The recent Android Builder’s Summit in San Francisco demonstrated the breadth of products using Android and the dynamic nature of the operating system. In her keynote, Christy Wyatt of Motorola described the challenges of managing the launch of 700 products based on Android in countries around the world. She was followed by Mark Charlebois (Director of Open Source Strategy at Qualcomm Innovation Center) and he predicted that their Android releases would grow from 241 in 2010 to more than 365 in 2011.
Karim Yaghmour of Opersys provided a great overview of Android and its critical subsystems http://www.opersys.com/blog/abs-march2011. However, his presentation brought home the challenges of managing Android: he mentioned in passing that he was unhappy with the performance of the Android Toolbox, the component which Google substituted for BusyBox for Toolbox. He regularly substitutes BusyBox for Toolbox (one Android site had more than 25,000 downloads of BusyBox). BusyBox is described as follows;
a software application that provides many standard Unix tools, much like the larger (but more capable) GNU Core Utilities. BusyBox is designed to be a small executable for use with the Linux kernel, which makes it ideal for use with embedded devices. It has been self-dubbed “The Swiss Army Knife of Embedded Linux”.
According to Black Duck, Android Toolbox is a collection of 66 files, 52 are under the Apache 2.0 license and 14 are under BSD. Both the Apache 2.0 and BSD licenses are very permissive. However, BusyBox is licensed under the GPLv2, a copyleft license, which has very different and much more significant obligations, particularly the obligation to make the source code available either with the object code or through a written promise. More importantly, the license to BusyBox is the most actively enforced license in open source. The Software Freedom Conservancy and the Software Freedom Law Center have filed at least seven lawsuits (with many other disputes settled with ligitation) to enforce the GPLv2 license on BusyBox. Last year, they won $90,000 in damages from Best Buy.
Thus, a reasonable technical decision can dramatically change the obligations of the distributor. Since the GPLv2 is a “conditional” license, the failure to comply with these terms means that the license terminates automatically without a cure period. Thus, the distributor would be a copyright infringer. Since products including Android are frequently mass market products, the consequences could be significant liability arising from millions of unlicensed units. This reality demonstrates once again the need for careful management of the use of Android and clear communication between the developers and the relevant counsel.