Do vendors need to provide sources, at the customer's request, for GPL licensed software installed on the hardware they sell?

For example, a vendor sells an IPTV box and pre-installs some proprietary software product which is linked with some GPLed library. As a consequence, the software becomes GPLed itself.
Does the vendor need to provide the source code for it? The vendor doesn't sell that software, he sells hardware.

  • More details, please. Lots of libraries are available in LGPL form, where you can use them without the using code becoming GPL. Sep 26, 2012 at 16:39
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    The question is about GPL license not LGPL Sep 26, 2012 at 16:43
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    the number of people who don't know the difference is very large, that's why it's a comment. Sep 26, 2012 at 17:36
  • Vendor should have already known that. And by what you outline was in the need to provide a written statement to provide sources when client asks for it. I wonder you ask now. Does the client not have any written statement? Which IPTV box?
    – hakre
    Sep 26, 2012 at 21:39
  • Not only does the vendor need to provide source code, he has to be somewhat pro-active: either provide it with the TV, or at least provide the offer for source code with the TV. He's already in violation if he didn't do either, but since the GPLv3 that's a curable condition.
    – MSalters
    Sep 27, 2012 at 14:27

4 Answers 4


Yes - the GPL says nothing about "selling" software, it talks about distributing. If you distribute GPL software you have to abide by the licence.

The GPL3 uses a slightly different phrase "convey" - to clear up some different meanings of "distribute" in different jurisidictions

  • The distinction you're making between "selling" the software and "conveying" it seems insignificant to me, unless you're talking about some sort of software delivery that's not considered "conveyance," such as a web interface. Sep 26, 2012 at 17:18
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    @RobertHarvey - it's important. I can't reuse GPL code and not release the source simply because I'm not charging money for the result. Otherwise people could get around GPL source clause simply by giving away the binary for free and charging for hardware/dongle/license/etc. Sep 26, 2012 at 17:52

In short, yes. When it was revealed that some of the more popular wireless routers were using an open source core, (without the vendors publishing the source) many people were up in arms about it. If the software is being redistributed outside of your company, the GPL takes effect.

  • @AlexanderReshytko: if you like the answer, please approve it. Sep 27, 2012 at 18:39
  • @comingstorm: done) Sep 27, 2012 at 21:02
  • @AlexanderReshytko - you need to "accept" the best answer by clicking the tick mark next to it.
    – detly
    Sep 28, 2012 at 3:17
  • @detly twice i find you in 2 days
    – Evan Benn
    Apr 8, 2019 at 7:03

In short: Yes, as it is states in the reference: "The GPL is the first copyleft license for general use, which means that derived works can only be distributed under the same license terms." - reference is here.


The long answer is that you should read the terms of the GPL and see whether what you're doing constitutes distribution and what your responsibilities are.

The short answer, for most forms of copying GPL'd software, is "yes."

  • Would the downvoter care to expound on what makes this answer worse than Martin's, which says essentially the same thing?
    – Blrfl
    Sep 27, 2012 at 8:51
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    (Not my downvote) "depending on the license" and "generally" are unnecessary here. All versions of the GPL are clear enough for the specific case given; it doesn't depend.
    – MSalters
    Sep 27, 2012 at 14:25
  • That's fair enough. Revised accordingly.
    – Blrfl
    Sep 27, 2012 at 17:10

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