Android Isn't Free: Google Licensees Might Face Global Crackdown Over Linux License Violations | Cult of Mac

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.