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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 n2rjt (88804) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:23PM (#35537124) Journal

    The Brian Proffitt blog spells it out nicely. The bionic library has standard header files. That's the API definition, not copyrightable sorry. So, even though glibc has very similar header files, using the same names and everything, Bionic did not steal anything from glibc. They simply implement the same API, so they must, by definition, have the essentially the same header files.
    Nothing to see here, move along. But before you do, read the blog. I'd score it a 5 if it were on slashdot.

  • by msauve (701917) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:31PM (#35537214)

    The headers files are standards defined!

    And, ISTM, it wasn't that long ago that everyone around here was up in arms, saying headers couldn't be copyrighted, when SCO tried to claim infringement by Linux header files - saying there was copyrighted content taken from UNIX. <confused>Which is it, or does it depend on who's ox is getting gored?</confused>

  • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:35PM (#35537266)

    So what if it's an ex-Microsoft hand pointing it out? He still seems to be correct.. Even if he would have something in mind when pointing it out, it doesn't change the fact.

    True, and if the ex-Microsoft exaggerates the issue then it is still a troll. Note that the best trolls always contain some grain of truth. I finally got around to reading the brownrudnick whitepaper-looking-thingy on this issue. It smacks of troll. It fails to convince me that Google's kernel header sanitizing process is different in nature from what is done to create libc kernel headers, without which userspace applications would have a tough time interfacing to the kernel.

    On the other hand, I am convinced that Google did itself and our community a disservice by failing to do the obvious thing and consult with the kernel community on this question beforehand. Simply posting a link to the sanitized kernel headers to lkml would have done wonders. Google displays more than a small amount of arrogance in its handling of this and other important community issues. I do not think that is a good idea.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:37PM (#35537276)

    And every time issues like this come out, it drives people further away from developing Open Source alternatives. They think "If Google is having this much trouble, we'll get sued in to bankruptcy!"

    Not quite. Replace "Open Source" with "GPL". There is no such fear among users of BSD and comparable licenses. I'm not saying the GPL is bad, I am just saying that there are costs associated with everything. If your license is viral, restrictive or ideological then its adoption will be impeded to some degree despite any idealistic motivations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:38PM (#35537282)

    Google's kind of cool, so it's important to play down copyright violations. Now if it were Microsoft or Oracle, it would be a completely different thing. The facts would be the same, but it would be a completely different situation. Google is so cool.

  • by tbird20d (600059) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:43PM (#35537338)
    This whole thing just makes me angry, because it ignores legal standards that have applied to Linux and been accepted by all parties, for years. If Naughton's legal analysis is correct, and use of the Linux header files causes the GPL to apply to the utilizing work, then glibc is in more danger than Bionic is. glibc is LGPL, not GPL, and has been using "full" Linux kernel headers for years. How could Bionic, using a stripped down subset of the same headers, be subject to the GPL, if glibc is not?
  • by The End Of Days (1243248) on Friday March 18, 2011 @05:45PM (#35537348)

    Unsubstantiated finger pointing by anonymous cowards doesn't make for an outing in any sense, no matter how morally outraged you may be that your opinion isn't the only one that is allowed to be expressed.

  • is simply this... when a new version of the GPL comes out and you wish to continue using the GPL, all future licensed software must be released under the new GPL license. GPL 3 is amazing, but too few people are using it.

    First, the GPL forbids that sort of restriction.

    Second, what if some future version of the GPL contains something that makes it less free?

    Third, the GPL v3 has some flaws. Android wouldn't be commercially possible if linux were GPL v3.

  • by novar21 (1694492) on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:24PM (#35537730)
    always makes me suspicious. If you have nothing to gain (financially or otherwise) what is the purpose of making statements that someone may be doing something illegal or that ramifications could be disastrous. The only purpose would be to spread fear, uncertainty, or doubt to benefit another entity. It seems like gossip to me. It is very distasteful, and I try to avoid reading things of that nature. Although I must state that I am an android phone owner and very happy with the device. I will probably buy my wife one this June. If the Linux Kernel writers do not like what has been done, so be it. I can write software. And I am willing to release it under a GPL'ed license. This is not a big deal to me.
  • Florian Mueller? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trufagus (1803250) on Friday March 18, 2011 @06:28PM (#35537760)

    Florian Mueller has zero credibility left.

    Remember? He was the guy who claimed that Android included source stolen from Oracle's Java. After getting enormous publicity the whole thing was debunked:
    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/burnette/oops-no-copied-java-code-or-weapons-of-mass-destruction-found-in-android/2162 [zdnet.com]

    So, why are we still listening to him? There are millions of voices on the Internet, shouldn't we listen to one of the ones that still has credibility?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @08:42PM (#35538840)

    I agree because I vastly prefer the BSD license to the GPL.

    I disagree because it would be abused by phone manufacturers. Proprietary kernel changes? Closed drivers? Fuck that.

    Right now Android is in a precarious balancing act which actually seems to work. GPLed driver development means any off-the-shelf phones can be ported to run on non-stock kernel builds (assuming the phone is unlocked). BSDed userspace APIs means manufacturers adopt and develop for Android because they can keep their app and library code proprietary.

    It isn't pretty but it's better than nothing. IMO Android would be perfect if the kernel was licensed GPLv3. Fuck the lockdown attempts.

  • by LuYu (519260) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:15PM (#35539054) Homepage Journal

    You know, there are two licensing-related problems Google is facing now with Android: the Oracle lawsuit, and now this. Both seem to have at least partially arisen because Google didn't float stuff past people who have interests in the technologies they chose to use.

    This is unfair to Google. I have plenty of gripes with Android, but these two were not Google's fault. First, nobody considered the header files to be copyrightable material. As one poster above pointed out, people in the FOSS community laughed when SCO made such a claim just a few years ago. If it was not an issue then, how can Google be wrong now? They did not exactly strip out the copyright notices in the kernel source and call it the "Android Kernel®", did they?

    In the case of the Java problem, Google could not have anticipated that Sun would be bought by a hostile company that would try to rob them using copyrights. Sun, for all its faults, was pretty reasonable about Java. The new owner, on the other hand, is predatory and crooked. They see an opportunity to hit Google up for some cash, and they are taking it. To blame Google for being a victim of lawyers would be like blaming victims of a natural disaster for living in a place where no natural disasters had struck yet.

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