Ubuntu license clarification

Arguing with a user on a public Telegram group, he claims that Ubuntu is non-free because it contains non-free software.
Ubuntu is released under what license? can you say that Ubuntu is a non-free OS because it might contain proprietary drivers, such as nvidia ones?
My answer was that Ubuntu is a free OS, under the GPL, is that right?
Thanks for any clarification.

“It depends on who you ask”.

The vast majority of the software on the ISO is free software, under many different licenses. However there’s some software to enable hardware such as the nvidia binary GPU driver, and firmware blobs to make wireless network cards work. There’s an option to install Ubuntu without any of those, so you can have a fully free environment.

However, if you ask someone who (for example) runs Trisquel or Gnewsense, they would say even with those proprietary things removed, there are other things which infringe. It depends where you are along the line from Stallmanite at one and to pragmatist at the other.


Does Ubuntu desktop, as an operating system, have a license? Isn’t it a free OS?
The ease with which I can install restricted or closed drivers is also a user’s choice, so I think Ubuntu is a free OS.
From live, if I have not misunderstood, you only have free software, I only see the repositories: main and restricted enabled.

Ubuntu ‘main’ component licence policy

All application software included in the Ubuntu main component:

  • Must include source code. The main component has a strict and non-negotiable requirement that application software included in it must come with full source code.
  • Must allow modification and distribution of modified copies under the same licence. Just having the source code does not convey the same freedom as having the right to change it. Without the ability to modify software, the Ubuntu community cannot support software, fix bugs, translate it, or improve it.


Unfortunately you’re wrong here. The live iso contains things like Alan said, including the nVidia driver and firmware for WiFi adapters.

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From live I don’t see any NVIDIA drivers installed (I have nvidia GPU):

description: VGA compatible controller
product: GM107 [GeForce GTX 750 Ti]

The list of APPs installed on the LIVE: https://pastebin.ubuntu.com/p/8fHghGhFpn/

From you’re paste you’ll see amd64-microcode which will lead you to the copyright

It’s what debian call “non-free

It was downloaded from http://www.amd64.org/support/microcode.html up to
version 20120910 (now: http://www.amd64.org/microcode.html). For version
20131007 onwards, it was built from the linux-firmware git repository at:

Debian only distributes the AMD64 microcode file in its unaltered form.

Upstream Author:

Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.

Upstream Copyright:

Copyright (C) 2010-2018 Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Upstream License:

Permission is hereby granted by Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. ("AMD"),
free of any license fees, to any person obtaining a copy of this
microcode in binary form (the "Software") ("You"), to install,
reproduce, copy and distribute copies of the Software and to permit
persons to whom the Software is provided to do the same, subject to
the following terms and conditions.  Your use of any portion of the
Software shall constitute Your acceptance of the following terms and
conditions. If You do not agree to the following terms and conditions,
do not use, retain or redistribute any portion of the Software.

Note: I don’t know where you paste was from; I’d have expected a link to a manifest for an ISO, but I’ve just provided an example that I hope will clarify from your list. Next I’d pick the linux-firmware probably (copyrights & rules from intel, adaptec…) as licenses tend to vary on package…

To be totally “free” you’d have to not include those packages; Ubuntu instead offers/offered? the “free” install option as per what @popey has already said (note: it’s rather difficult to use on recent releases if I recall correctly) and few people use it.

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while they might not be running by default there is a deb package on the iso to be able to install them on offline systems … along with that your listing shows the linux-firmware package installed which is full of binary blobs that have no source at all (despite being freely distributable and necessary to drive a lot of the hardware on a linux system)

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My point wasn’t that you may or may not have the nVidia driver, but I very specifically said it’s on the ISO.

Search this list for nvidia. http://releases.ubuntu.com/20.04/ubuntu-

Not really, because it’s an amalgamation of many software projects, licensed under different free and non-free licenses.


The opinion I have and from what I understand from the documentation is that Ubuntu can work even without non-free software, so it doesn’t strictly depend on it.
I could also take out those non-free or restricted firmware packages and get Ubuntu working (hardware permitting).
I also have the freedom to fork Ubuntu.
So can I correct users when they write that “Ubuntu is a non-free OS”? Ubuntu is a free OS.
Thanks for taking the time to respond.

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I agree with your opinion.

I tend to like the Debian terminology, and think of Ubuntu as a non-free OS (but that’s not 100% true though). But I have no issues with the non-free definition (contains binary blobs)

With Debian you make the decision prior to download, you can grab a non-free, or standard Debian ISO. I know many boxes I have are fully usable using the free Debian system, but others are less fun as some devices just don’t fully work without non-free blobs; thus I usually install Debian using a non-free ISO too.

With Ubuntu there isn’t that choice before you install; the Ubuntu ISO has both and you decide at installation time. On older releases that was pretty easy so Ubuntu was available free or as I prefer to use non-free (default).

I tested Ubuntu with free software only a few times, it worked on the same hardware as Debian did, and had issues with the same hardware that Debian did - needing the non-free binary blobs.

Yes you can fork Ubuntu; there are many forks, including Trisquel

It’s not that difficult, after all the Ubuntu repositories make it pretty clear

  • Main - Canonical-supported free and open-source software.
  • Universe - Community-maintained free and open-source software.
  • Restricted - Proprietary drivers for devices.
  • Multiverse - Software restricted by copyright or legal issues.

That may depend on how you define free & non-free. Ubuntu defaults to including non-free so the non-free label does apply to me, but it’s also very true that Ubuntu is free software, but it’s not all that’s provided.

If you want a free OS, Ubuntu is that too in my opinion, but it makes it easy to install non-free software unless you tie it down, and it’s this that possibly irks some. My 2c.