Most Android vendors lost their Linux distribution rights, could face shutdown

“Last week I read about an Android licensing issue that I wasn’t previously aware of,” Florian Mueller reports for FOSS Patents. “It’s a pretty serious one, and it’s not that hard to understand.”

The short version is that:
• rampant non-compliance with the source code disclosure requirement of the GPLv2 (the license under which Linux is published) — especially but not only in connection with Honeycomb — has technically resulted in a loss of most vendors’ right to distribute Linux;
• this loss of the distribution license is irremediable except through a new license from each and every contributor to the Linux kernel, without which Android can’t run; and
• as a result, there are thousands of people out there who could legally shake down Android device makers, threatening to obtain Apple-style injunctions unless their demands for a new license grant are met.

Mueller reports, “At first sight it may appear unthinkable that things could go so wrong with the distribution license for the very foundation Android was built upon. But I did my research and the above conclusions are just consistent with legal positions taken recently by two of the most renowned Free Software organizations — the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) — in another context involving GPLv2 (and software embedded in devices), the so-called BusyBox lawsuit (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, case no. 1:09-cv-10155).”

Much more in the full article here.


    1. No- you’re all missing the point. The foundation of Android IS open- it’s Linux and it’s fully open. BUT, if you use it, you have to license it. They didn’t disclose their source (as per their original Linux license) so their licenses to distribute Linux have been lost, and now they have to get them all over again (regaining their “distribution license”, btw, doesn’t mean they have to pay [or at least not very much]- it means they get permission to use it under the “open” conditions- but getting the permission could be a nightmare).

      1. Foundation as in “cake” but not the icing which is mostly Google patent infringements from others. I love the Google legal counsel David Drummond line about patents were supposed to encourage innovation not stop it when in fact patents are meant to protect a company against others taking your ideas for free, thus encouraging innovation in that way. He TOTALLY (and conveniently) misses the legal point, kind of ironic. He wouldn’t be saying that if he was Apple’s lawyer. The Google Emperor has no clothes.

    1. FanDroid heads are exploding all over again as just as they were congratulating each other for the move Giggles made today in buy Motorola.

      All Apple has to do is contact a few of those who hold the rights and offer them a signifiant amount of wealth to shake down Android makes including Giggles themselves now.

      Maybe they could transfer their rights to a few Patient trolls who will do it for them in exchange for a cash payment.

      If Apple weren’t such a fine company this would be perfect way to permanently hobble those who stole their ideas to produce Android as we now know it.

      Only an evil company would try something like that and we all know who that is.

  1. “At first sight it may appear unthinkable that things could go so wrong with the distribution license for the very foundation Android was built upon.”

    It’s not even remotely “unthinkable” at all. On the contrary, it is totally logical and fitting that Our Lady of Perpetual IP Ripoff would have as little respect for Linux as for any commercial company’s IP.

  2. I’m a little dubious here. Can’t someone who’s not in compliance get in compliance by releasing the source code? Or is the argument that they can’t do that for some reason?


    1. The only way to regain the license once lost is to have it reinstated by each contributor.

      Now if Apple can find one contributor to file suit and make it $$worthwhile$$ to withhold license……

      1. Doubt they’d need to do anything like that (which I’d be dubious about anyway) – any large company who has contributed to Linux in the past, who has a competitive interest against Google, would already be more than motivated enough to do something like this.

    1. Actually, Microsoft is NOT getting anything from Google directly. MS scared some phone makers into paying them a fee for each Android phone they make, representing a license for use of whatever MS claims to be their own code inside Android.

      At this point, Microsoft is making more money from licenses to their code in Android than they are making on licenses for the actual mobile OS, the Win 7 Mobile…!

      1. Much appreciate. Thanks for the clarification.

        So, within the System of Android; say honeycomb, some portion of that operating system Microsoft plants some code. Then expects some companies to pay for usage. LOL as stated by few… Android ain’t so open. And when open… The cans full of worms.

  3. Okay, I’m going to attempt to distill the gist of the technology patent law news from the last few weeks.
    This might be convoluted and confusing to some readers, but here goes:
    *rolls up sleeves*

    Despite Google’s assertions otherwise, it appears that taking other people’s work and profiting from it without the original creator’s permission or compensation, might be considered … wrong.

    Wait. I’m still trying to get my even my ownhead around this;
    Soooo, licenses and copyright and trade dress laws really do matter, even in the Open Source community?

    Huh! Well waddya know!

  4. More “bag of hurt” for richly deserving Android and Google. “Free” you say? Not for long. They are reaping their just deserts for ignoring the rights of others at the beginning. Now it’s REALLY going to cost them.

  5. I would like to know how all this began.

    Android was made when? It was then say, by Google to be freely spread for others to innovate with? As was Linux. So what, then some companies planted code and it evolved more so – like Microsoft adding use of video playback?

    It continues to grow into a usable mobile system like iOS. At what pace, who got there first?

    Was Apple the originator and holds this initial license for open development – now having the upper hand to stop things? Smoking great if so. What development then does Apple gain if it was the original developer of Android sort of to speak. Just open code to build from Now which seems to be up for a review. Holy crap. Perfectly played Apple!!!

    Is there anything on Wikipedia on the perspective of others Google riping off Apples’ iOS first. Or Apple publishing a linux style iOS for others to deploy freely and build on freely? How is this seen by people in the know? Thx.

  6. According to Wikipedia… Google bought Android… But from who?

    Google purchased the initial developer of the software, Android Inc., in 2005.[10] The unveiling of the Android distribution on 5 November 2007 was announced with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of 80 hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices.[11][12][13][14] Google released most of the Android code under the Apache License, a free software license.[15] The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is tasked with the maintenance and further development of Android.[16]


    Google pays these guys and freely distributes the OS.

    Oddly, the claim here it is the best selling mobile operating system but ironically no one is paying for it. Big party everyone pooling in their resources until some one gets greedy or hurt. Party appears to be over.

    But was it fresh code developed from the ground up?
    Or is it hacked and coded from Apple.

    It sounds as if Google chose to distribute this way, and since they are te owners, why so hard to renew re-license then? Grab the original developers and do it. If on fact the original code was pure an from scratch.

    Seems not. Dead it shall be. And hence, yes, nothing Google can buy now to help.

  8. Let me fit my head around this news.

    Google just spent 12 BILLION for what amount to a steaming pile of…?

    Google’s investors must be furious at this news.

    Motorola’s investors must be congratulating themselves for having such a board of directors who wisely sold their dying company which just escaped the doom of Android and a total collapse in the stock market value of Motorola.

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