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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

License Policy

Ubuntu is a collection of many computer programs and documents created by thousands of individuals, teams, and companies. Each of these works might come under a different license. Our License Policy describes the process that we follow in determining which software we will ship and by default include on the Ubuntu Install CD.

The Ubuntu team is committed to free and Open Source software. The exact details of what that means can lead people into a very long debate indeed, often ending up with both sides in violent agreement. The short answer is that it is our absolute conviction that the world is a better (more efficient, more supportable, safer, more interesting, more compassionate, fairer—there are lots of ways to define it) place if you have the source code to all the software on your computer and the right to use that source code in constructive ways.

We believe that this is important even if you are not a software developer, because someone else in your family who uses your computer might find that they have that interest and talent, and because you could hire someone to exercise those rights on your behalf. We really do believe that this is the central idea that will drive innovation and development in the software industry for the next 20 years—right up until the computers take over, and who knows, maybe they will feel the same way. And we hope to be one of many teams that sticks around sustainably, making a living working in that new world. We would invite you to read more about our Free Software Philosophy and help to shape this policy further.

The Ubuntu Free Software Philosophy really only addresses the software that you will find in main and restricted. Those components contain software that is fully supported by the Ubuntu team and must comply with this policy. In the universe component you will find just about every other piece of software you can imagine, under a huge variety of licenses—really the full software universe. If you install software from universe please take the time to check the license for yourself.

There are many definitions of free and free software so we have included our own set of guidelines listed below.

To comply with the Ubuntu Main Component License Policy, all application software included in the Ubuntu main component:

  • Must include source code. The main component has a strict and nonnegotiable requirement that application software included in it must come with full source code.
  • Must allow modification and distribution of modified copies under the same license. Just having the source code does not convey the same freedom as having the right to change it. Without the ability to modify software, the Ubuntu community cannot support software, fix bugs, translate it, or improve it.

Ubuntu "Main" and "Restricted" Component License Policy

All application software in both main and restricted must:

  • Allow redistribution. Your right to sell or give away the software alone or as part of an aggregate software distribution is important because:
    • You, the user, must be able to pass on any software you have received from Ubuntu in either source code or compiled form.
    • While Ubuntu will not charge license fees for this distribution, you might well want to charge to print Ubuntu CD's, or create your own customized versions of Ubuntu which you sell, and you should have the freedom to do so.
  • Not require royalty payments or any other fee for redistribution or modification. It's important that you can exercise your rights to this software without having to pay for the privilege and that you can pass these rights on to other people on exactly the same basis.
  • Allow these rights to be passed on along with the software. You should be able to have exactly the same rights to the software as we do.
  • Not discriminate against persons, groups, or against fields of endeavor. The license of software included in Ubuntu cannot discriminate against anyone or any group of users and cannot restrict users from using the software for a particular field of endeavor—a business for example. Thus we will not distribute software that is licensed "freely for noncommercial use."
  • Not be distributed under a license specific to Ubuntu. The rights attached to the software must not depend on the program's being part of Ubuntu system. So we will not distribute software for which Ubuntu has a "special" exemption or right, and we will not put our own software into Ubuntu and then refuse you the right to pass it on.
  • Not contaminate other software licenses. The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with it. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium be free software.
  • Require source modifications to be distributed as patches if necessary. In some cases, software authors are happy for us to distribute their software and modifications to their software as long as the two are distributed separately so that people always have a copy of their pristine code. We are happy to respect this preference. However, the license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code.

Documentation, Firmware, and Drivers

Ubuntu contains licensed and copyrighted works that are not application software. For example, the default Ubuntu installation includes documentation, images, sounds, video clips, and firmware. The Ubuntu community will make decisions on the inclusion of these works on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that these works do not restrict our ability to make Ubuntu available free of charge, and that Ubuntu remains redistributable by you.

The Ubuntu team recognizes that many users have vital hardware in their computer that requires drivers that are currently only available in binary format. We urge all hardware vendors to insist that their suppliers provide Open Source drivers for their components, but we recognize that in some cases binary drivers are the only way to make your hardware work. As a result, Ubuntu includes several of these drivers on the CD and in the repository, clearly separated from the rest of the software by being placed in the restricted component.

Binary drivers are a poor choice, if you have a choice. Without source code, Ubuntu cannot support this software. We only provide it for users who require it to be able to run the free software we provide in main. Also, we cannot make binary drivers available on other architectures (such as Mac or IPAQ) if we don't have the ability to port the software source code ourselves. If your hardware is fully supported with Open Source drivers you can simply remove the restricted component, and we would encourage you to do so.

Software Installed by Default

When you install Ubuntu, you will typically install a complete desktop environment. It is also possible to install a minimal set of software (just enough to boot your machine) and then manually select the precise software applications to install. Such a "custom" install is usually favored by server administrators, who prefer to keep only the software they absolutely need on the server.

All of the application software installed by default is free software. In addition, we install some hardware drivers that are available only in binary format, but such packages are clearly marked in the restricted component.

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