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Are Third-Party Android Vendors Violating the GPL? 132

Posted by timothy
from the checking-it-twice dept.
jfruhlinger writes "Google's refusal to not release Honeycomb source code is kosher because the code in question is released under the Apache license. But the kernel at the heart of Android is GPL'd, which means that code must be released. Google has actually been a good citizen in this regard — but many third-party Android vendors, not so much. While Asus has released their code, there are a host of companies that seem to have not done so, and Matthew Garrett is maintaining a list."
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Are Third-Party Android Vendors Violating the GPL?

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  • Google's refusal to not release Honeycomb source code

    Dude, you're not making any sense. I assume you mean refusal to release...?

    • by Threni (635302)

      I'm not sure that I do not find it hard to not disbelieve what you're saying here.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What the fuck does that even mean?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It means the code is not written with mixing meat and milk.

    • by bluemonq (812827)

      The code isn't kosher; the behavior is. Kosher has come to be an acceptable synonym for "legit", "okay", and "cricket".

  • IOW (Score:5, Funny)

    by kmdrtako (1971832) on Monday May 23, 2011 @06:34PM (#36223126)

    "Google's refusal to not release Honeycomb source..."

    I know that you believe you understand what you think you wrote, but I'm not sure you realize that what you wrote is not what you meant.

  • by Microlith (54737) on Monday May 23, 2011 @06:35PM (#36223140)

    Google has explicitly made decisions to minimize the presence of open source (rather, copyleft) software in the purview of device vendors that utilize Android. Only a handful of bits (kernel, bluez, couple others) are actually GPL'd; everything else is Apache and doesn't need to be released.

    I can see some companies just assuming they don't need to do anything at all (or like various vendors, they sit around and don't release the source for weeks.) Google certainly doesn't encourage openness and cooperation from their partners, let alone from random companies that grab the sources from the AOSP.

  • by t0qer (230538) on Monday May 23, 2011 @06:35PM (#36223146) Homepage Journal

    There's a rash of game emulators based on GPL code that is for sale in the andoid market. I actually purchased one "nesnoid" but later while I was browsing around for SNES emu's I found SNES9X for android.

    The description for it on the market said, "DON'T PAY ANY OF THESE CLOWNS FOR SELLING YOU GPL CODE!"

    It just doesn't happen with kernels or OS components, it happens ALOT with applications. Another example I found was a WEP cracker. There was one (name escapes me atm) for $10 advertising "GET FREE WIFI ANYWHERE", while WEP cracker stated "These guys are ripping you off, their code is based on ngcrack and a few other OSS libraries and they're not giving you the source"

    I understand that the GPL allows some recoup of costs for development and distribution, but at all times the source must be available for free. I'm sure THAT list of companies is much larger than the one Matthew lists on his page.

    • by Junta (36770) on Monday May 23, 2011 @06:48PM (#36223258)

      I understand that the GPL allows some recoup of costs for development and distribution, but at all times the source must be available for free.

      Actually, you only *need* to provide source to those who you provide binaries. So if your binaries require 20 dollars, you must provide the source to anyone who legitimately gets your binaries, but no more.

      Of course, they can subsequently turn around and redistribute your source at will.

      • by SETIGuy (33768)

        Actually, you only *need* to provide source to those who you provide binaries.

        That's only true is you provide source with the binaries. If you do not provide source with the binaries, you must provide with the binaries an offer to supply the source to anyone who requests it.

        • by msauve (701917)
          "If you do not provide source with the binaries, you must provide with the binaries an offer to supply the source to anyone who requests it."

          It depends on the version of the GPL. For GPL3, you're incorrect:

          You may convey a covered work in object code form ... provided that you also convey the machine-readable Corresponding Source ...[if distributed in a physical product, then] accompanied by a written offer, ... to give anyone who possesses the object code ... a copy of the Corresponding Source ... [If you

          • by julesh (229690)

            So, there is no requirement to offer source to anyone, only those who legitimately possess the object code.

            OTOH, anyone can legitimately possess the object code, because the original recipient who paid you for it is free to provide as many copies of it as they want to anyone they like, as long as they accompany it with a copy of your written offer. Theoretically, you could demand to see that copy of the written offer (or some other evidence that they have a copy of the object code), but it hardly seems wor

          • by SETIGuy (33768)

            So, there is no requirement to offer source to anyone, only those who legitimately possess the object code.

