Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

Summary: Have Android OEMs violated the GPL and now forfeited the right to distribute Linux?


Does section 4 of the GPL version 2 mean that many (if not all) Android vendors have already lost their rights to distribute Linux? According to an IP litigator, the answer is yes.

Edward Naughton, litigator and partner with the lawfirm Brown Rudnick believes that by refusing to make freely available the GPL'd portions of Honeycomb, Google is forcing its OEM partners into a situation of non-compliance with the GPL.

Naughton believes that this puts OEMs, and even Google itself, in a really bad position:

In the Best Buy case, the SFC and SFLC argued that a violation of the GPLv2 immediately terminates a licensee's right to distribute covered code and that the licensee cannot remedy its violation by providing the source code after the fact. The express permission of the relevant copyright holders is necessary to reestablish the licensee's rights.

Given the woeful track record of GPL compliance in the Android ecosystem, that argument would imply that almost every OEM distributing Android devices today is unlicensed, and even Google itself may not be licensed to distribute portions of the Android code.

Open source advocate Florian Mueller dissect section 4 of the GPL version 2. Here's the relevant section:

4. You may not copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Program except as expressly provided under this License. Any attempt otherwise to copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Program is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License. However, parties who have received copies, or rights, from you under this License will not have their licenses terminated so long as such parties remain in full compliance.

Mueller steps through the section, but here are the highlights:

  • 1st sentence: Obligations under the license, one of those being source code disclosure as outlined in the previous section.
  • 2nd sentence: Sanctions for those who don't comply, including automatic termination of all rights under the license.

Is the GPL enforceable? It seems to be.

Back in 2009 the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) bought copyright infringement lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of embedded Linux devices that made use of the BusyBox utilities. One of the cases involved Best Buy which sold a Blu-ray player with embedded Linux and BusyBox. The SFC and SFLC teamed up with one contributor to the BusyBox project and filed motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Best Buy from selling the Blu-Ray players despite the BusyBox code had been made available. The case never made it to court but Mueller says that 'it's a safe assumption that Best Buy had to cough up a significant amount of money to resolve this matter.'

So where is this headed? According to the SFC/SFLC the only way out of this would be for to secure a new license from each and every original right holder (that is, the original contributors). When it comes to Linux, this could mean having to approach literally thousands of people, and any one of those could hire a lawyer and start legal action.

It's going to get messy.

Topics: Operating Systems, Linux, Open Source, Software

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  • GPL enforcement is usually about compliance

    Compliance as in either providing the source code, or removing the GPL bits. Suing people is really a last resort. For those interested, Groklaw covered the BusyBox case:


    Quoting Eben Moglen:
    <i>"The BusyBox project asked us to provide license enforcement for them. Their license is the GPL, so we do attempt to contact companies around the world that manufacture devices using BusyBox to honor the GPL. Sometimes companies are unresponsive to our inquiries. They don't answer our letters or phone calls. And only under those circumstances we sometimes sue people."</i>

    Did anyone think of asking Groklaw or the FSF first, before parroting Florian Muller? And since when was Mr Muller an "Open source advocate" anyway??? All the <i>real</i> Open Source groups I know regard him as something else entirely!
    • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

      @Zogg Of course they didn't they never do!

      The FSF Knows that Google has been on the Open Source Train since its early days and they know that Google has brought a whole lot of new users to Linux so I don't see them doing anything but working with Google and their Partners.

      This is just more ZDNET Anti-Google / Android Propaganda!
      • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

        @Peter Perry <br><br>All ZDnet (<i>Adrian</i>) do is cut and paste Mueller's blog here daily.<br><br>PS. Just dam lazy you ask me.
      • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

        @Peter Perry Let them steal it. Once you get your bait in their mouths, set the hook and reel 'em in. That's how Microsoft rolls.
  • Message has been deleted.

    • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

      @LoverockDavidson <br><br><i><strong>"I hope</strong></i> this is true."</i><br><br>You have been relegated to hoping? You have anything left after hope? You're going to need it.
      • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

    • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?


      lolololol Wow, you're hitting all-time new lows. This is actually getting to be entertaining despite the tiring rhetoric. I'm a Linux guy myself, but I don't care for the idea of Windows suddenly disappearing from the face of the planet. That's just a silly and utterly useless notion fit for simpleminded individuals.

      The big picture is far beyond your singular opinion- as are the needs of the many. You believe open source flourished because the world did not need it?


      The amount of ignorance you spew is rather impressive. GPL has its place like most other licenses in existence (that includes your run-of-the-mill EULA). Don't like it? Don't use it.
      • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

        I don't like it and I don't use it.
      • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?


        Oh, but you do use it:
        - Do you use Internet, then you use open source
        - Probably your television has Linux inside
        -Part of the code in your car (if you have a new one) is open source

        Reality is that you use FLOSS all the time, you are just ignorant about it.

