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GNU is Not Unix Handhelds Linux Hardware Your Rights Online

Most Android Tablets Fail At GPL Compliance 198

Posted by timothy
from the hey-man-those-are-just-like-rules dept.
polar_bear` writes "Red Hat's Matthew Garrett has been checking to see who's naughty and nice. Most Android tablet vendors? Naughty, naughty, naughty, when it comes to GPL compliance. In the current crop of Android tablets, most of the vendors flout the GPL and fail to ship source."
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Most Android Tablets Fail At GPL Compliance

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:37AM (#34719760)

    Assuming that you personally don't care about the ability to see and modify the source to the whole operating system on your phone, perhaps it would be nice to avoid this scenario:
    1) You buy GPL-violating tablet from no-name company.
    2) Company gets sued or threatened.
    3) Company disappears and your device no longer has any support.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:50AM (#34719840) Journal
    The area that surprises me is the 'devices produced by small unknown Chinese companies; but rebadged and sold by large American/Japanese/etc. ones' niche.

    Given the number of obscure OEMs toiling away on designs based on what appear to be the same set of chipsets, you would expect that a large reseller would have its choice of OEMs, and strong ability to dictate terms. Further, you would expect that the respective legal departments of these re-badgers would absolutely flip out at the idea of incurring substantial risk of copyright infringement risk.

    The odds that Sylvania actually produced the hardware being marketed under their name are not huge; but Sylvania is a US-market brand of a pretty big Japanese electronics outfit. If anybody were to sue them about it, there could be serious money on the table.

    Coby Electronics Corporation, while it isn't exactly a luxury brand(seen by name in places like CVS pharmacy's electronics aisle, does some OEM work for Radio Shack), is a company with nontrivial size and US presence. Were I their lawyer, I'd be turning a cool shade of purple at the amount of liability we were racking up to score some tiny margins on skeezy wannabe android tablets to be sold to suckers at CVS.

    While FOSS guys tend to be nice about it, the penalties in the US for copyright infringement are downright draconian, and that niceness is wholly optional.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:57AM (#34719874)

    the distributor must either include their sources or make a clear offer to their customers to provide them on demand. They needn't provide them to the general public.

    If they ship the source with the binary, then they do not have to provide the source to anyone else. If they don't ship the source with the binary, then they must make the source available to anyone who has a copy of the binary, not just their direct customers (or really anyone under certain circumstances). The GPLv2 was clearer in that regard: For commercial distribution, either ship with source or make available to "any third party". (The first party is who offers the license, the second party accepts it, so "any third party" is the general public). It is much preferable for distributors to ship with source. It fulfills their obligations under the GPL in an instant. Otherwise they have to keep the matching source available for at least three years, or longer if the product is maintained longer, and they have to give it to anyone who wants it. Distributors, ship the source, it's the easy way.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:03AM (#34719904)

    these re-badgers would absolutely flip out at the idea of incurring substantial risk of copyright infringement risk.

    You need money to sue someone. FOSS idealists have none, and big companies with vested interest in FOSS software that could afford the legal costs know better than to hurt their own kind. That's why everybody and their dogs trample on the GPL with zero fear of legal actions.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:10AM (#34719944) Journal
    I suspect, percentage wise, it is fairly safe; but more than a few well-known names have been bitten for noncompliance with respect to busybox utilities... It's hardly a certainty, I'm just surprised that, given the likely bargaining power of the re-badger vs. the random throwaway OEM, that legal is signing off on even modest risk.
  • by Rakishi (759894) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:29AM (#34720042)

    Hardly bitten, more like they got a mildly dirty look from a random stranger. Have there been any settlements or awards that were more than a slap on the wrist of the company? Any that in any way impacted their bottom line in even the smallest way?

  • by icebike (68054) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:58AM (#34720136)

    For most, simply coming into compliance is all they are ever asked to do in court.

    Some busybox (etc) providers drag their heels on even that, but most simply hang it on their website in some obscure place and call it a day. Most of these devices are obsolete before anyone notices the missing source code.

    Its not hard to comply, its just that Joe Purchasing Agent has no clue he is supposed to do so when he buys a cheesy tablet from an OEM and changes nothing but the label on the back.

  • Re:Ship Source? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Friday December 31, 2010 @05:12AM (#34720184)

    Law, learn it.

    YOU have satisfied your obligation if you provide a means of to obtain it.

    YOU do not have to run a web site.
    YOU do not have to physically hand the source code over on a CD.
    YOU can hire someone, or merely have an agreement with someone.

    YOU have no idea what the hell YOU are talking about.

  • Re:Take take take (Score:4, Insightful)

    by obarel (670863) on Friday December 31, 2010 @08:59AM (#34720920)

    Even though I have not contributed one line of code, I'm still affected by it as a software developer. I earn my living by writing software for my company. I do not use GPL because I know it's illegal not to publish the code, and my company cannot afford to publish our code, due to competition.

    This means that my company invests time and money (which directly affects my livelihood due to competition) into software development, while other, larger companies just take GPL'ed code and use it without fear (and without any intention to release their code). So they have an unfair advantage over my company. It's unfair, because what they do is illegal. Not "mildly" illegal, like taking candy from a baby (= taking code from whining hippy spare-time developers), but very illegal, like stealing code from a competitor. Basically this business practice harms competition, and indirectly it also harms the consumer - big companies destroy their competiton by illegal means, and the consumer is left with less choice.

    GPL has a purpose - to make the code, changes and derivatives available to everybody. Using it in other ways gives big companies unfair advantage, which is in many places an illegal practice (like bribing politicians or abusing public resources with impunity). Yes, it's the way of the world, but many people are angry about corrupt politicians even if they are not directly affected.

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce

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