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Thursday, 24 March 2011 20:43

RMS weighs into Google GPL debate

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Free Software Foundation chairman Richard Stallman has weighed into the debate over whether Google may be guilty of a GPL violation or not by saying that what the search giant has done is not limited by copyright.


Google's use of a separate library, Bionic, used in its Android operating system for userspace application to interface with the kernel, was cited by an IP lawyer, Richard Naughton, as being a possible GPL violation as the library is under a more permissive licence than the kernel.

Android is based on the Linux kernel - which is distributed under the GNU General Public Licence. Android itself is distributed under the Apache licence.

Naughton's comments, in an article published in the Huffington Post and a detailed research note, echoed some of the statements made by Houston Law Center professor Raymond Nimmer.

The comments by Naughton have acquired a somewhat different hue, following the revelation that he had altered his online CV to remove a reference to the fact that he had done work for Microsoft. His inappropriate use of a quote by Linux creator Linus Torvalds to bolster his arguments has also attracted attention.

iTWire asked Stallman for an opinion as, increasingly, the allegations against the company appear to be driven by opposing commercial interests, the most recent evidence of which was Microsoft's filing of a case against Barnes and Noble over the use of Android in its tablet, the Nook.

"The allegations are that Google, in creating its Android program based in part on the Linux kernel, uses scripts to 'cleanse' Linux core header files, removing comments and some code," Stallman was told. "It asserts that the result contains no copyrighted material from Linux and distributes Android generally under an Apache licence which is less demanding as a copyleft matter on Google and on resellers than GPL v.2.

"The Linux kernel's copying file states: "This copyright does *not* cover user programs that use kernel services by normal system calls - this is merely considered normal use of the kernel, and does *not* fall under the heading of 'derived work'."

The FSF founder responded: "I have not looked at those files, but our lawyers' advice is that variable and function declarations and structures and such, which can only be done in one correct way, are not limited by copyright."

Linux creator Linus Torvalds has also added his opinion to the mix, telling well-known writer Brian Proffitt that the claim seems "totally bogus."

Well-known GPL expert Bradley Kuhn has said that the GPL violation claims by Naughton and others are speculative.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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