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Who's Behind the Google-Linux License Ruckus? 241

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-money's-on-the-joker dept.
jfruhlinger writes "Yesterday, news broke that Android might have a Linux copyright problem, which would be big trouble for Google, already locked in an IP struggle with Oracle over the mobile platform. Blogger Brian Proffitt looks deeper into the alleged violations. He notes that, while it's possible that Google's on shaky ground, the motivations behind the news release are murky: the lawyer who outlined the violation is an ex-Microsoft hand, and the news was widely propagated by gadfly Florian Mueller, who's tangled with Google over patent issues in the past. Moreover, the alleged violations are in header files, and it's not clear that those are copyrightable; if they are, no actual copyright holders have come forward to complain."
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Who's Behind the Google-Linux License Ruckus?

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  • by dclozier (1002772) on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:22PM (#35537104)
    The headers files are standards defined!

    Can such standards defined files be copyrighted? IBM argued in its case against SCO that the Unix and Linux header files couldnâ(TM)t be copyrighted because of these issues. In the event, it was proved that Novell, and not SCO, owned Unixâ(TM)s copyrights and that issue, to the best of my knowledge, was never settled. Still, speaking for myself, it seems unlikely thereâ(TM)s any danger to Android or Android programmers from Linux header file copyrights.

    Do they have a case? [zdnet.com]

    This is just more FUD being generated by Microsoft's shills.

  • No complaints? (Score:2, Informative)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:30PM (#35537202) Journal

    There may be no specific complains yet, but Linus has been quite explicit and unambiguous [lkml.org] in the past about how he thinks the GPL applies to Linux kernel headers:

    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. ...
    BUT YOU CAN NOT USE THE KERNEL HEADER FILES TO CREATE NON-GPL'D BINARIES.

    Of course, Linus is not a lawyer, and his interpretation of GPL may not be correct. But the gist of the original story was that it was legal analysis made by an IP lawyer, and he essentially agreed with Linus.

    Oh, I know, I know! Linus is a paid Microsoft shill! Right?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:35PM (#35537262)

    Duh. viablos has at least five other accounts [slashdot.org].

    His hypocrisy is amazing: in one article saying OSS sucks, in this one he says Android should be 'more open' (while claiming WP7 is better... lol), at one time he says he's not a shill, yet in the next article he makes his fifteenth first post promoting Microsoft.

  • This is not about userspace API headers (which are partially defined by POSIX spec, but partially Linux specific, by the way).

    This is about kernel headers. Their content is not defined by any standard.

    You're wrong. This is about a cleaned-up header file that lets user-space programs call kernel services, as permitted by the COPYING file (a non-standard modified version of the GPL that specifically says user-space programs can call kernel services without invoking the "derived works" clause) that comes with the linux kernel source code.

    And the content of the cleaned-up file IS stuff defined by POSIX or other standards, structures, etc. This is not about including chunks of the kernel in user-space programs.

    Astro-turf much?

    (okay, you might have made an honest mistake, but wouldn't it have been easy to check first?)

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:46PM (#35537350) Journal

    You're wrong. This is about a cleaned-up header file that lets user-space programs call kernel services, as permitted by the COPYING file (a non-standard modified version of the GPL that specifically says user-space programs can call kernel services without invoking the "derived works" clause) that comes with the linux kernel source code.

    You're right, and I stand corrected.

    Is it the same exception that permits glibc (which necessarily uses those headers) to not require linking apps to be GPL?

    okay, you might have made an honest mistake, but wouldn't it have been easy to check first?

    You must be... uhhh... nevermind. Off your lawn. ~

  • Re:No complaints? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@NOSpAM.barbara-hudson.com> on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:57PM (#35537450) Journal

    There may be no specific complains yet, but Linus has been quite explicit and unambiguous [lkml.org] in the past about how he thinks the GPL applies to Linux kernel headers:

    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. ... BUT YOU CAN NOT USE THE KERNEL HEADER FILES TO CREATE NON-GPL'D BINARIES.

    Of course, Linus is not a lawyer, and his interpretation of GPL may not be correct. But the gist of the original story was that it was legal analysis made by an IP lawyer, and he essentially agreed with Linus.

    Oh, I know, I know! Linus is a paid Microsoft shill! Right?

    Okay, now you're definitely trolling, seeing as we've dealt with that question numerous times, and the COPYING file makes it clear that you CAN use kernel headers to make user-land binaries without triggering the "distribution" clause.

    What you can't do is make a closed kernel.

    NOTE! This copyright does *not* cover user programs that use kernel
    services by normal system calls - this is merely considered normal use
    of the kernel, and does *not* fall under the heading of "derived work".
    Also note that the GPL below is copyrighted by the Free Software
    Foundation, but the instance of code that it refers to (the Linux
    kernel) is copyrighted by me and others who actually wrote it.

    Also note that the only valid version of the GPL as far as the kernel
    is concerned is _this_ particular version of the license (ie v2, not
    v2.2 or v3.x or whatever), unless explicitly otherwise stated.

    Linus Torvalds

    GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE
    Version 2, June 1991

    So, since the limitations of the GPL (distribution of source) have been expressly waived for userland programs that only call kernel services, there is NO copyright violation for using the header files in such a fashion, ever.

    But keep shilling. It gives more opportunity to refute your arguments.

  • by eee_eff (1254240) on Friday March 18, 2011 @07:15PM (#35537636) Homepage
    Microsoft has been shown to be behind the SCO lawsuit rather convincingly by groklaw. This is just more noise, and I am not surprised to see Florain Mueller, paid Microsoft stooge, jumped very quickly on this astroturfed bandwagon. See that Ed Naughton's bio used to list all of the work he had done for Microsoft and now it is suddenly revised. Microsoft is one of the most deeply immoral companies ever with no respect for the idea of truth, let alone integrity. As covered at Groklaw news picks:

    "Edward J. Naughton bio gets revised [PJ: Edward J. Naughton, the attorney Huffington Post just published claiming Android may be in violation of the GPL has done work for Microsoft. Surprised much? His article states this at the end: "The views expressed are my own individual views and should not be attributed to any clients." Nevertheless, at least one of them may be delighted. His bio has changed recently. The link above is to its current state, where you will not find any mention of Microsoft. It's been changed to a "Fortune 50 software company". Here's what used to be on it, still in Google cache, a snapshot taken recently, on March 8]: - Co-counsel defending Microsoft against a putative consumer class action alleging that it had violated wiretapping statutes and common law privacy rights by designing Windows to permit third parties to place cookies on computers. Obtained dismissal of complaint.... - Represented Microsoft in several dozen lawsuits against resellers and corporate end-users of counterfeit, infringing, and unlicensed software. - Brown Rudnick bio page for Naughton

  • Re:No complaints? (Score:4, Informative)

    by butlerm (3112) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @06:57AM (#35541032)

    In this case, Google stripping that out is definitely wrong, because their process clearly creates a derived work (after all, it does take the original header as input, and applies purely mechanical transformations; I think this is clear cut).

    Courts have held in the United States that technical interfaces are not copyrightable. That includes structure names, layouts, and so on. See here [fenwick.com] (pdf).

    So if you take a header file and remove all the copyrightable contents (comments and so forth), what you are left with is technical interface meta data that is not protectable by copyright. That is not likely to go so far as legitimizing copies of non-trivial inline functions, but so far as ordinary manifest constants, structure layouts, and function declarations are concerned, if Baystate v. Bentley Systems (1996) means anything, Google appears to be in the clear.

If Machiavelli were a hacker, he'd have worked for the CSSG. -- Phil Lapsley

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