Why MediaTek Should Release Their Source Code (Even Though the GPL States They Have To)

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Many of our readers will already know that as Android is built using the Linux Kernel as its foundation, companies that manufacture smartphones, and mobile processors that run Android must provide source code. This is because the Linux Kernel (and many other libraries that Android depends upon) is licensed using the GPL (the GNU General Public License) which, in a nutshell, requires those that use GPL code or software to redistribute their changes and such in the same manner. This sort of practice is what allowed Open Source Software to take off in the first place, and keeps free software getting better and better and of course keeps things free for users like us.

For Android users, getting hold of the source code means custom ROMs and Kernels that many Android fans flash onto their devices all the time, can be built by the development community. Without access to source code, ROMS like CyanogenMod or ParanoidAndroid simply wouldn’t be possible, and it’s only down to the Android Open Source Project that we have the choice to use whichever ROM we like. MediaTek however, is one of those companies that simply ignore the rules of the GPL and doesn’t share their source code with the developer community. Which means devices built with popular chips like the MT6589 or the octa-core MT6592 are of no real use to developers or those looking to tinker with their devices, because MediaTek withholds their source code. While this sort of thing is against the GPL (the license states you must share what you built using software licensed under the GPL) there are a few good reasons why they should their code.

Just look what it did for Oppo. The Chinese company known for the Find 5 and now the Find 7 smartphones is a big part of the developer community and it’s really helped their brand image here in the West. Sharing things with the community is what makes Android, Android. Sure, there are far more users that simply don’t care, but if you thought the developers over at XDA and RootzWiki have no impact on what happens to our everyday smartphones then you’re misguided. Sharing their source code with the community at large would also help MediaTek solve some pretty common issues in their chips, like GPS and Bluetooth issues. Software based on the GPL benefits from upstream fixes and patches, and from there the whole thing moves forward and we all benefit.

It seems that MediaTek is more willing to cash-in on Android rather than contribute to the whole, as the Omate TrueSmart has recently launched (with a MediaTek MT6572 CPU) and MediaTek is withholding source code for the chip. It appears that MediaTek is trying to re-license GPL code (itself banned by the GPL) in order to charge companies for source code. The Omate smartwatch only utilizes pre-compile binaries for the device, which doesn’t bode well for developers looking to take full advantage of the device.Regardless of what license or agreement Omate has with MediaTek, the source code for the MT6572 should already be readily available.

MediaTek should be sharing their source code with the community not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because without Android and smartphones all over the world using their chips, MediaTek wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as they are now. Without Android, MediaTek wouldn’t be making this much money, so maybe they should remember it’s not all about take, take, take and should give a little back.