Ask Ubuntu is a question and answer site for Ubuntu users and developers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I cannot find a good source of information in regard to the legal status of some libraries and applications in Ubuntu 11.10, and I am hoping to find some answers here.

Firstly, it seems Ubuntu includes libjasper1 by default, the legal status of which in the United States, as I understand it, may not be in the clear, as JPEG-2000 may not be free to distribute. What is the story here? If the U.S. cracks down on software patent infringement, will this affect Ubuntu deployments in the U.S.? I really don't care about people's opinions on the legitimacy of such laws, nor do I want any advice to the effect that I should ignore them. I want a straight answer about reality as it is now.

Secondly, even when you disable Multiverse, software like Audacity and Inkscape are still available, I guess in Universe, and can easily be installed along with legally questionable dependencies. Audacity should not be packaged with mp3 import support by default in Ubuntu, but it is, having libmp3lame and libmad0 as dependencies, which encodes and decodes mp3. My understanding is that even decoding mp3 is not legal in the United States and Japan among others. Inkscape requires Imagemagick, which also includes JPEG-2000 support. Thus, perhaps there are packages that should be in Multiverse that are not.

Certainly Audacity's libmad0 is a functioning mp3 decoder that is not exclusively in Multiverse, and libmp3lame (which I believe allows encoding) is also easily available with Multiverse disabled, and are also unnecessary dependencies for Audacity. Fedora, for example, just builds Audacity without mp3 support. Furthermore, libjasper1 is a dependency of nearly everything in the default Ubuntu system, which is odd. It seems that you cannot open or save .jp2 files in ImageViewer.

Anyhow, I need to know what the legal status of these libraries and programs are so that I can safely install Ubuntu and travel with Ubuntu. I hope to get an answer soon.

share|improve this question
You certainly won't go to jail for having these. – Uri Herrera Dec 17 '11 at 4:42
Oh, indeed. Still, it is a looming question for some, such as myself and my employer. It is also an issue regarding the designation of the official repositories. – user38220 Dec 17 '11 at 4:46
I do not have audacity installed on my system and I have a default installation of Ubuntu. Canonical is not infringing anyone's copyright by having a version of Audacity in its repositories. If, in your opinion, Audacity should not be packaged with mp3 support, then perhaps this is an issue that you should take up with the developers of Audacity. – grahammechanical Dec 17 '11 at 17:49
@grahammechanical It is not an issue with Audacity but the libraries it needs libmad0 and libmp3lame for mp3 also libjasper1 for JPEG-2000 and the fact that they're in the repositories. – Uri Herrera Dec 17 '11 at 17:54

MP3 Legal Issues

  • While the LAME source code is free, the encoding technology that ready-compiled LAME binaries use is patented. The patents are held by Fraunhofer and administered by Thomson. Patenting raises a theoretical possibility that in some countries a user might need to pay a licence fee to legally encode MP3s. This might vary according to the purpose of the encoding and whether the software being used is licensed. There is no definitive list of countries where the patents unambiguously hold sway. However they are generally assumed to be enforceable in USA, Canada, the EEC and Japan. This means that in these countries (in theory), software that encodes MP3s must be licensed by the patent holders, and that anyone encoding MP3s with unlicensed encoders may also be infringing patents.

The best advice that can be given is that the user makes their own decision, based on their conscience, the country they are in, and taking into account the following:

  • The patent holders have tended to enforce licence fees against commercial rather than free MP3 encoders
  • Thomson themselves have said that no license is needed by individuals creating music libraries of MP3 files for personal use (interpretations vary whether that sanctions using unlicensed encoders, free or otherwise)
  • MP3 patents will expire worldwide between 2010 and 2012.

  • In September 1998, the Fraunhofer Institute sent a letter to several developers of MP3 software stating that a license was required to "distribute and/or sell decoders and/or encoders". The letter claimed that unlicensed products "infringe the patent rights of Fraunhofer and Thomson. To make, sell and/or distribute products using the [MPEG Layer-3] standard and thus our patents, you need to obtain a license under these patents from us." The various MP3-related patents expire on dates ranging from 2007 to 2017 in the U.S. MP3 license revenues generated about €100 million for the Fraunhofer Society in 2005.

  • The group that holds the patent on MP3's demands that for each player with MP3 support a 75 cent fee must be paid:

  • However, no license is needed for private, non-commercial activities (e.g., home-entertainment),receiving broadcasts and creating a personal music library), not generating revenue or other consideration of any kind or for entities with associated gross revenue less than US$ 100 000.00.

While you can legally distribute and use the MP3 format, the content of these files is what gets you "in trouble" i.e. you can't distribute Copyrighted Content such as Songs and make profit but of course you can use (listen to) them.

  • Mp3 of course is open for all end-user applications (that is, we
    don't license end-users).

  • If you live in a country where it is legal to use this format, to encode MP3s, you can use Sound Juicer which uses gstreamer and the LAME mp3 encoder. The following should also work with other programs that use gstreamer:

    1. Enable the universe and multiverse repositories. Then, install the package ubuntu-restricted-extras (which is not included by default, it is the end-user that chooses to install it).
    2. If you now restart Sound Juicer via Applications > Sound & Video > Audio CD Extractor you will find the new audio formats available under Edit > Preferences.

