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My company is about to launch a commercial product, said product consists of an embedded Linux computer running custom software and talking to custom hardware.

My understanding is that the GPL license that Linux and other aspects of our system are licensed under requires us to make the license text and any GPL licensed source code available to our customers should they request it.

This is incredibly unlikely to happen (given the industry we work in) and we haven't made any changes to the Linux kernel or any other OSS we use in the product. Is adding the following text to the box manual enough to meet our obligations under the GPL?

[PRODUCT] utilises some software components released under the GNU GPL, GNU LGPL and other open source licenses, for details on licenses or to be send a copy of source code please contact support@[company] with your request.

Obviously if someone was to contact us then we'd send them the necessary information/source code as required by the license.

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  • @MartinSchröder, can you indicate why it does not constitute a "written offer"? What is missing to make it a "written offer"? – Bart van Ingen Schenau Sep 20 '17 at 11:06
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In many cases it will be easiest to just put them on a web server and give the URL so that people can "self service". E.g., https://products.sel.sony.com/opensource/

You'll have to print the source code offer / display the GPL license somewhere. E.g. on an Android phone check settings, about this phone, legal, open-source licenses.

It is also good to organize a compliance process in your company. Make a repository with a clear name (e.g. GPL compliance) and for every product, make a "public" folder with the relevant sources and a clear indication that the contents are OK to give out and not confidential. Then support can easily answer such a request.

  • Do you think having the license text available as a web page on the device would be sufficient? (go to deviceIP/licensingInfo.htm for info) – RobbG Sep 13 '17 at 7:40
  • @RobbG: I don't think that is sufficient. The GPL has a requirement along the lines that when you distribute GPL-covered code (in either source or binary form), then you must accompany that code with a copy of the license text. The idea here is that the recipients do not have to hunt around to learn what rights they have under the license. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Sep 13 '17 at 8:44
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    Check how your phone does it. I doubt they include all the licenses in their manual anymore (because different parts may even have different licenses - so the phone's software probably contains some 50+ different license texts). I'm pretty sure the large manufacturers have had their lawyers check that this is okay... – Anony-Mousse Sep 13 '17 at 8:54
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    To add to the above comment, I checked Android phones from two different manufacturers and they both contained an explicit written offer (valid for three years) to obtain GPL sources via email in digital format. One also contained a URL to download the sources from a network server, but I'm guessing that's just for everyone convenience (I'd rather just download the source, and they'd rather not have an employee deal with my request). For legal robustness, though, they do indeed include the formal written offer, along with the full license text. (cc @RobbG) – apsillers Sep 13 '17 at 11:54
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    One of them was new (manufactured by LG), and I was able to cross-compare the print and digital licensing copy: the written offer and GPL text was only in digital format in the "About" menu. It was not included in the print manual, though the print manual did include a notice about GPL material and pointed to a URL to learn more. This makes sense to me: we use digital copies of the GPL all the time, so if your physical device is capable of displaying a digital copy of the GPL and source offer, then you can utilize that capability (or LG's legal team thinks so, anyway). – apsillers Sep 13 '17 at 12:03
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Adding the text you propose to the manual is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the GPL.

In addition to this text, you must also reproduce the text of the GPL license (and I would recommend the other licenses as well). This can be as an appendix in the manual or as a separate leaflet.

Independent of how you phrase the offer to provide the sources, you must also honor requests for the source code based on this written offer for at least 3 years.

  • Source code = all source code, including anything you have written. – gnasher729 Sep 12 '17 at 19:07
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    @gnasher not by definition. That depends on how your code relates to the GPL licensed code. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Sep 12 '17 at 19:59
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    @gnasher729 You're 100% wrong. GPL applies to published code. Anything that you've tested but not published is not part of it. What you're saying here is a serious abuse to GPL. You're trying to abuse GPL by taking advantage of other people. Please stop your abusing. – SmallChess Sep 13 '17 at 4:29
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    @SmallChess actually it also applies to the binary. Receiving the binary entitles you to get the source, whether the source was "published" or not. But I don't like gnasher729's emphasis on "all" either. Components that are not linked together (e.g. the kernel is not compiled into your application) remain independent components, and you are only entitled to the source code of those parts that include GPL code. – Anony-Mousse Sep 13 '17 at 7:16
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    @gnasher729 I don't see how this would work. The application that we have written doesn't statically link any open source libraries. What your suggesting would mean that EVERY application that's written to be able to run on Linux based platforms would need to be open source, which I'm pretty sure is not the case. – RobbG Sep 13 '17 at 7:39

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