A device I own uses BusyBox. BusyBox is licensed under GPLv2, hence, the software in my device must have a GPLv2 license.

Now, the company says they make the source code available, but for a charge, plus the shipping cost.

Is this legal? Can they charge to distribute the source codes for a software which I bought the binaries?

1 Answer 1


Yes. The terms are described in the GPLv2 license (emphasis mine):

  1. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code,

  • This seems to contradict the "charge, plus the shipping cost" mentioned in the OP.
    – Ruslan
    Sep 23, 2016 at 19:47
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    @Ruslan, there's more to "physically performing the source distribution" than just dropping something in the mail. There's the cost of the storage medium, the cost of the envelope, the time and effort of preparing it, and so on.
    – Mark
    Sep 23, 2016 at 20:02
  • Yet in most cases and today's world the marginal cost of a web-based downloadable redistribution is effectively zero. Now for the GPL 2 at least there is no such obligation to provide a web-based redistribution so a physical redistribution costs are to be determined on a case-by-case basis. @utku What would be the actual cost you are asked to cover? Sep 25, 2016 at 21:53
  • @PhilippeOmbredanne $10 (plus shipping). I would say it's only a discouraging measure for not actually wanting to distribute source code. IMO, it's a shame that GPL has such a loophole that can be exploited (as opposed to simply requiring to host the code in a public server which is accessible free of charge).
    – Utku
    Sep 28, 2016 at 15:19
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    $10 + shipping is perfectly fine IMHO. This is NOT a loophole... You have a to understand that when the GPL was drafted snail mail was the only reliable way to physically distribute software. Also consider this: you redistribute GPL code and live in a place with no internet access: if you are receiving thousand source code requests, it is only fair to have the requester pay for shipping and handling. Sep 29, 2016 at 6:44

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