...For personal use. (Legal considerations.)


Just a brief reminder for people about use of this operating system or similar and related software: Most of what you can use at no charge always say they are free for personal use. This means the moment you are intending to deploy it for a business, you will need to inquire about how to be in legal possession of this software so legal arms of the open source community do not need to intervene and request compensation for breaching this policy.

Yeah, Linux being free is what permits it to spread into home computing, but Linux isn’t free, it is subsidized by businesses and services which teach and use it. Keep this understanding in mind when espousing a lack of monetary commitment as a virtue for open-source.


Hallo everyone

If you do not already know about these matters, please take a moment to follow this link and inform yourselves.

What is free software? (gnu.org)

In German:
Freie Software. Was ist das? (gnu.org)

In French:
Qu’est-ce que le logiciel libre?

In Spanish:
¿Qué es el software libre?

I hope you find this useful. :slight_smile:


I think you should clarify and provide examples. What you describe is a violation of tge gpl (all versions) as well as about two dozen other open source licenses that I’m aware of.

Open source is open source. Anything with strings isn’t open source, it’s fraud.


You are correct. Many “free as in beer” programs have the “free for personal use/free for non-commercial use” disclaimer on them, but true Free Software does not.


And those packages have no business on a Linux distro!


Free Software can and regularly is paid for. Nothing in the GPL prevents free software from being sold for profit. I myself have been getting paid for developing free software for a large portion of my career, most often by profit-driven businesses.

The primary conditions are that the source code is made available through the same means that the software itself was obtained, and that any distribution of said software is done under the same license and terms.

GPL (especially v3) has plenty of strings attached, by definition. It’s actually quite a restrictive license. Which makes it ideal to enforce and protect the freedoms of this type of software.

Unlike, for example, MIT license, which has such few strings attached that it allows circumventing a lot of things that would be disallowed in GPL (there are good reasons for using MIT licenses though)


Also free software =/= open source. For instance, there could be some code on GitHub which may be open source, but it may be licensed in a way that doesn’t classify it as free software… If it has no license at all, you can look, but can’t redistribute it.


I didn’t want to bore people with technicalities like that, I simply wanted to highlight that free for personal use actually means not free for business use. It’s a bit late to remind people that now but future generations may see this and not realize until they read it use of this software in business without license isn’t the best idea


I’m not sure I follow, what exactly do you mean? Ubuntu MATE can be used commercially, since legally, many components are licensed under the GPL. Most open source licenses state that the software can be used for any purpose (even commercially)

My business for instance has a Ubuntu MATE desktop (that’s my computer), a FreeNAS and some cloud servers on Amazon running Ubuntu Server. There’s software on there like Jenkins (MIT licensed). Supporting it and making it work is entirely on our hands, since we don’t pay for technical support for these free products… if that’s what you mean by not free?


@tiox - I have to agree with @lah7 here. GPL is a business-friendly license. Using Free Software for business and commercial purposes is very much in line with the goals of the GPL.

Most businesses use open source licensed software in one way or another, for profit or otherwise. In fact, they can use it for pretty much whatever purpose they want, as long as it abides by their respective licenses.


Funny that, I didn’t know. So what of Ubuntu MATE cannot be used freely? Is it safe to say any business using Ubuntu, at least can do so with no charge whatsoever or without legal action being taken against them for any other reason?

When do the legal arms of open source software strike in this instance?


It depends where you get the software from:

:heavy_check_mark: Main - Canonical-supported free and open-source software.
:heavy_check_mark: Universe - Community-maintained free and open-source software.
:raised_hand: Multiverse - Software restricted by copyright, legal issues or may contain patents.
:no_entry: Restricted - Proprietary drivers for devices.

It’s the last two that could pose a legal grey area, such as packages for DVD playback, licensed codecs, or hardware drivers that would need a separate agreement. This could include anything that would remain questionable for home use. Some software may be fine in some regions but not in others.

For instance, in the UK, it is illegal to stream TV if the business does not have a “TV license”. So possessing an antenna with software that streams live TV would be illegal according to UK law, but it’s not a violation against the license of the software itself.

Another example may be using VLC to play a radio station to everybody in the office. VLC is licensed under the GPL, but the UK law requires the business to have a PRS license. So it’s not the software, but the individual who puts the business at risk for not complying with the law.

May be of interest, but Windows’ licenses in my business use the “N” edition of Windows, which omit multimedia functions. That’s more to do with consumer choice in the EU then licensing, I believe.

Any business can use Ubuntu (or flavours) without charge or legal threats. That is:

  • Unless they start modifying GPL software, distributing it publicly but refusing to reveal the source code, that’s a GPL violation.
  • Unless it’s being used in a country where the government has banned a specific product or service (unlikely, but some countries do)

Depends on the license and serve the violation is. A business could end up in court as open source licenses like GPL are an enforceable contract.

Some more info: