Android is still safe under the GPL

Yesterday there was a lot of fear in the Android world after an IP attorney Edward Naughton claimed that all Android manufacturers would lose their rights to distribute Android because  they did not comply with the terms of the GNU General Public Licence (GPL).

Naughton claimed that Android manufacturers have already lost their licences to distribute GPLed code inside Android and it was all over bar the shouting.

The claims were echoed by FOSSPatent author Florian Mueller who claimed that most Android vendors who lost their Linux distribution rights, could face shakedown or shutdown.

But the head of the Software Freedom Conservancy Bradley Kuhn told IT World that was total rubbish and there are no legitimate claims made on Android GPL violation.

The problem appears to be that Naughton looks at one key aspect of the GPL, version 2; Section 4. This said that you can’t copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Program except as expressly provided under the licence. Parties who have received copies, or rights, under this licence will not have their licences terminated so long as such parties remain in full compliance.

Basically it says that if you break the licence terms, your licence to distribute is taken away from you.

Naughton said that the BusyBox GPL violation lawsuits that were undertaken on behalf of the BusyBox developers by the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC).

In that case a preliminary injunction filed against defendants Best Buy and Phoebe Micro, claimed that even though the defendants had made the source code available, the SFC was still maintaining they were still out of compliance with the GPL because they hadn’t addressed the BusyBox plaintiff’s demands for damages.

Naughton said that means that Android vendors who have not released the GPLed code inside Android are going to be in violation of the GPL.

If that is the case then Google itself is also subject to GPL violation, Naughton argues.

Bradley Kuhn, who is the executive director of the SFC, said that while he was 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, this failure to share software is an affront to what the software freedom movement seeks to accomplish.

However, as he sees it, there are no GPL nor LGPL violations present. If someone has evidence to the contrary, they should send it to those who do GPL enforcement.

In other words, Naughton should put up or shut up. If he was really worried about getting a GPL or LGPL violation resolved, he should really have a word with the bloke known for doing GPL enforcement.

In fact nobody is filing formal complaints against these manufacturers or Google.