I have installed some hardware drivers from the contrib non-free repositories in order to get my device working properly, e.g. Realtek WLAN adapter, NVIDIA graphics driver etc. Also I have installed Skype and TeamViewer directly from their official websites and vrms tells me that those are non-free. So I wonder does using this non-free software constitute piracy?

1 Answer 1


No, it is not piracy. The common parlance is that there is "free as in speech", which is to say it is unfettered by restrictions on distribution and comes with a copy of (or links to) the original source code so that you can make your own changes to the software; and that there is "free as in beer", which is to say that you can obtain it free of charge, but you don't get the recipe (i. e. the source code) or the rights to create derivative works from it.

vrms defines "free" here thusly:

“Free software” means software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”. We sometimes call it “libre software,” borrowing the French or Spanish word for “free” as in freedom, to show we do not mean the software is gratis.

It goes on to give the following specificity for what qualifies as "free":

A program is free software if the program's users have the four essential freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
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    So my packages of the drivers from the Debian non-free repository are legal copies of the software...and thanks for the precise answer!
    – Pekov
    Jun 14, 2017 at 22:21
  • You're quite welcome!
    – DopeGhoti
    Jun 14, 2017 at 22:22
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    Note that the non-free section isn’t defined using vrms, it’s defined by policy; it would be better to refer to that IMO. The reference is the DFSG which covers more than just the four freedoms. Jun 15, 2017 at 4:43
  • The reference is linked to from the vrms homepage where it declares whenceforth it gets definition of freedom.
    – DopeGhoti
    Jun 15, 2017 at 15:30
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    @DopeGhoti I know where the reference you use comes from, and it is relevant given that the text of the question mentions vrms; but it seems to me that answering “Does installing non-free software from Debian non-free repositories constitute piracy?” merits an explanation of what the non-free repositories actually contain. Jun 16, 2017 at 11:28

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