Global Crackdown Over Linux License Violations” – This is complete baloney man.

    This blog post is simply an Alarmist and Sensational attempt at defacing Android. To the author: Ulterior motives much? Unabashed Android-bashing Macgasm Mac-Fan-Boy much?
    Here’s the word from the “Horse’s Mouth” – the Free Software Foundation that is…Source:
    “Thanks to Android’s commercial success, the kernel Linux, which is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2, is being distributed more than ever before. Whenever someone distributes GPL-covered software, they must follow a few conditions set forth in the license. These conditions try to give anyone who receives the software both the legal permission and the practical tools necessary to change and share the software themselves if they wish.Not all of the companies that distribute Android heed these conditions. We’ve witnessed an uptick in GPL violation reports—some convincing, others incomplete or misinformed—against these vendors. We generally can’t pursue these violations directly, because only copyright holders can enforce free software licenses in most countries, and few Android devices use FSF-copyrighted code. However, people still seek out our opinions about the relevant parts of the GPL, and that discussion has recently turned to GPLv2’s termination provisions.”And I point your attention to this part from the FSF statement above: “We generally can’t pursue these violations directly, because only copyright holders can enforce free software licenses in most countries, and few Android devices use FSF-copyrighted code.”

    So while you’re at it, checkout “Linus Torvalds: Android copyright violation claim is “bogus” at:… there are other sources… for readers – do some research to see this blog post itself is “bogus”To raise such alarms as “Global against Google – a supporter of Open Source and Android, is just spreading FUD (Fear Uncertainty, and Doubt). Google wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for Free Open Source Software and they show their appreciation to this fact quite often actually.humans-enabled.comMember: Free Software FoundationMember: The Linux Foundation

  • CharliK

    This was the same license that got VLC pulled off of iOS. For the source code issue and the ‘you can’t put ANY form of DRM on the end product’ issue

  • Santiago

    oh sure, do you have any idea of how much the GPL cost??


  • Hampus

    They already have… That’s the problem…

  • BOC

    Again this bullshit of Florian Mueller. Linus Torvals himself has explained why these accusations were stupid. The linux kernel is GPL (v2), but you can use proprietary drivers loaded as modules and you can run proprietary software using this OS. It has always work like that since I have started to use Linux 19 years ago (1992).

    The accusation of Florian concerns the fact that a copy of linux kernel headers (with removed comments) is present in a piece of Android code covered by a non GPL open license.

    This kind of copy is not usual, but is authorized because linux kernel interfaces are not covered by GPL (this would prohibit any commercial development on Linux).

    Conclusion: it is only FUD, there is no information here.

  • obamapacman

    The FSF article confirmed that 
    – Android is published under GPLv2
    – GPLv2 has issue described here so they made GPLv3
    – Android is not using GPLv3

    Nothing in the article disagreed with the FACT that Android vendors and Google violated their GPLv2 license and are technically pirating free software without license.