I have a Linux application I've developed, and I have created a standalone VMWare Image that people can download to try out the application without needing to install and configure a Linux Server. I created this VMWare Image by starting with a base Debian system, installing a bunch of packages and then configuring all the packages and daemons my application depends on. Upon load, the VMWare Image boots right into an X Server running only my application and no Window manager, so its more of a "Virtual Appliance" than a normal Linux Desktop environment. Users generally will never see a command prompt or any application other than my own. (My application itself I have a handle on the licensing issues of)

Now I would like to distribute this image, but I'm not sure how to meet my GPL (and other licenses the various Debian components are released under) Obligations. As I understand it, I have two primary obligations to meet.

  1. Providing Copyright and License Information for each component I use. As I understand it, all the information I am required to present is located in the /usr/share directory in the Debian, but since my users generally will never touch a console or terminal, they will never see this. Does providing a text file containing a concatenation of all the files inside /usr/share meet this obligation

  2. Making source code available for all components I distribute. Since I am not creating the image from source, but from binary packages, I can't provide the actual source code that results in exactly my image being generated. Does providing an ftp mirror and an offer to send that mirror on DVDs of the Debian source debs for all the packages I use meet this obligation?

  3. Anything Else I'm required to do to legally distribute this image?

  • I think it matters which version the various apps are using -- GPLv2 or GPLv3. I believe GPLv2 says you are OK, but GPLv3 is significantly more strict. – Peter Rowell Jun 30 '11 at 16:31
  • Is your application itself GPL? I'd be really leery of distributing an application this way unless you wish to release it under GPL. – Jeremy Jun 30 '11 at 17:18
  • @Jeremy- No, application is not GPL, but also does not link with any GPL sources, so I think it should be ok, no different from any of the million venders who ship a box with embedded Linux plus their application layer for stuff like Tivo, phones, etc. I could distribute the application and VM seperately I guess, but then it would be significantly more difficult for people to get up and running. – bdk Jun 30 '11 at 17:23
  • @Peter, since its pretty much all of Debian, I expect its a huge mix of various licenses, GPL2, GPL3, various BSD variants,etc. All I know for sure is that they all have to be OSS compliant licenses to be included in Debian. – bdk Jun 30 '11 at 17:24
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    Since you aren't modifying Debian or its components it is probably sufficient to give a pointer to debian.org and leave it at that. Of course, IANAL, YMMV, and VWPBL. – Peter Rowell Jun 30 '11 at 18:55

1, Does providing a text file containing a concatenation of all the files inside /usr/share meet this obligation

I would say it goes beyond the obligation. My media player box didn't come with anything saying what version of linux and busybox it's running underneath.

2, Making source code available for all components I distribute.

edit. Apparently you are still required to distribute the source if you don;'t modify the binaries. The FSF have apparently been contacting small linux distributors over this (see http://www.linux.com/archive/feed/55285). If a link to the debian source folders would be enough is upto them.

  1. Anything Else I'm required to do to legally distribute this image?

I think you are going beyond what most embedded systems do - a note mentioning Debian in the docs or startup screen might be a polite thing to do.

  • Commercial distributors must satisfy source code distribution requirements themselves - they can't just link. But copying the source packages is probably enough – bdonlan Jun 30 '11 at 19:09
  • @bdonlan, you're right see, linux.com/archive/feed/55285 could be a real pain for somebody who just wants to add something to say an ubuntu live CD they have to do almost all the work that ubuntu do to maintain the source tree – Martin Beckett Jun 30 '11 at 19:51
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    The linux.com links referred to above appear to have moved to linux.com/archive/feature/55285. The old URLs (with 'feed') no longer work. – Paul Whittaker Jan 7 '14 at 11:50

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