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22 March 2011, 10:07

Linus on Android headers: claims "seem totally bogus"

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Linux inside Android The recent uncertainty cast over Android's Bionic library and its use of Linux kernel headers "seems totally bogus", according to Linus Torvalds. In an interview with Brian Proffitt at ITWorld, Torvalds said "I haven't looked at exactly what Google does with the kernel headers but I can't see they they'd want to do anything fundamentally different from glibc in this respect". He also pointed out that he has said making use of the kernel's system call interfaces, as described in the headers, does not "in any way result in a derived work as per the GPL".

Over the weekend, Bradley Kuhn, Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, wrote a personal blog posting which looked at the claims of Naughton and Nimmer; they made the original suggestion that there was a potential copyright issue in Google's process of cleaning the kernel headers for use by the Android Bionic library. Kuhn says that "Google may have erred; no one actually knows for sure at this time. But the task they sought to do has been done before and everyone intended it to be permitted". In an update, Kuhn notes a mail from Richard Stallman in 2003 in which Stallman says "Our view is that just using structure definitions, typedefs, enumeration constants, macros with simple bodies, etc., is NOT enough to make a derivative work".

The issue now appears to come down to the question of whether trace amounts of copyrightable material passed through Google's header cleaning process along with the thousands of lines of non-copyrightable material. There is no legal action, or suggestion of legal action, about Google's header cleaning for the Android Bionic library, so this question is unlikely to be an issue for any party using Android. Torvalds suggests that those making the most noise about the issue are "politically motivated (or motivated by some need of attention)". In the latter case, Torvalds said he wished "those people would release their own sex tapes or something, rather than drag the Linux kernel into their sordid world".

Florian Mueller, who widely publicised the work of Naughton and Nimmer last week, has expanded his claims of "GPL laundering" by Google and is now pointing at the header files of the BlueZ bluetooth stack and ext4 filesystem as other examples of the practice.


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