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Google's Android violates Linux GPL

Google has been accused of lifting significant amounts of Linux code and using it in the Android mobile operating system, presenting it as its own proprietary code.

According to Edward J Naughton (pdf), an IP attorney and partner at the international law firm Brown Rudnick, a key component of Android, the Bionic Library, was created using Linux software code that was never meant to be used by application developers and manufacturers in the first place.

Naughton says Google lifted hundreds of files of the Linux code, which is available for free under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2), cleaned the code using a 'questionable technical process' and declared that the code was no longer protected by the GPLv2 licence so that developers won't be affected by the copyleft criteria.

“At a minimum, Google has taken a significant gamble. While that may be fine for Google, because it knows about and understands the risks, many Android developers and device manufacturers are taking that same risk unknowingly,” Naughton wrote.

His claims are backed up by Professor Raymond Nimmer, who blogged that the "Linux core header files are almost certainly copyrighted".

He notes that "the expressive features involved in the structure of the header files [are] difficult to achieve since the goal was to borrow the effectiveness of the Linux system at least in part."

According to patent watcher Florian Muller, "Google copied 2.5 megabytes of code from more than 700 Linux kernel header files with a home made application 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'.

"It is much more likely that Google is wrong and this is, instead, a very serious violation of the GPL, the open source license under which Linux is published," Muller writes in a detailed analysis.

If Google is found to have lifted the code and presented it as its own it could seriously impact the Android ecosystem, Naughton warned.