Lest everyone think I'm a total Google Fanboy, I'd like to suggest a really, really simple tactic folks like Cyanogen can take to continue Android innovations while complying 100% with the licensing of Google's "experience" apps.
The crux of the issue is that, without the proper license, it is illegal for Android ROM developers to distribute these apps as part of their ROMs. It'd also be illegal for someone like me to host them myself so that people can simply install them after installing a custom ROM. "Ok," you might say. "Then how am I supposed to get
these applications if it's not legal for anyone to give them to me?"
Ah, but there's the catch. There are organizations that are
licensed to distribute them. T-Mobile, for instance, is probably the most widely-known, as all our phones will download updates containing the apps whenever a new Android release comes out. Usually there's a bit of detective work involved, though, in determining the URL for these updates. But you know who else
is licensed to distribute them, and makes them extremely easy to find/download? HTC
What would need to happen is that the user could themselves download the relevant firmware update file from HTC's website and save it on their SD card -- which is perfectly legal. The user could then update to a Google-free firmware from someone like Cyanogen. If this Google-free firmware update happened to check for the existence of the official Google-app-including firmware image as part of its setup procedure, and extracted the Google bits out of it, everyone could have the best of both worlds.
The ROM developer would not be distributing the apps. The organization that is
distributing the apps is licensed to do so. Everyone wins.