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We are looking to distribute an embedded software product using an open-source, GPL3.0 licensed operating system with our non-GPL proprietary software running on it. With normal works, if our code is using a GPL library, our software must also be licensed under GPL. However, since the software we are distributing is not a derivative of the operating system, must we license our software under GPL? Or does this restriction not apply to the software running the proprietary software?

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    This is basically the situation with Linux, except Linux is GPL2 licensed, not GPL3. Many of the standard tools in a typical distribution are GPL3 licensed as well. – Brandin Mar 13 at 10:15
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    @Brandin That's essentially where I'm at right now. I have an embedded system that I want to run on a GPL3.0 licensed linux distro but I'm not sure if keeping the code for the software running in the desktop environment will be violating the license. – Tyler Mar 13 at 17:08
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It is perfectly fine for you to make a non-GPL program that runs on Linux.

With a somewhat similar result, Linux kernel modules are linked against LGPL code to prevent modules requiring to be GPL. Linus explained this back in 1995 as a deliberate design decision.

When you say "embedded software", you could risk your software becoming part of a single product, look into TiVoization to see if this could affect your product.

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  • Thanks for the answer! Currently there's no plans on making hardware restricted access to the innards, so I believe we're alright in terms of TiVoization, we were more worried about violating the GPL license by using and distributing the OS, but it seems we'll be alright. Thanks again! – Tyler Mar 16 at 14:22

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