Android Phone Tips

Android Phone Tips
An article discussing the legal issues surrounding the creation of a fundamental Android library has blown up into allegations of copyright infringement. The article, "Infringement and disclosure risk in development on copyleft platforms", by Raymond Nimmer, Professor of Law at University of Houston Law Center, has opened up a debate on the legal status of Android's Bionic library. In the article, Nimmer looks at the process that the Android developers created to produce the header files for Bionic, a compact alternative to glibc which also includes Android specific functionality. 

The build process for Bionic takes the GPL licensed kernel header files and, using a number of Python scripts, reprocesses them to create "clean" header files for Apache licensed Bionic. The reasoning behind the process is detailed by Google in the "Rationale" section of the README.TXT file for the tools. 

The Android operating system — which has already embroiled Google in a legal dispute with Oracle over the implementation of the Dalvik virtual machine — was built around the Linux kernel under the open-source GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). The problem centres on the library that joins Android and the underlying Linux kernel. 

In order to create the library, known as Bionic, Google used tools to strip 750 Linux kernel header files of certain information, including code comments and whitespace. During the process, Google also inserted a notice in each file saying that the 'cleaned' files did not contain any copyrightable information.

"Google takes the position that removing this information 'cleans' the raw Linux kernel header files of any copyrightable information, such that Google is free to redistribute the files under a licence other than the GPL," Naughton wrote in the report (PDF). "Google's approach rests on two key assumptions, one micro and one macro, about the copyrightability of the Linux kernel header files," Naughton said. "On the level of individual files, it assumes that the only copyrightable information in a Linux kernel header files is the 'nondirective' text, such as comments. 

Naughton said Google was also assuming that, if the individual header files are not copyrightable, then the combination of the 750 header files was also not copyrightable. Thousands of Android software components depend on it. This fork would not be subject to the GPL licence, and could then allow proprietary licensing.

Google’s Android could face a serious legal challenge from the open source community due to the “audacious” attitude the company has taken to the GPL, according to legal experts and an open source campaigner. The issue centres on Bionic, a custom-built library Google has used to interface between the Linux kernel and user-facing programs.

Bionic contains a set of Linux kernel header files automatically generated from Linux kernel headers and necessary for user programs to make calls into the kernel. In a statement Bionic places at the beginning of each header, Google states that the header “contains only constants, structures, and macros generated from the original header, and thus, contains no copyrightable information”.

“Google’s position is a bold assault on copyright protection for software and source code,” Naughton wrote. “I have serious doubts that Google’s approach to the Bionic library works under US copyright law,” he wrote. “At a minimum, Google has taken a significant gamble. If one of the many Linux kernel copyright holders decides to sue Google, it could result in a disaster for the Android developer ecosystem, according to Mueller. 
By. Android Phone Tips

Saturday, April 2, 2011 | 0 comments | Labels: , ,


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