I am in a position where a company is trying to sell me a modified version of Ubuntu with added proprietary binaries. They are selling it as a complete distro on a usb stick. It clearly shows UBUNTU when booting and at the login screen. Am I able to freely copy this distro and are the company selling it in breach of the Canonical rules?
According to Ubuntu ‘Intellectual property rights policy’, you can not do that:
Any redistribution of modified versions of Ubuntu must be approved, certified or provided by Canonical if you are going to associate it with the Trademarks. Otherwise you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code to create your own binaries. This does not affect your rights under any open source licence applicable to any of the components of Ubuntu. If you need us to approve, certify or provide modified versions for redistribution you will require a licence agreement from Canonical, for which you may be required to pay. For further information, please contact us (as set out below).
If you do not want to rebuild Ubuntu, you might consider using a more free operating system, such as Debian GNU/Linux, for example. Its trademark policy does not state clearly how tolerant it is to unofficial images (in particular, ones that contain some non-free software), but it seems to be much more friendly in general; also I did encounter unofficial images that used ‘Debian’ name. Anyway, you’d better ask about it somewhere else. firstname.lastname@example.org might be approriate place, I guess.
I'm not a lawyer and this shouldn't be conceived as legal advice but there are two issues: copyright and trademark.
First the GPL. This is the most restrictive set of licenses used in Ubuntu. Your redistribution is likely going to be classified as an aggregate distribution (you're just distributing a closed source application alongside open source software). On this GNU says:
The GPL permits you to create and distribute an aggregate, even when the licenses of the other software are non-free or GPL-incompatible.
However, if your software depends or links to GPL software, it's not aggregate and then you have bigger issues. If you aren't sure, talk to a lawyer, talk to GNU and talk to the FSF. They'll probably be able to explain exactly where you fall and where you need to be in order to comply.
You may also have separate requirements to make the source to the Ubuntu packages available but given Canonical also has this requirement, you should be fine indefinitely. But read the whole GPL FAQ thing before you assume anything... And again, talk to a real lawyer —not just some weird green guy on the Internet— if you want indemnification from your actions.
The Ubuntu trademark is the next major consideration. Canonical is protective of its IP but they allow various things.
- Shipping it installed on something with your application on top might not be an issue. It might. It depends how you interpret "associate it with the Trademarks". Urgh, I hate IP law.
- Shipping a custom Ubuntu with your application likely is an issue.
Either way if you just assume that anything you do is going to annoy Canonical, you'll be safest. Talk to them and either get permission in writing or debrand it. Again, the ear of a paid lawyer will probably help you out here a lot.
You can copy and sell Ubuntu disks. This is from the Ubuntu Licensing page:
While Ubuntu will not charge licence fees for this distribution, you might want to charge to print Ubuntu CDs, or create your own customised versions of Ubuntu which you sell, and should have the freedom to do so.
You may copy Ubuntu, but if they include their own binaries, their licensing terms apply. So if they prohibit copying of their binaries, you can only copy the 'free' parts of Ubuntu.
Additionally, the Ubuntu page states, that the trademark for the 'Ubuntu'-brand is a different issue than the software licenses. So I guess it depends how they use it, for it to be a problem. Here the part I'm referring to:
Copyright licensing and trademarks are two different areas of law, and we consider them separately in Ubuntu. The following policy applies only to copyright licences. We evaluate trademarks on a case-by-case basis.