A Kickstarter project called Console OS has exploited open source software licenses in a really nasty -- but totally legal -- manner by redistributing Android-x86 code in a way that amounts to "stealing," according to the lead developer of the latter project.
On the surface, it seems like these two projects should have a lot to gain by working together. Console OS is an operating system that promises to make Android mobile apps run seamlessly on PCs. Android-x86 is an open source initiative that aims to port the Android operating system to run on PC hardware.
But Android-x86 programmer Chih-Wei Huang contends that rather than writing their own code, Console OS developers -- under the leadership of a businessman named Christopher Price -- have merely distributed "a copy and forked [version] of Android-x86." In other words, the Console OS project appropriated the Android-x86 code wholesale to build Console OS.
That may seem wrong. But it's actually perfectly legal, as Huang noted. "Strictly speaking, this guy is legally [permitted] to fork Android-x86 and sell it because this project is open source licensed (via Apache License, GNU GPL or BSD-like licenses depends on the components you use)," he wrote.
Still, Android-x86 programmers contend that Price and his software constitute a "cancer" within the open source Android-x86 community (which is an interesting choice of words, by the way, given that Steve Ballmer called Linux a "cancer" back in 2001).
They also take Price to task for promising his backers -- who supplied more than $78,000 in crowdfunding via the Console OS Kickstarter campaign, which launched in 2014 -- an innovative operating system, when in fact he appears merely to have copied another project's code to create his product.
Given that Android apps on PCs are not currently a priority for many people or organizations, this news is unlikely to make big waves beyond the small community of Android-x86 developers. Yet it's notable as the latest example of what has become an age-old problem in the open source community -- with the freedom of code comes the risk that third parties might appropriate it for themselves to make money, with no legal repercussions.
What's more, the really interesting thing about this is that, three decades after open source (more precisely, free software) licenses were introduced, this type of situation is still occurring. If there remains room for innovation in the open source space, figuring out how to license code in a way that makes it business-friendly but prevents dishonesty may well top the list.