I have to create a license and copyright notice for an embedded device using Raspbian Lite as operating system, running a custom application developed by me. The device is sold as a whole.

I browsed a lot of questions and answers, but I'm still not sure, if I have to include information about ...

a) ... the operating system itself?

b) ... every apt package that was already installed in the stock download?

c) ... every apt package that I installed later?

By "include information" I mean

  1. Naming the license
  2. Naming the copyright
  3. Adding the license text

I'm quite sure that the answer to c) is "yes", but not sure about a) and b) (and if "yes", how to manage this enormous effort).

If it matters: the application only lives in user space and the user has no direct access to operating system resources, he can only interact with my application.

  • Here is an example license.manifest as output by OpenEmbedded. If anyone, a project directly under the Linux foundation probably did it right. It also outputs a directory structure with a directory per package containing 1) original license file 2) the generic version of that license 3) some basic information about the package.
    – jaskij
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


It's simple: if you distribute software, you have to abide by the licenses.

If you thus sell a device with different software on it, you have to abide by all the licenses concurrently, that includes the OS. Usually includes at least making available the copyright / credits and license information to the user in some way. For copy-left licensed software (thus GPL) it also requires to make available the corresponding source code to your customers.

For embedded devices with no reasonable user interface this often is done in a form where the complete source code for all packages in the very same version as used on your device is made available in a download folder or an archive for download on the manufacturer's website (thus yours in your case). If possible, the license information for the individual packages should be available directly and it might communicate the URL under which its sources can be found. In a mobile phone there's an about section. On a wifi device it might send in its acknowledgement or welcome message the version, a special package... whatever fits the application, the (general) license and an URL for more info.

Of course offering it in form of packages for a package manager would improve the situation for customers interested in meddling with the software - but that is not a requirement.

  • 1
    If a device is powered by a Pi, it's a good bet that it will have some sort of a web interface - it would be best to provide a page listing licenses there. Most modern devices will feature that or an app, which IMO is also a good place as long as you clearly delineate the licenses for packages used in the device from those used in the app.
    – jaskij
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 19:44
  • On another note, this 2008 guide states that GPLv2 requires an option for distribution via physical media and, at least, Linux kernel is v2 only. Here's the same topic in gnu.org FAQ
    – jaskij
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 19:49
  • 3
    Practically speaking, if the device is powered by a Pi or something similar, there's a good chance that there is enough free space on the flash storage to ship all the source code on the device itself. That's your distribution requirement ticked off the moment you ship the device.
    – MSalters
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 19:57
  • @MSalters I almost wrote that too. Problem is, afaik if the client erases the SD/eMMC of the device you still have to supply them with the source, so I'm not entirely sure it would be ok.
    – jaskij
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 20:57
  • 1
    @JanDorniak That's not my reading of the license. My reading is that if you give the client the source code along with the binary, if they erase it afterwards that's their problem. Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 0:18

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