the organization I work at wants to create a custom Ubuntu LiveCD, the customizations are: Pre-installed programs, plugins, some device drivers, and aesthetics such as icons and backgrounds, as well as changing Firefox's homepage and removing unneeded packages.

Not big changes, obviously, and we wish to distribute this custom image for clients to use as a bootable CD or USB stick in order to have a quick environment where all our tools are available instantly.

What are the licensing and legal consequences of this? What if some of the programs or plugins that are to be pre-packaged are not GPL'd? I should finally note that we are not changing any code in the kernel or any other distro component.

Thank you for your time!


4 Answers 4


Start by reading the Derivative Distro Howto.

You can certainly make a distribution based on Ubuntu, and as far as I know there is no specific restriction on the live CD, so you can make derivative works based on it.

The code isn't be a problem: as far as I know it's all freely redistribuable software, Ubuntu doesn't have any specific rights to distribute that you don't also have. But the branding — trademarks and artwork — might be. The obvious thing you should check is what you may do with the Ubuntu artwork, and how you're allowed to use the name (it's trademarked).

A typical example of artwork and trademark-related limitation is the Iceweasel saga. The Mozilla foundation wants only “acceptable” derivatives of Firefox to have the Firefox brand, so even though the software is free software (as in free speech), the branding is not. Although the Mozilla foundation was prepared to trust Debian to make only acceptable changes, such as security fixes, they were not willing to extend that trust to others. But the Debian Free Software Guidelines specify that the “license must not be specific to Debian”, so that people in your position know that they can make derivatives. Since no acceptable compromise was found, Debian does not distribute “Firefox”, it distributes “Iceweasel” with the same code and different branding.

Ubuntu is less strict on that point, so if you want to make a derivative, you do have to check whether you may retain the branding on any component you change (starting with the distribution as a whole).

  • IANAL and definitly not american one (I've never been in America so far not mentioning US) but isn't it required by american law that trademark holder activly defend the right in court (failing to do so they would lost the trademark). Canonical is based in Europe where it is not required and the trademarks may be covered by international law (as I said - I am not a lawer). Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 19:57

You might want to look over the Mozilla Trademark Policy If I recall it has some interesting rules about what you may do if you choose to call the product Mozilla Firefox.

Oh, and I am not a Lawyer, please seek legal counsel before redistributing anything with other peoples Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents.

  • I honestly don't know what you're talking about. What does Mozilla's trademark has to do with my question?
    – Voulnet
    Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 12:17
  • @Voulnet you asked about legal consequences, and Mozilla has some rules about what you can do to Firefox and still call it that. I'm not sure if you can add plugins and change the homepage and call it Firefox.
    – xenoterracide
    Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 12:20
  • @Voulnet Firefox does matter, because the Ubuntu live CD includes Firefox. Canonical probably has arrangements for that...
    – phunehehe
    Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 12:30
  • Alright, thanks. I'll look into the Firefox matter. Note that when I say plugins, I don't mean extensions. I'll just add NPAPI plugins to the folder where Firefox and the NPAPI-enabled browsers can see them, so the only change I'll make to Firefox is changing the homepage.
    – Voulnet
    Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 12:42
  • What about the adding some device drivers/some changing icons and backgrounds/removing unneeded packages for Ubuntu itself?
    – Voulnet
    Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 12:43

Regarding the GPL question, yes, you can bundle GPL apps alongside non-GPL apps, as long as the latter are not derivative works of the former and you don't break the terms of the GPL apps you do ship.

See the relevant entry on the GPL FAQ site.

As other people mentioned, you may also need to consider the Ubuntu trademark policy. Which for your case probably just means labelling the CD as a remix of Ubuntu, not Ubuntu itself.

For the stuff you're talking about, it sounds fine, but typical IANAL qualifications apply.


I think if you are re-distributing it for free you do not have to do anything. But if you are trying to sell it for commercial purpose you need to care about every packages it contain with there GPL/LGPL/MPL etc license terms. And you should have a third party license documentation, where you have to list all the package it is using and give the source link such as git/svn/http url for that packages. For example if you have 5000 packages in your CD, you should write them in your license document all 5000 packages.

See my another answer: https://askubuntu.com/a/88430/24988

  • Correct me if i am wrong, i am not a lawyer. Just looking for correct answer

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