            Correct, but since you can't place requirements on redistribution of the object code most people would end up assuming that anyone who requests is in possession of the object code. It's easy enough just to set up a public repository for the code and be done with it.

            • by msauve (701917)
              "you can't place requirements on redistribution of the object code"

              Not in theory, but in fact you can from a practical sense. See Red Hat.
      • by LingNoi (1066278)

        Which is why you sell the first copy for a million dollars, i'm a genius!

        • More or less, yes. Well, not a million dollars, but that's how I get paid to write Free Software (usually BSDL). The company that actually needs the feature pays for it. It's then distributed to everyone who uses the software for free. If someone else needs another feature, they pay for it. Everyone benefits, and the people who paid for specific features pay a lot less than they would if they had to pay for the entire codebase to be implemented.

          It's a fairly simple model, you just charge for the diffi

    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      The GPL doesn't prohibit the sale of any product containing GPL code. The only requirement is that the source be made available to those you sell it to. As long as these vendors are making the source available to purchasers they are in full compliance with the GPL.

      Might shock you to learn but every one of those PDF vendors that sell PDF printers are in fact selling the GPL PDF code in a windows driver. As long as they provide the source to the GPL bits they aren't in violation. The GPL has no statements abo

      • "The GPL has no statements about the sale of products with GPL code,"

        That is because it is assumed that when you sell a device with GPL code on it, you are distributing the GPL code which means that the GPL applies. When a store sells a computer with a copy of Windows on it, they are distributing a copy of Windows and they have to pay for the privilege and follow any contractual obligations Microsoft requires. The GPL works the same way.

        • This seems to be most common scenario:

          1) Project A is GPL, releases binaries, releases code. It's totally free.
          2) Project B is based on Project A. It sells binaries, does not release code.
          3) However, while project B might change the name, they don't make any real modifications to the code. They're just selling the same crap you could get free elsewhere.

          Since Project B doesn't have any modifications over Project A, and Project A's source code is widely available, is Project B off the hook when it comes to

    • by exomondo (1725132)

      The description for it on the market said, "DON'T PAY ANY OF THESE CLOWNS FOR SELLING YOU GPL CODE!"

      But you're allowed to sell software that uses GPL code.

      • by dudpixel (1429789)

        Correct, but it still makes you a clown, because your customers could get for free what you are trying to charge for...

        • by exomondo (1725132)
          There was a story a little while ago about a guy charging for Blender (which he renamed to something else) but had all the relevant licensing info at the bottom of the page.
  • ... but is he checking it twice?
    • by asylumx (881307)
      Your joke would be funnier if the post wasn't already from "the checking-it-twice dept."
      • by lucm (889690)

        > Your joke would be funnier if the post wasn't already from "the checking-it-twice dept."

        When you think about it, it is actually much funnier...

        • > Your joke would be funnier if the post wasn't already from "the checking-it-twice dept."

          When you think about it, it is actually much funnier...

          Perhaps twice as funny.

  • Are Third-Party Android Vendors Violating the GPL?

    Gee, I don't know, are they?

    Is this what qualifies as "journalism" in 2011?

    Can you image the New York Times headline of July 21, 1969: Did Americans just land on the Moon?

    Oh, it appears that someone is keeping a list of Android GPL violations, so the answer is yes.

    • I've long been in favor of the tag "punctuationpunditry"
    • But is he right? Only the kernel is GPL'ed, and the vendors are mostly doing UI skinning--do we even know if they're modifying any of the stuff that falls under the GPL?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        It does not matter if they modify or not. If they distribute GPL binaries, which they do they, they must provide source.

        Also they do modify it, often by including drivers or driver stubs so they can keep the drivers closed. I wish google would require contributing open drivers to the android project to get market access.

  • Just search for HTC and GPL on Google or Twitter. Need I say more?
  • Wait, it's distributed from the Marketplace, that means Google is violating the GPL if I give Google the "binary" .apk for my GPL'd project. I must make the source code available to whomever I have distributed to -- this is Google not anyone else.

