I have looked around the web and found that Ubuntu has several types of licenses for each package installed on the OS, yet I cannot find a definitive answer to my question...

If I were to develop software using Ubuntu, then distribute said software in a for-profit manner where I maintain the source code and keep it private, could I face legal prosecution?

If I were to develop software on a machine running Ubuntu, would I be legally obligated to release the source code due to the licensing of Ubuntu?

Note: When distributing this software, I will not be including any part of Ubuntu in the package.


2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: I am no lawyer or certified legal counsel and this is no legal advice. Please consult a lawyer if you need to be more certain than what I can offer.

Most of the pieces of software on which Ubuntu is based or which are distributed with Ubuntu or through Canonical's package repositories (excluding the partner repository) are subject to various open source licenses1. (I'll call all of these just “Ubuntu” subsequently.) This has multiple consequences.

What you may do with Ubuntu software

Ubuntu's licenses don't restrict how you use it as long as you don't publish it. This means that you can do whatever you want with it as long as you do it for your own use. This includes the sale of goods and services made or building new software with the help of Ubuntu.

(Of course you may not use Ubuntu to commit crimes or otherwise harm someone but this is unrelated to Ubuntu or its licenses and entirely related to you and the local laws.)

Distributing software built with Ubuntu

You may distribute your own works, e. g. software developed completely by yourself, under whatever terms you like.

If you'd like to distribute derived works, e. g.

  • modified versions of existing software or
  • software that rely on a particular programming library,

you need to abide by the terms of the license set by the original work. This is typically somewhere between

  • appropriate attribution of the original author(s) and
  • distribution of the entire source code and build scripts of the derived work along with its binary form.

There is no restriction against commercial, for-profit distribution of works derived from open-source software (according to its official definition by the Free Software Foundation).

What happens if you violate a license

Copyright violation is primarily a matter of civil law and does not typically results in criminal proceedings and legal prosecution. This depends on your local laws.

However, if you violate the license of a piece of software its original author(s) may request that you

  1. cease the license violation

    • If you make no or little money off your software this is often a simple request to either stop the distribution or publish the source code.


  2. pay damages, compensation and/or legal fees incurred by the violation.

    • This depends on many things, though many open-source software organisations (that represent the software authors) will ask for a donation to their foundation or society.

1 You can look up the license of each package in Ubuntu in the directory /usr/share/doc/<PACKAGE> (where <PACKAGE> is the name of the package) in files with names like copyright or COPYING. The Free Software Foundation maintains an FAQ about GNU licenses and other open-source software licenses


You need to be more specific. You said a few contradictory things like "using Ubuntu to develop software" and "not distributing any part of Ubuntu".

I believe what you're asking is; can I create a program while using the ubuntu operating system as opposed to windows then distribute and sell it while keeping it closed source. If that's what you're asking than the answer is yes.

There is not now nor has there ever been a restriction on that. You can find literally thousands of different programs that were developed on Linux and written for a Linux flavor that are not free.

It may not be well received by the overall community as it goes against the entire point.

You may find that releasing your program for free with the option of donations may prove more lucrative.

Please note I'm in no way attempting to dissuade you from developing, maintaining, and selling closed source software. Simply giving advice that was given to me many years ago and paid off.

I have created non-feee closed source products and sold them successfully. I've also done what I've said above both worked out.

I will ask you this though. Could you perhaps be a bit more specific as to what you're trying to do? You don't have to tell me what you're trying to create I just need you to clarify what I mentioned above.

If you use any source code from someone else's project that doesn't explicitly state that you can use it for non-free closed source projects then you can't.

The licenses are annoying I know. Lgpl is sketchy so you have to find the terms and really look into it gpl requires open source.

The mit license has no restrictions so you can use anything under an mit license.




There are other licenses but these are the most common.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .