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Does Android Have a Linux Copyright Problem? 292

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

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:04PM (#35519654) Journal

    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.

  • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @02:10PM (#35519754) Homepage
    [Ray] Nimmer is the real deal. He wrote the definitive treatise on copyright law.

    You're thinking of David Nimmer [wikipedia.org]. Ray Nimmer has lots of credentials too, but he's a different guy.
  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday March 17, 2011 @03:03PM (#35520516)

    Because of an addendum Torvalds added to the GPL v2 as it applies to the Linux kernel. I couldn't find it quickly on Google

    You can find it in the COPYING file at the top level of the Linux kernel source tree:

    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

    which is followed by the text of the GPLv2.

  • Re:NO... (Score:4, Informative)

    by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @03:11PM (#35520616)

    No real risks, just header files which are not even copyrightable and things explicitly permitted by the lesser (lib) GPL licence anyway, noting to read here just Florian Mueller posting as anonymous for the FUD..

    Header files are almost certainly copyrightable. There seems to be some debate about whether you can restrict use of the header files for compilation based on the copyright, although the GPL assumes that you can (that's what the whole LGPL thing is about.)

    Some of the linux header files are LGPL, but most are GPLv2; what the LGPL allows would not apply.

  • by Maestro4k ( 707634 ) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @03:27PM (#35520886) Journal

    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 you read the rationale section of Bionic README.TXT [kernel.org] it doesn't seem that Google's trying to claim these new headers are re-licensed. They're simply providing an (automatic) way to create cleaned headers that won't cause compilation errors due to a variety of reasons that the original headers can/will cause them. While I'm not a copyright expert, this doesn't sound anything like what these guys are claiming Google's doing.

    Also, I've never heard of anyone having to release their source code because they used header files from Linux. You kinda have to use them to compile, and there's plenty of non-GPL software that compiles and runs on Linux that hasn't been forced to release its source code.

  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Thursday March 17, 2011 @03:27PM (#35520890) Journal
    These are "cleaned-up header files that you can use with Android, because the original kernel headers are a bit of a mess, as explained here [kernel.org]

    Bionic comes with a set of 'clean' Linux kernel headers that can safely be included by userland applications and libraries without fear of hideous conflicts. for more information why this is needed, see the "RATIONALE" section at the end of this document.

    these clean headers are automatically generated by several scripts located in the 'bionic/kernel/tools' directory, which process a set of original and unmodified kernel headers in order to get rid of many annoying declarations and constructs that usually result in compilation failure.

    In other words, they're complying with the GPL by including the scripts necessary to generate the code. Florian Mueller is a liar and enemy of open source, has been for years. This is the guy who went around saying open source destroys value.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 17, 2011 @04:37PM (#35521946)

    Here's the thread that comment was taken from:


    The topic under discussion is the old controversy of Linux community regarding binary loadable kernel modules, and whether they can be provided under a non-GPL license. This is an entirely different ball of wax. The same thread also mentions that the LINUX COPYING file explicitly clarifies that user space programs that are compiled to work with the LINUX kernel DO NOT incur a GPL obligation. This is the foundation of the vast library of proprietary software that runs on regular Linux today.

    As far an ISV using Android is concerned, if they write kernel modules (e.g. a device driver) or modify the kernel source itself, then yes, they'd have to disclose that source, but Android application programs (including those provided by manufacturers or vendors) can happily be as proprietary as they like.

    So as far as I can tell, this is just FUD dressed up in a nice pinstripe suit.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI