Question 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: The short answer to your question is yes, Gordon. It is entirely legal to charge for copies of “free” software that is distributed under the GNU GPL license. That is clearly stated in the last paragraph in section 4 of the “Terms And Conditions” of the GNU GPL license:
“You may charge any price or no price for each copy that you convey, and you may offer support or warranty protection for a fee.”
Note: Keep in mind that this only applies to software that’s distributed under the GNU GPL licence. It might or might not be legal to sell “free” software that’s distributed under different licensing terms.
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 was within his legal rights to sell them to you.
Of course there is always the question of whether it’s “moral” to do so (some people agree with you that it isn’t), but it is completely legal.
Personally, I don’t believe it’s immoral at all to “sell” free software the way the seller you purchased your DVD from is doing it.
The reason I say that is the seller has to purchase the DVDs, spend time burning the programs onto them, and then pay Ebay some pretty stiff fees for the privilege of using their platform to sell them.
However, the fact that the software being sold is actually freeware should be clearly stated in the sales copy so buyers will know exactly what they’ll be getting.
It sounds like your seller failed to mention that fact all, and that’s misleading to say the least.
By the way, you can download tons of awesome free software right to your computer without having to spend as much as a single penny. Simply visit a good free downloads site such as OlderGeeks and browser around for a while!
I hope this helps, Gordon. Take care.
Bonus tip #1: This post offers six tips for avoiding ‘Drive-By Downloads’ when installing free software.
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