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Am I allowed to add my application to the Buster OS and offer it a an img download file for purchase?

I appreciate some people regard the Rpi as free to use but I am adding (hopefully) added value.

As mentioned that other question/answer was for a non-commercial product

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    You need to consult a lawyer. I expect there are licence terms you must comply with even if you are distributing an image. – joan Nov 16 '19 at 12:02
  • I'm sure there's a dupe for this but can't find it... – goldilocks Nov 16 '19 at 14:52
  • @joan thank you – Andrew Simpson Nov 16 '19 at 17:08
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    Possible duplicate of redistribute modified Raspbian – Fred Nov 23 '19 at 16:07
  • @Fred The "duplicate" is about non-commercial distribution. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 3 '19 at 13:17
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I'll trace out the context here for you and point you in the right direction, but as joan implies, if you are going to do this on a serious scale you should probably consult a lawyer versed in such things.

the Buster OS

Buster is the nick (or "code") name of the current version (10) of Raspbian, sort of like how various OSX versions used to be called Big Tiger, Crazy Cat, etc. This is not an unusual practice; in theory they are code names used in development.

The reason Rasbian 10 is called Buster is because the current version (10) of the Debian OS is code name Buster, and Raspbian is really a re-packaging of the armhf compilation of Debian (armhf being the hardware platform). IMO referring to GNU/Linux distributions as "Debian OS" and "Raspbian OS" a bit of a misnomer; they are all fundamentally the same operating system and smacking "OS" on the end of the distro name is a newer practice. Of course that's superficial hair-splitting, but there is an important legal point if you wish to release your own distro based on one of those:

Raspbian is bound by the licencing restrictions of Debian which are determined by the licensing restrictions of GNU and Linux, two independent legal entities. What they actually licence are distinct pieces of software; Linux governs the linux kernel and GNU owns copyright to much of the rest of the fundamental bits such as the core system libraries.

However, what's perhaps more important about GNU is that they are the authors of the GNU GPL (General Public Licence), which is used by pretty much all the other system software and most if not quite all of the distro packaged applications. The license holders in this case are a hodgepodge collection of independent people and organizations. It actually doesn't matter much who they are though, because the terms of that license allows for re-use (under specific conditions) without applying for permission to anybody -- something which helps to explain how things got to be this way: Because the distributions from the beginning (Debian dates back to 1996) intended it to be so. They and GNU and Linux are largely copacetic on this point (although some of the players might want to interject some more fine tuned verbiage there).

It is important to note that there are actually several flavours of the GPL and you do need to read up a bit on that as I will not regurgitate it all here other than to say that the "full version" (there's also a "lesser" version) of the GPL 3 is the one you should be most concerned with because it is the most restrictive and the other flavours are compatible with it (meaning, if you meet the conditions of the GPL3 you will meet the conditions of the others as well).

some people regard the Rpi as free

Well, no, Rpi = Raspberry Pi, a brand of hardware, and so far I have not gotten any for free.

But that is actually not what is meant by "free" in this context, just as "free speech" does not refer to speeches made for no money -- ie., in the words of the founder of GNU, it does not mean "free as in beer", by which he meant, it is not something no one can charge money for (observe the double negative).

People can and do in fact charge money for distributing GPL licenced software, including a lot of Rpi vendors who sell pre-made SD cards. They don't, however, have to pay anything to the copyright holders of the software and if you want, you can copy that card and sell copies yourself without paying them or anyone else, because this is part of what the "free" licencing makes legally possible.1

"Free", "open", and "libre" are all terms that are a variation on the theme. Understanding the distinction between them is not critical to understanding the GPL, however.

But!

As a final important note, "open" is a term that can be applied to hardware as well. Just as open software made possible the evolution of GNU/Linux distributions (without which the Pi would probably have never gotten off the ground), so too open hardware has in the past made possible things such as the personal computer revolution of the 80's, when anyone could design and sell a PC style system for which Microsoft Windows, the OS, was designed.

The important bit here is that the Raspberry Pi is not based on open hardware, and consequently some of the bits of software required to run it are not licenced that way either, namely the firmware.

Here's the licence for that stuff, which fortunately does not require permission or fees either but does have some clear restrictions.

Finally, beware that Raspbian historically has included some pretty non-free stuff such as Wolfram Mathematica. I'm not sure if this is still the case but you should keep that in mind and decide how you are going to handle that (eg., just leave it out, none of it is critical).


  1. This also means if you package your own distro, other people will not need your permission to re-package and/or distribute it either. You can only place restrictions on the software you actually hold licence to, and you cannot "copyright the OS" (although you could copyright the name, logo, etc).
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  • That was such a fantastic answer. Thank you – Andrew Simpson Nov 16 '19 at 16:37
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The topic has been discussed several times on Opensource.SE, e.g. here. In short:

  • If you wrote an application, you can keep it closed source, provided it's compatible with all the libraries you have used.

  • If you added kernel patches or drivers, you'll have to publish the source code for those.

  • If you sell a product with an embedded GPL software (Linux) or sell a complete bootable image, you need to provide the source code for all that GPL software you're selling. You could tell your customers you used Raspbian version so and so, but in the end if the Raspberry Pi foundation stops distributing it, you will be personally liable towards your clients if you can't provide the source code to them. So, be sure to at least keep a copy of all the sources.

And of course, remember that most information you get on the Internet for free (including answers here) is not legal advice.

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    Thanks. But confused by what you said. You say the application I created can be closed source. OK. But then you say if I am distributing it with an OS (ie Buster) I have to provide the Source code for my application? The reason I am wanting to distribute my app with the OS is that I have set the config to how I need it to be like enabling the camera. Additionally, I am using the commercial license of EmguCV which needs to be installed on the OS for it to work.. Also, appreciate ur opinion and time. Thanks – Andrew Simpson Dec 3 '19 at 13:17
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    @AndrewSimpson You need to provide the sources for all GPL software. If you keep your application closed source, it doesn't have to be included. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 3 '19 at 13:19
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    Ah, thought that was what you meant. But surely it would not be my responsibility to provide the gpl source code myself. Surely, it is the domain of Raspberry Pi people to provide links to their own os? I am sure they would not be happy if I kept a copy for redistribution of their own os from my own website? – Andrew Simpson Dec 3 '19 at 13:20
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    @AndrewSimpson RPi foundation is only responsible for distributing unmodified Raspbian images and the corresponding source code. And it's not "their own os", it's re-branded Debian (which is in turn re-branded GNU/Linux) with a modified kernel and firmware. The moment you modify that image further and start distributing it, it becomes your software. If anything, the foundation may not be happy if you keep calling your image "Raspbian". – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 3 '19 at 13:46
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    BTW, you seem to think that redistributing Raspbian sources may be a hard task, which in fact it isn't. In essence, your job is to register on Github, go to github.com/raspberrypi/linux and click on "fork", then do the same for "firmware" and "userland". It may seem inconsequential, but legally it's a crucial step. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 3 '19 at 13:57

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