If I distribute someone else's unmodified GPLv2 software as a part of my product, what obligations do I have regarding source code distribution?

Do I have to host the source independently and provide it on request, or can I simply include the copyright notice from the software in question (which explains how to obtain the source code from the original author) and be done with it?

  • 3
    Kudos to you for actually wanting to do the right thing when distributing GPL'd software. Far too many don't bother, especially when building a commercial product.
    – user
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 16:48

1 Answer 1


This is covered in section 3 of the GPL, version 2:

  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, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

If you qualify for section 3c, then you can just forward the offer to distribute source code that you yourself received along with the binary you're using. Otherwise you need to take care of distributing the source code yourself (or keeping it available to satisfy users taking up your written offer).

Note that by forwarding users to the original author's copy of the source code, you're tying your ability to distribute your software to the continued availability of that copy. It seems safer to me to just distribute the source code along with the binary and be done with it!

  • 3
    Thanks! Also, I now have noticed that section 3C is only valid for noncommercial distribution, so I'll have to distribute or host the source code myself. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 10:23
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    @DmitryGrigoryev note also that with the GPLv2 unless you distribute the source code WITH the binary (e.g. at the same time), you must also be prepared to receive and honor offline (including snail mail) requests, which is a burden best eschewed by always redistributing the corresponding source code with the binaries if possible. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 11:22
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    @DmitryGrigoryev e.g. just providing a download link is not enough in the GPLv2. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 11:22
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    @PhilippeOmbredanne Thanks for the tip. It's not much of a burden for a physical product (since I have to handle e.g. RMA and warranty shipments for as long as the product is supported), and I don't think there are high chances of being flooded by snail mail source code requests. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 11:26
  • @DmitryGrigoryev you would be surprised :) Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 18:56

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