Last week I read about an Android licensing issue that I wasn’t previously aware of. It’s a pretty serious one, and it’s not that hard to understand. The short version is that
- rampant non-compliance with the source code disclosure requirement of the GPLv2 (the license under which Linux is published) — especially but not only in connection with Honeycomb — has technically resulted in a loss of most vendors’ right to distribute Linux;
- this loss of the distribution license is irremediable except through a new license from each and every contributor to the Linux kernel, without which Android can’t run; and
- as a result, there are thousands of people out there who could legally shake down Android device makers, threatening to obtain Apple-style injunctions unless their demands for a new license grant are met.
Android might have some licensing problems that could result in a multitude of lawsuits from developers. This is something that a handful of patents might not fix.
Using an Open Source license was one of the things that Google did right. But it does appear that parts of the current versions of Andoid found on handsets/tablets might violate that license.
Due to the nature of the license, the only way forward is to either completely redevelope parts of the OS – a possibly time-consuming effort – or to repurchase a licese from the developers – a possibly expensive effort.
This will be interesting to see how it plays out.