Developers asking for Omate smartwatch source code, MediaTek stalling?

March 21, 2014

MediaTek MWC 2013 -1

One of the key strengths of the Linux kernel is that it is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), an open source license which gives everyone the right to use and even modify the Linux kernel, with the condition that the source code is made available for any publicly released versions.

Since Android uses the Linux kernel, the GPL license also applies to the versions of Android which are released by OEMs and processor manufacturers. When an OEM or chip maker releases a version of Android which supports their products, they should, according to the GPL, also freely release the source code.

Unfortunately, from time to time, there are companies which don’t release the source code. They seem to have a mentality that their modifications to the source code are proprietary, which they aren’t, and although the Android source code was supplied to them for free, they don’t think they are obliged to give anything back, which actually they are. The GPL basically works on the basis that freely we have received and freely we should give. Without a version of Android for their processor, it is unlikely that they would sell very many units.

MediaTek withholds code for Omate smartwatch

There a millions of devices in the world today which run Linux (with or without Android) and, for the most part, the designers of these products have also released the relevant source code. One new device which is getting a lot of attention is the upcoming Omate TrueSmart, a smart watch which raised over $1 million in funding from Kickstarter.

The device uses a dual-core MediaTek MT6572 and this is where the trouble starts. A campaign has started on the Internet asking MediaTek to release the source code for the Linux kernel which is used on the Omate.

The Omate TrueSmart

It appears that Omate doesn’t have an official partner level agreement with MediaTek, and so it is only receiving pre-compiled binaries for the MT6572. Normally, a chip maker would publish the source code, and any OEM needing access to it would just download the source archive from the Internet.

MediaTek's attempt to sublicense GPL code actually automatically terminates its right to use the Linux kernel.

The campaign asking MediaTek to release the source code also alleges that MediaTek is trying to re-license GPL code and is asking its partners to pay a fee and sign an agreement before it will release the source code. An attempt from MediaTek to to sublicense GPL code would automatically terminate its right to use the Linux kernel.

Since MediaTek is a Taiwanese company, it’s probably quite hard for any legal action originating in the West to force the chip maker to publish the source code. But maybe the company will capitulate under consumer pressure?

Comments

  • VULGARCITO

    that coming from china; Why am I not surprised?

    • Guest123

      Many Asian cultures, especially the Chinese, really don’t understand plagiarism and things like this. They truly believe that if they do anything at all to something, it is totally and completely theirs.

      I once had a Chinese instructor copy a whole chapter of a book. He put his name on the copies as if he were the originator of the material. When we, US students, explained that he couldn’t claim the work as his he responded, “but I’m the one that copied it.”

      It was hilarious, he couldn’t grasp that copying someone else’s work does not make it yours.

      So, when dealing with stuff like this, fully expect there to be problems with Asian countries in general.

      • bakakun028

        Wouldnt say only china. Just poor countries in general. Saw similiar thing happen in Eastern Europe

        • Stefan

          I’m not sure if that was a cultural thing in Eastern Europe) or just the fact people don’t care or don’t have the time/resouces to care about this too.

      • Roberto Tomás

        Many idiots with psuedonyms like Guest123 start prejudiced statements without thinking about what they are saying…

        • Guest123

          nothing prejudicial about my statement. it’s just a cultural thing, no different than how we US citizens have our own cultural issues.

          but hey, way to show your own prejudice by jumping to it straight off.

          • BAMrom

            But that actual “issue” is exactly western (mostly) perception about authorship:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd-dqUuvLk4

            A must watch that expands your perception to the reality about copying. :)

          • Guest123

            I’ve seen that TED talk. There is also a movie about how everything is a rehash/copy, etc. . .

            In my example, the person thought that because he photocopied a book that the material was now totally his (i.e. he was the creator of the material).

            Far different situation than taking inspiration from other sources, even if there is some copying involved where the final product is different than the original. That’s not the situation I wrote about.

      • RaptorOO7

        That “instructor” should have been fired for plagiarism period. Regardless of their cultural views stealing is stealing. If you stole something in China or Taiwan I suspect your jail sentence would be VERY LONG.

        • Guest123

          well, this was grad-school where most instructors are chinese. . . so, it was somewhat par for the course — he was literally fresh from China with no introduction on how to do things.

    • Marc

      Mediatek is from taiwan.

      • VULGARCITO

        I stand corrected.
        Mediatek is from Taiwan instead.
        Thanks Marc.

  • Terry

    There’s this little group called The International Trade Commission – You know the bureaucrats SO VERY EAGER to ban all Samsung products just to inflate Apple sales – yeah them. How about they ban import of ALL MediaTek products and begin a full blown multi-year federal review of their import licensing. It would also be well within normal to freeze all their Assets in US Financial Institutions since there is “high probability of conviction” that they are violating International Copyright Law. You SEE? These laws CAN be used for Good – not just Evil. It is just that Evil usually has a lot more resources to bribe [er... solicit action from] government officials.

    • Cakefiend

      Exactly. This is not a case for online petitions; it’s a case for the US legal system. It doesn’t matter a gnat’s fart where the product originates, or whether the GPL is enforceable there: it’s the US distributor’s responsibility to comply with US law. Put it this way: if I’m sued in the US for selling knock-off Gucci handbags, it’s no defence to say they were manufactured in a country that doesn’t have trademark laws. Report it to http://gpl-violations.org/ and get some lawyers on this case. Let IP laws do some good for a change.

  • Roberto Tomás

    Somehow I think we’re only at the allegation stage. I imagine Mediatek has already responded that they are aware of no open source software was given to their subscribers, and that they don’t directly handle of the software used in every 3rd aprty device… we’ll have to see if those allegations hold water. I know MediaTek is very strongly pro-OS, and has contributed positively in the past. It would be strange for that not to continue.

    • http://www.martian-imperium.com/ Lokifish Marz

      I have emails to the contrary.

  • Anders CT

    Mediatek is not a Chinese company.

    The GPL allows for linking with binary blobs, although it is somewhat frowned upon. Especially because Linux driverinterfaces is only semi-static between versions.

  • http://sm-phone.blogspot.com/ hamaki

    Mediatek is from taiwan.

    http://sm-phone.blogspot.com/

  • Pano

    Chinese/taiwanese brand ? Forget it, they’re highly unlikely to release source code. There’s reason why chinese device is less popular on XDA.

    Helpful list: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1808167

  • luminelx64

    That same behaviour of MediaTek prevents so many MT65XX Chinese phones from getting OS updates, or developer support on xda.
    After being stock on ICS 4.0.4 for so long, I now know to steer clear of any Chinese phone running on a MediaTek chip.

  • Luqmaan Mathee

    Damn stupid mediatek not releasing sources as always

  • RaptorOO7

    ITC should impose a ban on all products that use Mediatek chips, period. Failure to comply with international law should result in a sales ban.

    • http://www.martian-imperium.com/ Lokifish Marz

      The security concerns alone are more than enough to warrant an investigation.

  • Yowan Rdotexe

    “the GPL license also applies to the versions of Android”, isn’t Android licensed under Apache?