(It is illegal to copy music from a CD and redistribute it unless you have the copyright owner's permission).

You can legally use the Fluendo MP3 decoder available in the Partners repository.

If anything you are better of using:

Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC are patent free.

  • Ogg Vorbis is similar to mp3 except it is of course free. It compresses audio to save space while retaining audio quality. The quality of vorbis was tested to be higher or equal to competitors such as wma and apple audio.

  • FLAC is a lossless free software format, which means it creates an exact replica of the audio you convert it from. (Mp3 and vorbis remove quality to save space). I personally use flac, which means I get full quality 44,100hz 16bit CD audio saving almost half the space.

JPEG 2000 Legal issues

JPEG 2000 is by itself licensed, but the contributing companies and organizations agreed that licenses for its first part—the core coding system—can be obtained free of charge from all contributors. The JPEG committee has stated:

  • It has always been a strong goal of the JPEG committee that its standards should be implementable in their baseline form without payment of royalty and license fees... The up and coming JPEG 2000 standard has been prepared along these lines, and agreement reached with over 20 large organizations holding many patents in this area to allow use of their intellectual property in connection with the standard without payment of license fees or royalties.

However, the JPEG committee has also noted that undeclared and obscure submarine patents may still present a hazard:

  • It is of course still possible that other organizations or individuals may claim intellectual property rights that affect implementation of the standard, and any implementers are urged to carry out their own searches and investigations in this area

Because of this statement, controversy remains in the software community concerning the legal status of the JPEG 2000 standard.

However, many Linux distributions include a JPEG 2000 library



  1. “GPL” stands for “General Public License”. The most widespread such license is the GNU General Public License, or GNU GPL for short. This can be further shortened to “GPL”, when it is understood that the GNU GPL is the one intended.

    The GPL does not require you to release your modified version, or any part of it. You are free to make modifications and use them privately, without ever releasing them. This applies to organizations (including companies), too; an organization can make a modified version and use it internally without ever releasing it outside the organization.

  2. Short for Lesser General Public License, the license that accompanies some open source software that details how the software and its accompany source code can be freely copied, distributed and modified.The LGPL and GPL licenses differ with one major exception; with LGPL the the requirement that you open up the source code to your own extensions to the software is removed.

Creative Commons

  • The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law
    1. Attribution
    2. Attribution-ShareAlike
    3. Attribution-NoDerivs
    4. Attribution-NonCommercial
    5. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
    6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

share|improve this answer
Thank you for the information. I will wait a while to wait for other possible responses. – user38220 Dec 17 '11 at 5:54
The linked wiki page in your answer says that MP3's patents in the USA will expire in 2017. – papukaija Jul 1 '13 at 23:58
@papukaija Some MP3 patents expire(d) between 2007-2017 in the U.S. and worldwide between 2010-2012. – Uri Herrera Jul 2 '13 at 7:31


Ubuntu or whatever distro. You should look at the licenses. Such as GPL or is it LGPL or is it MPL.

I am Violating (case for commercial re-distribution):

GPL: if you do not tell which packages you are using and your application is use commercially + closed source.

LGPL: if you modify the source code and do not contribute and keep it for yourself, you are violating.

I am Not violating (case for commercial re-distribution):

GPL: you will be violating if you use it inside your Ubuntu, and sell it for commercial use, if you have no license page explaining or showing credit's to the package owners.

  • Such as a page says third party license, where you have list of packages and there website link, what kind of license they used for there own packages.

  • For example your Ubuntu has 5000 packages installed, you need to make a documentation where with all 5000 packages listed as below to show credit and explain you are using GPL/LGPL/MPL etc.

    Package | License | Url | Description

    Busybox | GPLV2 | ....| .....

    Linux | .... | ....| .....

    ifup | .... | ....| .....

If this is shown you are respecting everything, and proves that you are not violating it. Once someone request for source code, they can actually go to that URL and get source codes.

LGPL: if any packages that is using LGPL terms you are using it in your Ubuntu and you did not modify the source nor you contributed the community. But you are selling it, then it is still fine you are not violating.

I am not violating with mix license (case for commercial re-distribution):

What happen if i have MPL, LGPL, GPL packages all sitting in my Ubuntu box, and i am selling it commercially? Well you have to follow what the license terms mentioned. And in you own page for third party license, you will make a list of all packages

I am not commercial user, i am just consummer?:

You are not violating anything as its free to use, and free to carry unless you are starting commercial use.

  • Correct me someone if i am not correct. As i said IANAL.
share|improve this answer
You missed one license CC or Creative Commons: if you don't credit, take other person(s) work and show it as yours, and/or make profit out of it you're in direct violation of the license. – Uri Herrera Dec 17 '11 at 16:27
+1 You are right, but that is what i was saying you have a seperate license file where you include all the packages to show the credit based on the license that applies. – YumYumYum Dec 17 '11 at 16:30

There are no legally questionable dependencies for Inkscape that we are aware of. If you think you know some, please file a bug to Inkscape's tracker.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.