Majority of Android OEM's lose Linux distribution rights

Over at Google HQ, the company is rejoicing over its purchase of Motorola Mobility, a move that shocked many, and isn't as simple as meets the eye. The company is after the patents that Motorola is sitting on. Thousands of them. They see this as the battle being won, but now, Android may be in bigger trouble than ever before.

A post over on the Free, Open Source Software blog details how the majority of Android device manufacturers have lost or are about to lose all licenses to distribute Android on handsets. Most interestingly, the post points out 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 is huge. Honeycomb itself is especially an issue, considering Google has decided not to release the source for the update citing "issues with Smartphones" as the main reason. The company is also withholding other source code, getting them even deeper into the non-compliance pit. In brief, the GPL states that;

4. You may not copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Program except as expressly provided under this License. Any attempt otherwise to copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Program is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License.

Because of this, this is the "Situation in which virtually every Android OEM is [in] now: almost everyone was out of compliance at some point, and it doesn't matter whether someone did the right thing 99% of the time -- non-compliance at just one point in time "will automatically terminate" the license." If this happens, every contributor to the Linux Kernel must give Google a new license before they can continue distribution.

This leaves Google (and its Android manufacturers) wide open to lawsuits, with thousands of people worldwide being able to "Threaten to obtain Apple-style injunctions unless their demands for a new license grant are met."

If you're interested in how bad it really is, Matthew Garrett, a GPL "activist" did a survey on tablet manufacturers that comply with the GPL which is readable here. The survey shows that a large chunk of manufacturers haven't complied at all.

Google has opened a can of worms and isn't addressing the problem at all. Over the coming months, we'll likely see a lot more lawsuits headed their way.

Update: We'd like to clarify that there is yet to be a court case about this matter, and that Google is yet to comment about releasing the source (However, the company appears to be staying silent about it). For further reading about why Android isn't at risk, head here.

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