Oh Look, There’s Another FOSS Licensing Issue

This time it’s involving a change with Android. European FSF (Free Software Foundation) member Tortsen Grote claims that the SDK (software development kit) is no longer free as in free speech. Steven Vaughan-Nichols of ZDnet.com counters that Mr. Grote has misinterpreted the license. He goes on to push the work of Replicant as a solution for those that desire libre (free as in free speech) Android source code and software.

Before going into further detail I’ll simplify the issue. Google said you can’t make certain changes to the compiled (software you can run with just a double click instead of building yourself) sdk and that has offended Mr. Grote, an advocate of libre software. He can still download the source code, build it himself, modify it and redistribute if he wishes to do so – it is not even difficult, obscene or undesirable for a FSF activist to compile their own software.

In particular, this is the portion of the license agreement that upsets him and some libre software advocates: “In order to use the SDK, you must first agree to this License Agreement. You may not use the SDK if you do not accept this License Agreement.”. He argues for “the freedom to use the program for any purpose without restrictions” but how can you have that sort of freedom without some sort of agreement?

Even work in the public domain must be formally admitted or self-classified as such. I won’t go into anymore of a rebuttal of this as Mr. Vaughan-Nichols has already done an excellent job. I will just point out the latest portion of this contestment, Mr. Grote’s update.

“It has been pointed out by some people that the SDK Terms and Conditions are older than previously assumed. Google only requires explicit agreement now and shows the terms before download. That wasn’t the case earlier.”

He posted that as an update to his original release, does this mean that he often does not or had not read the license agreement for the software that he has used? He obviously read it this time since there was a tiny uproar around what he has read but I bet that he is like most of us when it comes to licensing agreements. Infinitely click next then do whatever you installed the software to do. I bought Winamp Pro a few years ago, never read the terms of agreement and have absolutely no plans to do so even now. It works, I supported the developers with my money and I’ve never had an issue with activating the software (I would buy it again for access to an actively developed and released linux client).

Sometimes I do read the EULA (end user license agreement), I may even toss some of them into EULAlyzer for better understanding. Most of the time I just don’t care, I’m using it for personal usage and am trusting the company to not screw me over. This does run counter to my normally careful manner but I’ve decided to take the lazy way out like many others. I understand that I shouldn’t and probably don’t even have the right to complain if/when I’m burned but it’s my choice to make.

Ignorance is something that should always be fought but even choosing it is a freedom reserved to users to select for or against – a freedom that even the free software movement does not oppose. Mr. Grote did nothing wrong by sharing his opinion but because of his position I felt that he had a responsibility to at least run his concerns through his legal department or at least with some of his colleagues. Doing so before posting such serious accusations against Google could have helped to save his face and to allow him to actually post with righteous confidence. No one and nothing governed by people are perfect but I’m hoping that he’ll take caution during one of those rare EULA reads in the future.

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