The Android Header File Controversy Or 'The Sky Is Falling By Florian'

Florian Müller Profile on Blogger
Florian Müller Profile on Blogger

I’ve been sitting back watching the newest Florian Müller psycho babble play out. It always plays to the same formula. Florian Müller raises the alarm. The people who actually know what they are talking about explain why Florian is wrong. Again.

Let’s face it. Either Florian isn’t all that bright, or someone is paying him to make his statements. No one could be this consistently, stupidly, wrong. It’s just not possible. People learn. Learning is the basis of human existence.

Think about your childhood, and when you started riding a two wheeled bike. Your probably fell off a few times. I know that I did. I got a few scrapes. And I was damned proud when I worked out how balance worked, and I could ride a two wheeler all by myself. In fact my mom damned near couldn’t get me off the thing.

The point being that Florian has been wrong a lot. Has be learned anything? Apparently not. This is illogical. Humans learn by making mistakes, and then trying something different. Florian keeps trying the same thing over and over and over…

Which is why I’m wondering if he’s getting paid to do this. That could explain why he consistently takes ridiculous positions, and attempts to defend them in the face of insurmountable proof that he’s being a total and utter idiot.

Like the Android header file case.

Android Header Files

First, we have to consider what a header file is, and I’m assuming a lot of people reading this will be like Florian, they won’t know anything about programming. A header file is a list of definitions. There are different header files used for different definition types, and for different programming languages.

The second thing we have to consider is that header files are generally considered to contain non-copyrightable concepts. There is nothing creative in a header file. The contents are forced by the function. Change the functional part of it, and it won’t work.

In fact these very issues were covered in Caldera v. IBM back in 2003, 2004 & 2005 quite nicely, and written up by PJ in beautiful detail over at Groklaw. Actually there’s been a ton of coverage on Groklaw about header files, here’s a search showing it all.

So why doesn’t Florian know this? Good question. Most geeks do. Florian claims he’s into Free Software, so he should. This indicates that he’s ignoring the existing information. Why would he do this? Again, the only conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that he’s getting paid for his time, but everyone knows that I have a mean, nasty, and suspicious mind.

Ray Nimmer

So why did this pop up now? I think that it was a lucky coincidence. We all know that Microsoft sued Barnes and Noble over it’s use of Android on the Nook (there will be an article coming covering that as well).

On February 22, 2011 lawyer Raymond Nimmer wrote a blog posting questioning when and where copyright applies to computer code. A lot of what Nimmer wrote isn’t controversial. There are a lot of grey areas. But less than Nimmer thinks. Nimmer isn’t a programmer. He doesn’t understand code. To him a lot of simple stuff looks horribly complicated, just like to me a lot of legal stuff looks horribly complicated.

Edward ‘Naughty’ Naughton

Then the fun begins – lawyer Edward ‘Naughty’ Naughton managed to get a puff piece posted in the Huffington Post titled Google’s Android Contains Legal Landmines for Developers and Device Manufacturers. He quotes Nimmer, and then goes on to link to Florian, which is a clue that he isn’t very bright. Let’s take a look at some of his other foot in mouth moments:

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.

Um, but that’s the whole point shithead. To prevent you from taking work you don’t own, and using it as you like. And it works too! Glad you don’t like it.

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.

Gee Ed. Isn’t the GPL the same license that RedHat relies on? I guess Yahoo Finance is wrong when it says the company has an $8.5 Billion market cap then. You should tell Yahoo Finance to fix their web page before it embarrasses them.

He then goes on to write up an analysis of the legal issues, which you can download here (PDF WARNING), if you don’t want to visit the Huffington Post.

Florian ‘The Sky is Falling’ Müller

The next day, Florian Müller starts off a blog post with the sentence Intellectual property issues continue to cloud Google’s mobile operating system. Do you see a pattern here folks? Let’s let Florian speak for himself though. How about:

Google copied 2.5 megabytes of code from more than 700 Linux kernel header files with a homemade program that drops source code comments and some other elements, and daringly claims (in a notice at the start of each generated file) that the extracted material constitutes “no copyrightable information”.