    This means that, since Google is redistributing my .apk, they are responsible for responding to requests for the GPL'd source code, NOT ME. Google can ask me for the source code, and I'll give them a copy, but since they are going to distribute the GPL'd code,

    • by exomondo (1725132)

      This means that, since Google is redistributing my .apk, they are responsible for responding to requests for the GPL'd source code, NOT ME. Google can ask me for the source code, and I'll give them a copy, but since they are going to distribute the GPL'd code, the hosting of said GPL'd code for those they distribute to is Google's burden!

      That's a good point, but i would suggest that google redistributing the unchanged binary is akin to any hosting provider redistributing the binaries you place on their servers.

      We've already been through this with Apple's application repository. The result was that Apple didn't want to distribute GPL'd code anymore.

      AFAIK that was wrt the single-device issue of Apple's ToS.

      • by wrook (134116)

        This means that, since Google is redistributing my .apk, they are responsible for responding to requests for the GPL'd source code, NOT ME. Google can ask me for the source code, and I'll give them a copy, but since they are going to distribute the GPL'd code, the hosting of said GPL'd code for those they distribute to is Google's burden!

        That's a good point, but i would suggest that google redistributing the unchanged binary is akin to any hosting provider redistributing the binaries you place on their servers.

        I don't think this is the case. The app store doesn't give access to everyone. In some cases it charges for software. If you don't pay, you can't download the software. I think there's a strong case to be made that the app store is the one making the copy. It's not even like buying a router from a store with GPL software on it. We don't hold the store liable to redistribute the source code, but they aren't actually making a copy, so they aren't a party to the GPL. If the app store can be said to be

        • by exomondo (1725132)

          I think there's a strong case to be made that the app store is the one making the copy. It's not even like buying a router from a store with GPL software on it. We don't hold the store liable to redistribute the source code, but they aren't actually making a copy, so they aren't a party to the GPL. If the app store can be said to be making a copy, then they must be held responsible for making the source available.

          But isn't there a caveat on that wrt the fact that it's an unmodified copy?
          If you borrow a CD with a binary built from GPL code and you make a copy of that CD then who is the one that is required to provide the source? You made the copy but that doesn't mean it's you who has to provide the source to yourself. And if you asked me to loan you that CD it would seem pretty anti-freedom if i said i wouldn't give it to you because that would make me liable to provide you the source, surely i could loan you the CD

    • by julesh (229690)

      I must make the source code available to whomever I have distributed to -- this is Google not anyone else. M/quote>

      Not quite: you must provide a transferrable written offer to provide the source to anyone who has a copy of the binary. You're not allowed to just wait for google to ask for the code, you must be proactive in making sure they know it is available. Your offer to provide the source could realistically go in one of two places: a pop up message available from your application's UI somewhere, or in the market description. In either case, google is fulfilling their obligation to transfer that offer to the end user.

  • "Google's refusal to not release Honeycomb source code is kosher because the code in question is released under the Apache license. But the kernel at the heart of Android is GPL'd, which means that code must be released. Google has actually been a good citizen in this regard

    Wait, hold on a minute. It's precisely the fact the Apache licence doesn't compel them to release the source that would make them "good citizens" if they did, rather than just giving it to a select few OEMs.

    but many third-pa

  • In fact most of the GPL compliant ones do not provide a workable source but just throw some code. GPL specify you need the tools and instruction to reproduce the binary.
    That said, it's usually OK as we figure stuff out.

    There is another side however, for example let's take Samsung. They do release the GPL stuff (after a week delay usually) for one version, for example Froyo.
    Then they release important Froyo updates but the GPL code will not be updated. One could argue that the GPL code did not change, but th

    • Dell is the same way with the Streak 5. They have a kernel dump from an old version of Froyo from last year and their build instructions are shitty to the point of uselessness (download the android source from Qualcomm? Good thing there's only ever been one version...).

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @09:49AM (#36228028)

    From my Understanding you don't need to keep your Source as part of the main download area. You could in theory take a mailed letter request for GPL source and then you fax over the source code and they are in compliance. Sure it doesn't follow the spirit of the GPL but it follows the words.

    The part that actually gets on my nerves are the people who are rabid in enforcing the GPL are often the same people who support piracy of closed source software, or breaking into companies networks to prove some lame point. If you want people to follow your license you need to bring out an olive branch and support theirs too.

    • by thomasdn (800430)

      The part that actually gets on my nerves are the people who are rabid in enforcing the GPL are often the same people who support piracy of closed source software, or breaking into companies networks to prove some lame point

      Citation needed.

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