        Note: This response is not for the ficticious Loverock character but for real people that may agree with him.
    • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

      Screw you ZDNet. Stop deleting my account and my posts even if they are on topic.<br><br>Yes I do believe that android vendors lost their rights to distribute linux. Its not a loss to the rest of the world though as we'll keep on moving without it. The GPL is one of the worst licenses to ever be developed.
      Loverock Davidson_
  • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

    Do you know anything about linux ? Why would someone need lawyers to use Linux certainly world is not happy without linux.Most of servers transmission video trans coding , Movies are rendered using linux so live with it.
  • A world without linux is a happy one.

    In a corporate world yes but in a world where people WORK together to better software and hardware so that anyone can make sure what the software is really doing then NO.

    GPL is the only thing that is keeping privacy in check. You can not do something in the back ground with GPL with someone not knowing.

    I say Phone companies get off your butts and write your own code from the programs to the OS if you want to copy protect the work. Other wise jail broken phones and the like are legal if you are to use a GPL OS.
    • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?


      Actually, if a business is mid sizes or larger, then they rely on Linux servers for a lot of the business. Wall Street and most of the rest of the worlds big exchanges would collapse without Linux, as would the Internet. The US Department of Defense is on record as telling the Senate that restricting the use of Linux would endanger National Security. So is the NSA.

      Oh, and China, Britain's MI5 and MI6, Israel's Mossad and Brazil's economic departments all agree.

      Even Hollywood, where Mac's are shown everywhere on screen makes those screen shots with Linux. Modern special effects and animation depend on Linux for nearly every movie.

      No, you can't get rid of Linux. It's what powers the current big computers that actually run the world.

      And you are wrong about what the GPL requires. If a program uses GPL code in it, or if it is linked at run-time so that it is part of a complete program, then it is required to be GPL compliant, but, if it does the same thing with stand alone parts, that simply pass data back and forth, then it is not in violation of the GPL. This was worked out many years ago.

      That is why so many corporations write GPL software. they get back more than the cost.

      Steer clear of the GPL only if you are writing the program for sale. But, most programmers do not work for software sales organizations. For them, only a little care is needed in the preliminary phases. Oh, and the LGPL is not a problem even for the Software for Sale people.

      You can work with GPL software, if you try.
  • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

    Google stealing 'open source' projects to fill their pockets... shameless hypocrites.
  • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

    Yo! - DTS your up ? DTS heeeelllllooooo?
  • Oh Adrian, that was just delightful. Haven't read a better story from you.

    face palm
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
  • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

    Florian Mueller again? Open source advocate??? Wasn't he discredited back in the SCO days? Why yes, he was! Mr Kingsley Hughes - stop pontificating and either get reporting or stop altogether.

    Stop by Groklaw and get some legal opinions to balance those of the Software Tea Party. Then ignore them anyway, because, fact is, once companies have resorted to lawsuits as the only means to protect their business model, they have already lost.
    • RE: Have many Android vendors lost their rights to distribute Linux?

      @dimonic Software Tea Party? The Tea Party people that I have known want smaller government in Washington, and lower taxes. Big Corporations need Big Government to allow them to survive. They are mostly larger than could be supported in a Free Market (Which the US hasn't had since the 1850's). Grok Law is a good site, but your insistance on vilivying the Tea Party people only shows your ignorance of the people involved.

      Do you get all your opinions from the Huff Post or something?

      BTW, I do agree that Florian Mueller has fallen for a lot of obvious hoaxes over the years, and doesn't seem to understand US law.
  • Very little of Android is GPL, and that part IS released

    Such FUD -- if bloggers just asked instead of quoting each other back and forth, they'd get better answers.<br><br>Android source code breaks down into public, always-available branches -- the source code for ALL of this part of Android is ALWAYS available, for all versions, including ones in development. That includes the modest set of Linux kernel mods (that are GPL), and other sets of mods to open source projects from which Android draws, and makes mods (e.g., WebKit) - some of these are GPL, some are not. But all the source code is available, all the time. Do you want the GPL Linux kernel mods that are in Honeycomb 3.2? Go get them - they're available!<br><br>Separately, there's portions of Android (much of the userspace part) licensed under the Apache Software License 2.0 -- and much of that is developed in private branches, and released after it's stabilized. There's NOTHING wrong with this - the ASL explicitly permits it, it's a common and reasonable and recognized practice. And Google has offered cogent reasons why this makes sense for Android, given the ecology in which it lives.<br><br>See <a href="http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html," target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html,</a> and <a href="http://source.android.com/source/code-lines.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://source.android.com/source/code-lines.html</a>.<br><br>Sheesh, you'd think some people made a living out of generating uninformed arguments, rather than actually discussing baseline truth. Oh wait, they do.