Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Third time lucky? Naughton raises Google GPL claims again

Third time lucky? Naughton raises Google GPL claims again

Edward Naughton is at it again. The lawyer from Brown Rudnick has for the third time alleged that Google is violating the terms of the GPLv2 under which the Linux kernel is distributed.

Naughton made the same claim in March and again in August. It looks like nobody is listening to his dog whistling else he wouldn't be at it for the third time in a calendar year.

His charges are the same: a key component of Android, the Bionic library which is used to access the core features of the Linux kernel code, was developed by Google stripping the kernel headers and then declaring those files free of the copyright restrictions placed on it by the GPL.

Naughton's third bid for attention attempts to analyse his earlier allegations in light of the summary judgement in the case between Google and Oracle; the case revolves around Dalvik, the VM created by Google. Oracle claims this is in violation of its Java APIs and code.

Linux expert Brian Proffitt has done an excellent analysis of the charges in Naughton chapter 3 (PDF). Read it, is my advice. There are a lot of general issues that present themselves, though, and which Proffitt has not touched on.

Exactly why Naughton should be so agitated about this issue - which is a hypothesis, remember - is unclear.

One reason could be that he is touting for business. Despite the fact that Android has been late on the handheld scene, it is slowly becoming the dominant operating system for handheld devices by a big margin.

Manufacturers love it because it is free. They love the flexibility that the Linux kernel offers. They love even more the fact that Google's own additions to it are under an Apache licence which has none of the strictures of the GPL.

Hence if there is something that could get in the way of Android being distributed and a competitor could prove that in court with the aid of our good friend Naughton, why it would be payday for the lawyer. And not an ordinary payday either.

A second reason could be because Naughton has, in the past, done work for Microsoft. Now this would not be unusual - doing work for the company is not the same as dealing with the devil - were it not for the fact that Naughton has taken particular care to erase this bit of information from his details which are online. Why has he done this? We have as yet no proper explanation.

Microsoft will not dare to take on Google directly. That would be a case of MAD - mutually assured destruction. But a bit of FUD now and then is a timeworn Redmond tactic. Despite all the loss of income and the failure to make headway in new markets - Windows and Office are still its cash cows - Microsoft is not exactly in the poorhouse. It has plenty to fund activities that can help it in the marketplace.

The only people who can bring a case for violation of copyright are copyright holders themselves. Linus Torvalds does not hold the copyright for all the code in the kernel; there are thousands of copyright holders and a particular individual would have to sue for a case to go to court.

No copyright holder is in the least agitated. So why is Naughton so worked up and, apparently burning quite a bit of midnight oil - his charges are not confined to a page or two, they run to at least 10 pages each time - on this unless he has something to gain?

Given the background to his latest log of charges, I'm afraid Naughton would have to tell us a little more about his motives, his backers, and his aims if he wants to be taken seriously and to have any credibility. Else, he will be under a cloud even if he continues to renew these charges every three months.

Thus far, in life, there are two things which have been certainties - death and taxes. It's beginning to look like wild claims of this nature thrice a year will become the third constant.



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.