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  • Is it legal to freely manufacture, distribute and modify Raspberry Pi?
  • Does Raspberry Pi have a license?
  • Are the hardware documentations and specs available to the public?
  • Are there any restrictions on the usage?
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4 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Keep in mind that just because the Raspberry Pi runs Linux does not assume any F/OSS requirements on the RPi hardware just as your desktop running Linux likely does not have F/OSS hardware. That said the Raspberry Pi Foundation has talked about opening up the platform in the future. So far schematics for the Raspberry Pi and an image from the Pi's gerber file has been released.

The Broadcom ARM chip is decidedly closed source and many of the driver binaries are at the moment closed source as well. Go to the Raspberry Pi FAQ page then search for hardware documentation to get an idea of how much influence Broadcom has on the freeness of the Pi's hardware.

If you buy a Raspberry Pi you own it and you can do with it whatever you would with any other product you own, but as of right now when you purchase a Raspberry Pi there are no licenses included.

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To add to this answer: I see no reason why you couldn't take the schematic, design your own board, source your own parts, manufacture, get regulatory approval and sell your own version. –  Craig Jul 31 '12 at 20:14
@Craig I'm not so sure about that. You may have done your own board layout, but if you're using their schematic with out permission to do so I think you're going to run into trouble. They provide their schematic as a documentation not as a "Here every body come use this" type of thing. –  Dan B Jul 31 '12 at 20:42
The schematic is tricky. One can argue that the schematic itself protected by copyright but the information embodied in the schematic are facts and facts are not protected by copyright. Thus, you could use the facts in the schematic to create your own board. (But you can't reprint the schematics). I think the reality is that this is an academic argument because creating a RPi clone is probably not practical both financially and logistically. –  Craig Jul 31 '12 at 23:06
I do believe Commercial and Retail law are different. As a user we can do what we want with it. But a large reputable company needs to consult the law they are working in to avoid future lawsuits - Which is ever so popular nowadays for the dumbest things. Like SKYDRIVE is going to banned in the UK Because BSKYB (TV PRovider) Says it confuses its subscribers. So Microsoft has to do something now or pay compensation. That is not normal retail law. Your answer needs support and is open to dangerous assumption for commercial context - as outlined in the OP question –  ppumkin Jul 5 '13 at 7:48
@ppumkin Thanks for the flag, but this is the accepted answer by a large way. Please can you provide evidence that this should be the case? –  Jivings Jul 5 '13 at 18:37
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Firstly you should read this from the RaspberryPI site

Most importantly is the the Raspberry PI is a registered UK charity. IN financial terms it means all profit goes back to it self and should always strive to help areas that lack the specific role. In this case - technology.

IHTM11115 - General outline: established for charitable purposes A charity is established for charitable purposes if it meets the definition in the Charities Act 2006/section 2. It must exist for a purpose as described and meet a public benefit test.

The description of purposes includes:

the prevention or relief of poverty, the relief for those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability or financial hardship, the advancement of education, religion, health, citizenship, community development, arts, culture, heritage, science, amateur sport, human rights, conflict resolution, religious or racial harmony, equality and diversity, environmental protection, animal welfare, and the promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces or emergency services.

So inherently it could be called upon that your intentions should also strive to help the charity based on revenue generated by their product. In law there is no citable definition for this that I know of. But a situation where a corporation using this product and its image(which is trademarked and marketed by Raspberry Pi) to generate extremely massive income.. I could foresee the situation to be in breech of some sort of trading standards defined within the EU regulations.

Raspberry Pi Foundation does not seem to refer to any licenses(as of this post) but it is clear that they do NOT provide schematics that will help easily reproduce the product.

You can look at the schematics here but you would have to design your own PCB based on that and make your own Gerber to send of for production.

If you make your board and label it Raspberry Pi or similar you are breaching trademarks.

The main purpose of RPI is for people to buy the product which generates revenue for the charity, so that they can help poor areas develop technical skills and, enable them to use modern technology in environments that do not poses funds to purchase such technology and most importantly allow these areas to connect to the internet using a cheap device!

We’re a charity, so you can’t buy shares in the company. If you want to support us, we’d love you to buy one. We’ll also be offering a package where you can do a buy-one-give-one purchase, and we’ll be accepting donations too once we start shipping.

If you officially buy the Raspberry Pi you can use it where you please and this is openly disclosed in many forum posts and blog entries on the official site. It is for the people to use.

Find out more about it here

I would have thought if you intend to use RPi in a commercial environment or to generate revenue you need to talk to your lawyers and establish a proper lawful outline and let the charity know of your intents. But, if you cant afford commercial lawyers- then you can afford to make your proprietary PCB that suits your needs.

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In the latest issue (4) of MagPi themagpi.com Eben and Liz encourage commercial use. –  Duncan McGregor Aug 2 '12 at 14:37
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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

As I recall, Eben or Liz said they wouldn't mind releasing the board layout, but there's no point since you can't buy the CPU from Broadcom.

However it's not clear what they mean by "releasing". Does it mean you can read the specs? copy the specs? copy the RPi?

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If you wanted to buy enough of them, they'd probably talk to you. –  Chris Stratton Aug 1 '12 at 3:42
@ChrisStratton, "enough" is a big number. RPF are only able to get them in tens of thousands quantities because some of the guys work for Broadcom. –  John La Rooy Aug 1 '12 at 9:53
Where did they say that? got any references to it? I looked around for a while and did not see anybody say anything like that. You can buy the chipo from other suppliers –  ppumkin Aug 1 '12 at 12:29
@ppumkin, it would probably have been on the raspberrypi.org blog. Unfortunately the search there is pretty useless. –  John La Rooy Aug 2 '12 at 0:25
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Replicating PCBs

I frequently have PCBs manufactured in China and replicating the complete Gerbers is easy with software which my suppliers have. They even use X-rays to copy multi-layer boards. And since the R Pi schematic is available, it becomes that more easier.

But given the pricing, it is hardly a commercial venture.

Additionally, given the quantities R Pi is purchasing, chip manufacturers can do all number of things to make life hard for R Pi CPU plagiarisers.

Add-on and Prototyping Boards

That said, I have made various add-on PCBs. One series is the size format of the Raspberry Pi and can be stacked and another series is based upon Veroboard accessories.

To my mind, the R Pi format is a real pain for embedding with all of it's projections overhanging the PCB profile. I have a PCB carrier board that holds the R Pi and has various functions, etc on it to 'man up' the R Pi such as real time clock, etc. Another pain is the absence of mounting holes! Plastic boxes don't cut it guys.

I have adopted the 3U PTH Microboard PCB format (100X160mm) and have various boards with different hole / pad layouts.

Using this format allows developers to us Vero rack assemblies, etc.


BTW, Vero's board prices are just this side of crazy! An R Pi format board with 400 holes in it single sided; bare copper tracks (for prototyping) in quantities of 10 cost USD$1.20 overnight delivery.

A 100X160mm Euro board with about 500 holes cost around USD$3 (same spec - for prototyping). I found out the actually price by the PCB material since holes are drilled with CNC they could care less how many there are! Vero charges 23 pounds and an equivalent board here is USD$7!

These are my costs F.O.B. factory door-Ho Chi Minh City.

R Pi PCB Dimensional Drawings

Given that R Pi are banging boards out, I cannot understand why there aren't official mechanical drawings based upon the PCB drawings stipulating the official dimensions and the precise locations of the two (now) pinned connectors. The manufactured tolerances I have read of are excessive. Unless there is an R Pi page I have overlooked.

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