Imagine if every Android device maker lost their Linux distribution license

Every so often, I come across a blog posting that makes my head spin from thinking of the implications. This evening was one of those occasions. I defy you to ignore this after reading the opening paragraph…

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.

This is from the FOSS Patents blog. It is not a joke, there is no hyperbole. Even though IANAL, the analysis seems to be persuasively grounded in GPLv2 language and case law.
This could get very interesting indeed….
UPDATE: There’s been widespread reactions to the FOSSpatents piece, most of it critical. The Register picked it up (well, they would, wouldn’t they?), linking it to efforts by Edward Naughton, and the commenters rubbished the analysis. Over at Twitter, Carlo Daffara, Dj Walker-Morgan, and my old buddy Simon Phipps all piled in.
One of the toughest things in reading the legal tea-leaves is that when cases like the various BusyBox suits are settled before they go to trial, it’s impossible to determine whether the settlement was due to the strength of the case or the balance of expenses. Those who have an axe to grind will always insist that the settlement smoke means that the licensing fire was real. Skepticism seems prudent. Nevertheless, the stakes are high, and I’m glad that we’re discussing the topic.