Further on he writes (and remember that among his claimed software industry expertise he does not claim ‘PROGRAMER’ among his skills)

Having looked at many of those files, I don’t think Google is right. There are potentially copyrightable elements in those files, such as inline functions, and even a collection of individually non-copyrightable elements can as a whole be protected by copyright.

He’s not a programmer. He’s not a lawyer. Just how does he have the skills to reach a conclusion? Is he even thinking? Is that smoke I smell? You don’t want MY opinion on that. Believe me you don’t. Then there’s this:

Professor Raymond Nimmer stated on his blog that “[t]he Linux core header files […] are almost certainly copyrighted” and while he points out that he hasn’t examined the facts, he finds a removal of “the expressive features involved in the structure of the header files […] difficult to achieve since the goal was to borrow the effectiveness of the Linux system at least in part.”

Notice how Professor Nimmer gets into this, in ways he probably didn’t intend when he wrote his blog post. I have a suspicion that he may be regretting that post right now.

On the Huffington Post I saw a post by Edward Naughton, a prominent IP litigator. The article is entitled “Google’s Android Contains Legal Landmines for Developers and Device Manufacturers” and links to a much more detailed legal analysis, in which he describes Google’s approach to the Linux kernel headers as “unusually audacious” and sees it as part and parcel of Google’s overall questionable approach to software reuse in Android.

And I think that closes the circle.


We’ve connected both Florian ‘The Sky is Falling’ Müller and Edward ‘Naughty’ Naughton. In fact they are referencing each other. This is what is known in technical circles as a ‘Feedback Loop’, and when humans do it, it’s often a symptom of interesting behaviors. There have been some interesting criminal investigations generated by feedback loops.

But let’s look at an earlier case where the ‘Sky was Falling’. Let’s take Ken Brown. Remember Ken Brown? Ken Brown of ADTI attempted to do the same thing to Linux, that Florian ‘The Sky is Falling’ Müller and Edward ‘Naughty’ Naughton are attempting to do to Android. Ken Brown made a whole bunch of statements about how Linus Torvalds used parts of Minix to make Linux. Then we had Rob Enderle, Maureen O,Gara, and Laura DiDio, referencing Ken Brown, and the next stage would have been Ken Brown referencing the

But then Andrew S. Tanenbaum, the creator if Minix, who Brown had interviewed, stepped in, publicly stating that Brown had gotten everything wrong. Brown continued to insist that no, he hadn’t. Tanenbaum was the sort of public figure that couldn’t be ignored by the technical press. People like Enderle, O,Gara, and DiDio depend on their reputations.

Brown of course didn’t depend on his reputation in the same way. This was the first time his think tank had ever stepped into intellectual property issues, so Brown continued to try and defend the indefensible. Talk about going down with the ship.

Curiously neither Florian ‘The Sky is Falling’ Müller or Edward ‘Naughty’ Naughton seem to have tried to contact Linus Torvalds about the issue. Instead, they just published. If there is anyone who is expert on Linux, it’s Linus Torvalds, and he’s known to be very approachable. So why didn’t they bother to contact him? We don’t know that they didn’t, but neither mention attempting to, and they would have if they did.

Brian Proffitt contacted Linus about Naughton’s Huffington post article, and Linus responded by email:

“It seems totally bogus. We’ve always made it very clear that the kernel system call interfaces do not in any way result in a derived work as per the GPL, and the kernel details are exported through the kernel headers to all the normal glibc interfaces too.

The kernel headers contain various definitions for the interfaces to user space, and we even actively try to make sure that the headers can be used by user space (and try to mark which of the headers are expected to be usable in such a way). Exactly because we know user space needs those details in order to interact with the kernel.

So I haven’t looked at exactly what Google does with the kernel headers, but I can’t see that they’d want to do anything fundamentally different from glibc in this respect.

