My question is simple: is displaying an unreleased product containing open source software at an exhibition considered distribution?

In particular, I am concerned about GPL obligations. If the software being displayed contains GPL-licensed software and public display counts as distribution, then I would have a copyleft obligation to share the source code of the displayed software. Does public display cause me to have such an obligation?

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    If you display something but do not hand it over to them so that it becomes theirs or cause them to have a copy of the software, that is not distribution. I'm not sure how this is really open source related; if you display a product containing proprietary software, but you do not give it to them, that is also not distribution. The definition does not depend on what kind of software is on the device, or even whether there is software at all. A car seller is not 'distributing' cars by displaying them on a lot or even by allowing visitors to test drive them.
    – Brandin
    Apr 11 '18 at 8:10
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    I have modified your question to demonstrate a stronger connection to a concern specific to FLOSS, and one which you may have intended to ask anyway. If you don't like it, feel free to modify the question further.
    – apsillers
    Apr 11 '18 at 11:27

Just showing a product at an exhibition is not considered distribution under any interpretation. That is as much distribution as showing a photo or video of the product.

For most licenses, including the GPL, there are two ways that distribution can take place (and he copyleft obligations start to apply):

  • You physically hand over a device using the software
  • You give someone outside your organisation control over the choice to install or remove the software

The AGPL license has another way that the copyleft obligations come into force and that is when users can use the software over a remote connection.
There is a chance that this clause triggers if you demonstrate software containing AGPL parts and allow users to play with it during the demonstration.

The copyleft obligation of providing source does not mean that you must actively hand out the source code, but rather that you must give it when people ask for it.

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