March 17, 2011, 1:30 PM — Google's Android mobile operating system's usage of the Linux kernel may violate open source licensing with a misappropriation of Linux code that could bring about the "collapse of the Android ecosystem," some intellectual property experts are charging.
The Linux issue is a separate one and no lawsuits have apparently been filed. But a few intellectual property watchers have written analyses that call into question Android's use of Linux code licensed under GPL version 2.
Although the Linux kernel is open source and freely available to developers, people who use and distribute it in derivative works must abide by strict licensing requirements. At issue is the concept of "copyleft," in which free software must be redistributed under the same terms stated in the original license. The question centers on "the library that connects Android and its applications with the underlying Linux kernel," writes NoSoftwarePatents campaign founder Florian Mueller.
"Google copied 2.5 megabytes of code from more than 700 Linux kernel header files with a homemade program that drops source code comments and some other elements, and daringly claims (in a notice at the start of each generated file) that the extracted material constitutes 'no copyrightable information,'" Mueller writes.
Mueller notes that while the GPL requires derivative works "to be made available on the same terms," Google instead publishes Android under a series of licenses that includes the GPL but also more permissive open source licenses such as Apache and some closed-source programs. The Apache license has no copyleft requirements.