Huffington Post Article: Google’s Android Contains Legal Landmines for Developers and Device Manufacturers

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice

Image via Wikipedia

Article by: Edward J. Naughton

Huffington Post (3/16/11)

Android-powered smartphones have been creating quite a stir among the tech crowd lately — and not necessarily the kind of buzz that Google was hoping for. Oracle sued Google for infringing several patents, and it also accused Google of copying Oracle’s computer code, in violation of its copyrights. When a prominent blogger reported that he had found additional evidence that Google had copied Oracle’s code, a flame war broke out. For example, this Engadget article reporting on the issue generated more than 750 comments, most of which brought more heat than light to the issue.

But there’s more to this story than Google’s “borrowing” of Oracle’s intellectual property. The Android programming code is publicly available, and the increased attention has brought increased scrutiny. Recently, Ray Nimmer, a well-known copyright law professor, observed that there could also be a problem with the way Google used some key Linux software code, called kernel header files, to create a vitally important element of Android. In fact, the way that Google used these files creates a legal quandary for manufacturers of Android devices and many developers writing code and applications for those devices.

What did Google do this time?

Google built Android around Linux, which is an open source operating system licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). The GPLv2 is a “copyleft” license: it grants everyone the freedom to copy and modify the Linux code, but that freedom carries conditions, including the requirement that any modified software code and any works “based on” it must be made freely available to all. The very point of the GPLv2 is to make it impossible for anyone to take GPLv2-licensed code and make it private and proprietary.

Working with open source software thus demands careful attention to legal and technical details. I regularly advise clients on the proper use of open source software, and I understand well the difficulty of reusing code licensed under GPLv2, especially for developing proprietary software. I was therefore intrigued by Prof. Nimmer’s explanation of the way Google had used the Linux kernel header files when it created Android.

The fact that Android is built on open-source Linux makes it attractive to many developers and users, but it presents some concerns for others. As Android has become more popular, clients have been increasingly interested in building applications that run on Android or even using the Android code in their own mobile devices. For many such clients, it is critical to their success that they can charge license fees for their products and keep their code secret to protect it from competitors. Google understood this, which is why it made Android available under the Apache Software License, a license that was much more business-friendly than the GPLv2.

But Prof. Nimmer’s article raised questions about what Google had actually done, so I began to look at the Android code. What I found really surprised me: Google took a novel and quite aggressive approach to developing a key component of Android — the Bionic Library. That library, a type of C Library, is used by all application developers who need to access the core functions of the Linux operating system. Google essentially copied hundreds of files of Linux code that were never meant to be used as is by application developers, “cleaned” those files using a non-standard and questionable technical process, and then declared that the code was no longer subject to the GPLv2, so that developers could use it without becoming subject to copyleft effect that would normally apply to GPLv2-licensed code taken from the Linux kernel.

Why does it matter?

My full analysis of the legal issues can be found here, but in short, I have serious doubts that Google’s approach to the Bionic Library works under U.S. copyright law. At a minimum, Google has taken a significant gamble. While that may be fine for Google, because it knows about and understands the risks, many Android developers and device manufacturers are taking that same risk unknowingly. If Google is wrong, the repercussions are significant for the Android ecosystem: the manufacturers and developers working with Android would be incorporating GPLv2-licensed code into applications and components and taking on the copyleft obligations of that license.

What is potentially even more interesting is what happens if Google is right. If that is the case, Google has found a way to take Linux away from the open source community and privatize it. Perhaps the community believes it can rely on Google to “do no evil” with that kind of power, but can it rely on others to be so magnanimous?

This article provides information, not legal advice. The views expressed are my own individual views and should not be attributed to any clients.

Officials Push For Action In ‘Online Privacy War’

American Civil Liberties Union

Image via Wikipedia

Found on Huffington Post:

By Bianca Boster (3/6/11)

Top senators and members of the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday criticized the current state of Internet privacy regulations and pushed for legislation that would give consumers more control over their personal information online.

“We can’t let the status quo stand,” said Commerce Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who plans to introduce a privacy bill of his own.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, noted in a statement that self-regulation by the private sector has been a “failed experiment,” allowing users to become increasingly exposed as new, more advanced tools collect ever-more-personal details over the web.

During a Senate hearing on online privacy, Rockefeller described consumers as being at “war” with companies over control of their information and stressed that Congress must intervene to protect their privacy.

“There is an online privacy war going on, and without help, consumers will lose,” he said in a statement. “We must act to give Americans the basic online privacy protections they deserve.”

The most concrete mechanism for improving privacy safeguards discussed during the hearing was a “do not track” system that would allow users to opt out of receiving targeted advertising based on their browsing history. The FTC previously endorsed such a plan in a privacy report issued in December of last year.

Though Rockefeller and other lawmakers have deemed self-regulation inadequate, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz noted that companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla stepped up their efforts to introduce privacy tools following the committee’s hearings last summer.

“We are encouraged by what we are seeing,” said Leibowitz. “The pace of moving forward has become far more rapid … It is promising.”

Some are less optimistic. Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, outlined a privacy doomsday scenario that he warned could come to pass if existing online tracking practices are allowed to proceed without regulation.

“If this collection of data is allowed to continue unchecked, then capitalism will build what the government never could — a complete surveillance state online,” Calabrase said in a statement. “Without government intervention, we may soon find the Internet has been transformed from a library and playground to a fishbowl, and that we have unwittingly ceded core values of privacy and autonomy.”

Kerry pressed Calabrase on his testimony and suggested that although current practices pose real risks to users’ personal information, the outcome presented by Calabrese may overstate the potential danger of Internet tracking.

