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Does Android Have a Linux Copyright Problem? 292

Posted by timothy
from the ask-the-patented-magic-8-ball dept.
An anonymous reader writes "TheRegister says Google's attempt to purge copyright from header files has put mobile developers at risk of being forced to reveal their own source code, according to legal experts. This time it's not patents or Android's reinterpretation of Java that's causing problems, but the Linux code that compiles down into Android itself. The discussion started with a Huffington Post article by IP lawyer Edward Naughton, who has serious doubts about Google's approach to the Linux kernel header files. He in turn links to copyright law professor Ray Nimmer's blog post on disclosure risks on copyleft platforms. And IP blogger Florian Mueller believes Google faces a serious Linux copyright issue."
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Does Android Have a Linux Copyright Problem?

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  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Thursday March 17, 2011 @01:59PM (#35519566) Homepage Journal

    Nimmer is the real deal. He wrote the definitive treatise on copyright law. It is cited in more judicial opinions than any other scholarly work on the subject. That doesn't mean Google is necessarily screwed, but it certainly means this is a serious matter.

    Despite the persistent belief that copyleft and the GPL are antithetical to copyright law, nothing could be further from the truth. The GPL relies on copyright law; without copyright there could be no GPL. Google's attitude seems to be that copyright is merely a hassle, an obstacle to be routed around. Even if they are not found to be legally in violation of the GPL, they obviously Bionic with the deliberate intent of routing around it.

    If openness is a virtue, what is sort-of-openness?

  • Re:What the heck? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:13PM (#35519782) Homepage

    This won't play into a goddamn thing. It's headers. read the first post. Headers are not copyrighted. This seems to be about as blatant a lack of comprehension you can get.

    Well, from the last article linked from the summary:

    Linus Torvalds himself has clearly rejected the idea of using the original Linux kernel headers in programs that aren't licensed under the GPL. In a posting to the official Linux kernel mailing list, he made the following unequivocal statements:

            "In short: you do _NOT_ have the right to use a kernel header file (or any other part of the kernel sources), unless that use results in a GPL'd program."

            "So you can run the kernel and create non-GPL'd programs [...]
            BUT YOU CAN NOT USE THE KERNEL HEADER FILES TO CREATE NON-GPL'D BINARIES.
            Comprende?"

    Now, I have no idea if Linus making this assertion is a fully valid legal opinion, but he's sure as hell under the impression that they're certainly copyrighted.

    And, the second link in the summary says:

    Recently, Ray Nimmer, a well-known copyright law professor, observed that there could also be a problem with the way Google used some key Linux software code, called kernel header files, to create a vitally important element of Android. In fact, the way that Google used these files creates a legal quandary for manufacturers of Android devices and many developers writing code and applications for those devices.

    So, I'm not entirely convinced that your assertion that the header files aren't copyrighted is actually true.

    Most of these articles seem to be saying that this quite likely is a violation of copyright.

  • Re:What the heck? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Desler (1608317) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:26PM (#35519966)

    So, I'm not entirely convinced that your assertion that the header files aren't copyrighted is actually true.

    It's not an assertion. It's backed up by case law such as the rulings of SCO v IBM where one of IBM's central claims against SCO with respect to SystemV header files like ERRNO.H is that they aren't copyrightable.

  • by mmurphy000 (556983) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:28PM (#35519986)

    This library is essential for Android application development, therefore it would become legally impossible to develop a closed-source Android app.

    By that argument, it would be legally impossible to develop a closed-source Linux app. Yet there are many closed-source Linux apps. Do not confuse "linking with a GPLv2 library" and "writing for an OS that contains GPLv2 libraries".

  • Re:What the heck? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Raffaello (230287) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:38PM (#35520128)

    IBM's claim, which was upheld, what that those specific headers were not copyrightable because they were in the public domain. IBM did not claim that header files in general are not copyrightable.

  • Re:What the heck? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by just_another_sean (919159) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:53PM (#35520340) Homepage Journal

    OK, I am one of the IANAL guys spouting off about headers not being protected by copyright but you definitely raise a good point. So lets assume there are many comments in the header files in Linux, some useful, some funny, some coming close to the greatest written piece ever. I'll grant that those elements in the file are subject to copyright.

    Now, back to your example, if the only thing in your header file is the comment itself which contains this fabulous piece of writing and the fact that you completed it on 3/18/2011* and I strip it out the writing, leaving only the date completed (a fact), is the header file still subject to copyright protection?

    The point I'm trying to make is that Google claims (right or wrong, I don't know, I have not seen the files) that they stripped out everything but the sections of the header that describe the interface into the Linux kernel. Linux on the other hand copied some of this data from BSD and ATT SYSV header files claiming all along that this was needed for interoperability. A court of law held that IBM could do the same thing with regards to Linux and SCO could not claim protection over those files. I agreed with that then and I agree with it now; assuming Google did a thorough job of scrubbing anything out of the files that was worthy of copyright protection.

    * Happy Saint Patrick's Day everyone!

  • What's with Google? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Funk_dat69 (215898) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @03:17PM (#35520716)

    I know only a minimal amount about Android, but why does Google insist on walking on the very edge of legality in regards to all of the software involved here? Licensing costs? That explains Java, but why all the incompatible custom changes, copyright header removals, and general open source shadiness.

    They may be within that law, but are outside the bounds of being upstanding (apologize before hand for the term) 'FOSS netizens'.

    Can they really not get Android to work *and* play nice?

  • by Unequivocal (155957) on Friday March 18, 2011 @12:10AM (#35526100)

    Linus back in 2003 seems to disagree in this post, cited by one of TFA's:

    "In short: you do _NOT_ have the right to use a kernel header file (or any other part of the kernel sources), unless that use results in a GPL'd program."

    "So you can run the kernel and create non-GPL'd programs [...]
    BUT YOU CAN NOT USE THE KERNEL HEADER FILES TO CREATE NON-GPL'D BINARIES.
    Comprende?" -- http://lkml.org/lkml/2003/12/5/13 [lkml.org]

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