My plan is to sell an embedded computer, running a Linux distribution. I downloaded the binaries and installed them on the embedded computer.

Do I need to distribute the sources of the complete Linux distribution? I am able to find build instructions for the kernel but I am not even sure how to obtain the sources of exactly the binary kernel, I am using. And when it comes to all the other binaries in the distribution, it would be really a lot of work to obtain all the sources in the correct version.

Would it be enough to provide links to the source repository?

I found A Practical Guide to GPL Compliance. This is a very useful guide, but it seems that the (re)distribution of a complete binary Linux distribution is not covered or it is completely inpracticable.

  • As far as I remember, you have to distribute the sources of a program only when asked to, don't you? I don't think people will ask you for the sources of all your distribution packages at once. – lgeorget Oct 21 '14 at 12:01
  • The GPL v2.0 and the linked guide says, that if you don't distribute the source code, then you will have to make an offer to ship the source code later. This is even true for redistributors. the GPL compliance guide says, it is not possible for distributors to delegate the shipment offer to the manufacturer. And you are also required to provide exactly the source and scripts to build the binary you are distributing or a guide, how to build the exact binary. This seems completely impossible for a complete linux distribution. – Pascal Rosin Oct 21 '14 at 12:11

Do I need to distribute the sources of the complete linux distribution?

Yes (see here) but

Would it be enough to provide links to the source repository?

Would I think count as distribution -- there is not much of a point in you having parallel repos, so as long as you include a valid public reference to where you got it, I doubt anyone will be upset. Android vendors do not bother distributing the kernel source, they just distribute a binary.

However, since a lot of the stuff in a (normal) linux distribution is supervised (and copyrighted) by GNU, you might want to contact them, or their parent organization the FSF (which is responsible for the GPL) and ask that specifically. Worst case is they want you to host the sources yourself online, but this seems pretty unlikely.

If you modify anything in a source at all before you compile it then you definitely have to have that modified source available.

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  • of course, if I modify / compile one program of the distribution, I would know how to compile it. But that is not true for all the downloaded binary packets. – Pascal Rosin Oct 21 '14 at 12:18
  • Presumably where ever the binaries came from has all that's required to legally distribute them. If not, then they aren't distributing them legally which would be a problem... – goldilocks Oct 21 '14 at 12:25
  • yea, but according to this: softwarefreedom.org/resources/2008/… it is not legal to delegate the liability to the original distributor: "M cannot simply pass V ’s offer for source along to its customers" – Pascal Rosin Oct 21 '14 at 12:30
  • So if the original distributor has an offer for source, I guess you have to take them up on that so you can do the same thing. If they don't, again, it would seem you are on shakey ground, unfortunately. – goldilocks Oct 21 '14 at 12:32
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    No, you don't need to distribute the sources of the complete distribution. Only the sources of programs that are licensed under the GNU GPL (and similar licenses). And you only need to distribute it upon request; if you use unmodified code, chances are that everyone will be satisfied with other, existing software mirrors. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 21 '14 at 23:57

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