Q&A: Is it legal to sell ‘free’ software?

gnu-gpl-logoQuestion from Gordon H.: I have a very simple question for you Rick: Is it legal to sell free software?

I’m asking because I just bought a DVD off of eBay that’s packed with tons of software programs for troubleshooting and maintaining a PC, but I have just found out that ALL of it is freeware that’s distributed under the GNU GPL License.

This just seems to me like it should be illegal. Thanks in advance for your answer as I have come to trust your judgement in such matters.

Rick’s answer: In a nutshell, the answer is yes Gordon. It is entirely legal to charge for copies of software that is distributed under the GNU GPL license. That is clearly stated in the third paragraph of the “Preamble” section of the GNU GPL license terms.

I need to mention that it might or might not be legal to sell “free” software that’s distributed under different licensing terms however (i.e. “free” software that isn’t distributed under GNU GPL).

Bottom line: As long as every program on the DVD you purchased is distributed under the GNU GPL license (which you stated is the case), the seller sold them to you in a legal fashion. Of course there is always the question of whether it’s “moral” to do so, but it is completely legal.


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