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In the news recently was that the smartphone company Xiaomi has not released the kernel source code for its Android phone that has been on the market for over 3 months. Since Android is based on the Linux kernel and that has GPLv2 licensing which, among other things, requires source code distribution, this is a violation.

What are the potential legal consequences for a company violating the GPL like this? Can they be sued (and if so, by whom)? Does it matter that a company like Xiaomi is based on China?

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A person that fails to comply with a copyright licence does not have a licence to use the copyrighted material.

The owner of the copyright can take all the normal actions for copyright violation including seeking an injunction to stop the breach and/or suing for damages. Additionally, if the breach constitutes criminal activity, then the state can enforce those sanctions.

However, suing a Chinese company in a Chinese court is generally a hiding to nothing. I won't say the Chinese legal system is biased towards its citizens but I wont say it isn't either. However, a case can be brought in any jurisdiction where the breach occurs (e.g. the USA) and enforcement action can be taken against any assets located in that jurisdiction.

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  • What would be the goal of a case like this in the USA? Fining the company? Preventing sale of their product in the country? – Thunderforge Jan 18 '18 at 5:00
  • @Thunderforge what I said - damages or an injunction – Dale M Jan 18 '18 at 5:16
  • Gotcha; I thought you were referring to China only there. But on second read, I guess you meant both. – Thunderforge Jan 18 '18 at 5:24
  • It is illegal, in the US, to import copyrighted material without a license, so the copyright holders could sue anyone importing the phone into the US. – David Thornley Jun 1 '18 at 20:53

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