“That’s a far reach,” Kerry said. “That’s a big statement obviously about potential downsides.”

Leibowitz also highlighted that there can be benefits to targeted advertising that uses online tracking to present users with ads that are more relevant to their interests.

“We think most consumers won’t mind getting tracked, we just think consumers should have the ability to opt out of that kind of tracking,” he said.

Where Google Is or Should Be ?

Here’s an article by CNet with observations about what should be focused on by Google in the coming months and year. You can click on the image below for the article and another interesting article can be found on InformationWeek.com.  You might also want to check out the Tope Ten Google Stories of 2010.

Google.com

15 Mobile Apps to Watch Out For

 

PCWorld 15 Apps Show

This is a very basic and brief introduction to upcoming apps, including, Skype for iPhone video-calling, Facebook for iPad, mobile payment platforms for billing, Pandora, Norton mobile, and more Google development.

The Clouds are Forming: The Legal Cloud Computing Association Announces its Formation and Web Presence

(12/16/2010)  Recognized leaders in legal cloud computing announced today the formation of the Legal Cloud Computing Association (LCCA), an organization whose purpose is to facilitate the rapid adoption of cloud computing technology within the legal profession, consistent with the highest standards of professionalism and ethical compliance.

The organization’s goal is to promote standards for cloud computing that are responsive to the needs of the legal profession and to enable lawyers to become aware of the benefits of computing technology through the development and distribution of education and informational resources.

The LCCA also announced the publication of its response to the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group with respect to the Commission’s September 10, 2010 call for comments on Client Confidentiality and the Use of Technology.

The group, consisting of Clio (Themis Solutions Inc.), DirectLaw, Inc., Rocket Matter, LLC and Total Attorneys, LLC, will cooperate with Bar Associations and other policy-forming bodies to release guidelines, standards, “best practices“, and educational resources relating to the use of cloud computing in the legal profession.

An informational website for the group: http://www.legalcloudcomputingassociation.org

You can see the rest of their press release at: http://www.legalcloudcomputingassociation.org/Home/industry-leaders-join-to-form-legal-cloud-computing-association

Of additional note is their response to the call for comments on client confidentiality and cloud computing in the legal profession: See, www.legalcloudcomputingassociation.org/Home/aba-ethics-20-20-response

My comments:

I think that the formation of a legal cloud computing association is not only timely, but incredibly necessary.  All too often, the everyday practitioner ends up behind the ethics of a given technology and today’s way of practicing law requires vigilance in keeping up to date on the various developments in tech.

While its is often easy to employ a new technology, it does not mean that any given state bar association will understand it or make room for use of the new tech.  This unavoidable gap in communications is readily evident in recent legal treatises on the issues.  It simply may be that tech is moving so fast that there is no practical way for state bar associations to keep up with the developments.  If this is the case, then any problems arising are something that can only be prevented by realtime communication between the tech-movers and the various bar associations.  It is critically important that “cloud lawyers” have a voice in the state bar associations as well as within the tech community.

Having a voice in the tech community means that we will have ever-improving tools for our profession, movement toward an environmentally friendly practice, and better ways of enjoying solo practice.  It also probably goes without saying that we also need to maintain our competitive edge on each other and for the benefit of the clients we advocate for.

Much thanks to the LCCA for starting this up and I wish them the absolute best coming into 2011 and beyond.

What Tech to Expect from 2011

PCWorld Screenshot

Well, here is PC World‘s view of what we can expect from 2011. Most of it will likely be an expansion of the tech we have seen come out over the last 2-3 years. Refinements and better user interfaces seem to be the call of the day. Nothing too exciting, but certainly worth a look if you are shopping and deciding whether or not to hold off any particular product.

Windows 8, a white iPhone, new tablets, new apps, and a variety of Android phones are discussed in the PC World 2011 tech guide.  Of the 32 items mentioned, the Notion Ink Adam looks interesting from a design perspective and Google’s Chrome OS are what I am looking forward to reviewing and telling you about along with all of the other tools made available to us in the legal field.

You might also want to check out the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 preview as well.  Just click below.

PC World CES Pic

Google Chrome: One Step Closer to Paperless ?

Chrome OS Login

I just applied to be one of the test pilots for the Google Chrome OS. I am very interested in the prospect of having something that is connected to the Internet on a constant. Naturally, as a lawyer, I do have questions about security, confidentiality, practical use in the courtroom, and collaboration with staff. Hopefully, I will be one of the lucky one’s who gets to test this system in earnest.  I have tried, at various times, the Linux-Ubuntu OS, Windows (since its introduction), and Mac options since the 1980’s.  The prospect of a challenger to the old guard provides a clarion call for innovation.  I honestly hope that Chrome can drive innovation in this area — it’s been a while.

From what I can see, the upcoming Chrome OS is extremely user friendly and should be familiar to most of us vis a vis the use of “apps.” I certainly support anything that is quicker and which provides some level of long-term data integrity in terms of storage and accessibility. I am looking forward to becoming familiar with this particular OS and sharing the news as it comes in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
My guess is that the existing Google Apps will go a long way toward basic functionality. I already use Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Picasa for my photos. Each of these programs or services have improved over time and the fact that Google is way ahead with its research and development, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did not start to give Apple a real run for their money in the tablet OS arena and number of apps ultimately available. Much like in the 1980s, I think that Apple will have led the way, but may ultimately be overrun by its own innovation. Anyway, without further opining, you can check out the video showing Google Chrome in action on one of their demo units.
Just click on the video window below for a preview of the Chrome OS in action: