Clarification on Android, its (Lack of) Copyleft-ness, and GPL Enforcement

Thursday 19 May 2011 by Bradley M. Kuhn

I'm grateful to Brian Proffitt for clarifying some of these confusions about Android licensing. In particular, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has cleared up the confusions that Edward J. Naughton keeps spreading regarding the GPL.

I noted that Naughton even commented on Proffitt's article; the comment spreads even more confusion about the GPL. In particular, Naughton claims that most BusyBox GPL violations are on unmodified versions of BusyBox. That's just absolutely false, if for no other reason that a binary is a modified version of the source code in the first place, and nearly all BusyBox GPL violations involve a binary-only version distributed without any source (nor an offer therefor).

Mixed in with Naughton's constant confusions about what the GPL and LGPL actually requires, he does have a possible valid point lurking: there are a few components in Android/Linux that are under copyleft licenses, namely Linux (GPL) and Webkit (LGPL). Yet, in all of Naughton's screeching about this issue, I haven't seen any clear GPL or LGPL violation reports — all I see is speculation about what may or may not be a violation without any actual facts presented.

I'm pretty sure that I've spent more time reading and assessing the veracity of GPL violation reports than anyone on the planet. I don't talk about this part of it much: but there are, in fact, a lot of false alarms. I get emails every week from users who are confused about what the GPL and LGPL actually require, and I typically must send them back to collect more details before I can say with any certainty a GPL or LGPL violation has occurred.

Of course, as a software freedom advocate, I'm deeply dismayed that Google, Motorola and others haven't seen fit to share a lot of the Android code in a meaningful way with the community; failure to share software is an affront to what the software freedom movement seeks to accomplish. However, every reliable report that I've seen indicates that there are no GPL nor LGPL violations present. Of course, if someone has evidence to the contrary, they should send it to those of us who do GPL enforcement. Meanwhile, despite Naughton's public claims that there are GPL and LGPL violations occurring, I've received no contact from him. Don't you think if he was really worried about getting a GPL or LGPL violation resolved, he'd contact the guy in the world most known for doing GPL enforcement and see if I could help?

Of course, Naughton hasn't contacted me because he isn't really interested in software freedom. He's interested in getting press for himself, and writing vague reports about Android copyrights and licensing is a way to get lots of press. I put out now a public call to anyone who believes they haven't received source code that they were required to get under GPL or LGPL to get in touch with me and I'll try to help, or at the very least put you in touch with a copyright holder who can help do some enforcement with you. I don't, however, expect to see a message in my inbox from Naughton any time soon, nor do I expect him to actually write about the wide-spread GPL violations related to Android/Linux that Matthew Garrett has been finding. Garrett's findings are the real story about Android/Linux compliance, but it's presumably not headline-getting enough for Naughton to even care.

Finally, Naughton is a lawyer. He has the skills at hand to actually help resolve GPL violations. If he really cared about GPL violations, he'd offer his pro bono help to copyright holders to assist in the overwhelming onslaught of GPL violations. I've written and spoken frequently about how I and others who enforce the GPL are really lacking in talented person-power to do more enforcement. Yet, again, I haven't received an offer from Naughton or these other lawyers who are opining about GPL non-compliance to help me get some actual GPL compliance done. I await their offers, but I'm certainly not expecting they'll be forthcoming.

(BTW, you'll notice that I don't link to Naughton's actual article myself; I don't want to give him any more linkage than he's already gotten. I'm pretty aghast at the Huffington Post for giving a far-reaching soapbox to such shoddy commentary, but I suppose that I shouldn't expect better from a company owned by AOL.)

Posted on Thursday 19 May 2011 at 10:15 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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from standard import disclaimer
SELECT full_text FROM standard WHERE type = 'disclaimer';

Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn@ebb.org>