Of course, we do have our own ‘internal’ headers too, and we have stuff that is meant to be relevant only for the kernel. But there would be no point for Google to even use those, since they are useless outside of the kernel, so I don’t see what the whole brouhaha would be all about. Except if it’s somebody politically motivated (or motivated by some need of attention).

If it’s some desperate cry for attention by somebody, I just wish those people would release their own sex tapes or something, rather than drag the Linux kernel into their sordid world.

After I finished laughing, I spent a couple of minutes contemplating the concept. It’s not something I’d want to watch. But hey, if it would make Florian ‘The Sky is Falling’ Müller and Edward ‘Naughty’ Naughton happy, and get them to stop writing about subjects that they don’t have a clue about for a couple of weeks, I’d happily donate $10.00 towards a fund to help them finance a sex tape. Is there anyone else willing to toss in a few bucks? I’m sure that Florian and Ed would really appreciate the help!


Wayne Borean

Sunday March 27, 2011


4 thoughts on “The Android Header File Controversy Or 'The Sky Is Falling By Florian'

  1. Sigh. Right off the bat, you’d be more effective if you took fewer pages from Roy’s book. This posting would be 30% shorter, and much better-written if you reduced the amount of cat-calling. (Also, if you’re intent on taunting people on their lack of programming skills, I’d strongly recommend learning how to spell “programmer”.)

    Second, I’m not sure you’ve really understood the implications of the position you’re taking here, and it’s one that runs very much afoul of the FSF’s own guidance on the use of header files, which strictly limits things and explicitly excludes inline code from getting a “free ride”, see (for example) section 3 of the LGPL v3.

    The GCC Runtime Library Exception provides no help here—what Google is doing is surely not an “eligible compilation process”. So, if you’re willing to give Google a pass to gutting the GPL in a significant way, this is an excellent start, all in all. What’s baffling me is why you would want to do that.

    Inline code _is_ most certainly copyrightable, just as any other code is. It’s placement in a header file—not an idea which has any meaning in copyright law, by the way—is actually irrelevant.

    Google has a significant history of playing fast and loose with other people’s work—as the recent US District Court decision against the “Google Books settlement” clearly shows—and this is simply another instance of the same.

    I can’t help but feel you’re letting your personal dislike for Mr. Müller get in the way of your reasoning abilities.

    1. Lefty,

      So you are willing to ignore Linus’ personal statement? I would think that he is the one who matters most in this situation.

      However I am accurate as to Florian. If you take the opposite position to whatever Florian advocates, you’ll be right 90% of the time.

      As to Google, it so happens I agree. I was glad to see them get slapped down on the book scanning case. They went several steps too far. Google is not an organization that I would trust with anything valuable. In fact I wouldn’t trust Apple either. I’m a cynical old bastard on my better days, and this isn’t one of them. No, Google needs to be controlled. Unfortunately the United States government is suffering from a severe case of regulatory capture, and it won’t control Google, or Apple, or Microsoft. In fact it will aid and abet them as much as it can, including forcing other governments to let them operate as they will.

      But as I said, I’m a cynical old bastard, and I need some more painkillers.


    2. Ahahhhahha Lefty you’re funny. I don’t even know where to start debunking your logic.

      How about this: facts are not copyrightable. Descriptions of an interface contain no artistic value and thus are not protected by copyright. And even if they were, nobody would sue, because the intent of an interface description is to inform, not entertain. Certainly the owner of the headers in question never published the interface with the intent of making money on it.

      If the matter went to court, it would only take a few OSS testimonies to clear this.

      And, last, Linus himself, the curator of the Linux kernek said using the headers the way Google did is not an issue. And of course, everybody in the OSS world would be wrong and you and your pathetic friends are right. Now where is that bridge you said you were in posession of?

      And, please, stop attacking Roy. It is silly and makes you look like an obsessive, drooling idiot.

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