Open Source software and hardware. Your rights and obilgations


for given reason I opened this thread about selling hardware containing GPL-licensed firmware and offering downloads for software, licensed under the GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE (GPL).

Open Source software is a great thing. Unlike hardware, code is usually not visible to the public or the competition. If someone writes code and puts it in the public domain, everyone can make use of the code and learn from the code base, reuse it and mix it. But, depending on the copyright license, there are also obligations to fulfil. The licenses differ, but the core around they are built, is always the copyright law.

I hope, that reading through this thread will help to understand the matter and avoid violations, which will terminate the GPL-license automatically, putting the violator into a bad legal situation. As soon as you trade or convey a covered work, the terms of the GPL have to be respected. The good news: It is not very hard to fulfil the obligations. The bad news: If you violate the contract you are infringing someone’s copyright.

I hope that this thread will also help customers to understand what their rights are. If you buy hardware containing GPLed, open source software/firmware, you should be able to get access to the source code and you should be able to compile it for your needs. If you are not informed about the fact that your device contains open source software or your vendor fails to inform you how and/or where you can get access to the source code, it is obvious that the GPL has been violated. If you don’t get a copy of the GPL-license contract together with your purchase, your vendor probably violated the GPL-license contract.

Best practice is to actually read the GPL license contract, which can be found here:

These are, among others, your obligations and rights:

  • If you sell hardware containing GPLed software (e.g. firmware) you convey a work, covered by the GPL license contract. In consequence you need to inform the customer that your device contains Open Source Software and send a copy of the GPL license to each customer you supply. Linking to the the GPL-licens is not a valid form of giving access to the license! At least you should send out an e-mail to each customer, containing the full text of the GPL. You could also print the GPL-license and drop it in the box.
  • If you sell hardware containing GPLed software, all customers have to be informed where the exact source code can be found, or that you will supply a copy on request (written offer). Easiest way to deal with that: Make sure it is easily accessible online, so you can point your customers in this direction. The link should be easy to find on your website, associated to the product. Github is a good option and many sources are available there already. Make sure to store a copy of the code on your hard drive! In case the online availability is not given anymore, you can then upload it again, or send your customers a copy via mail or on a disc. Your customers have a right to access to the source code – if you don’t have it, you can’t supply it. If they don’t know of their rights, you failed to inform them!
  • If you offer downloads for executable GPLed Software, the software itself and the way you distribute it need to be in harmony with the GPL. The GPL-license has to be accessible from the user interface of the software. If it is a derived work (not the original source), your customers need to know that it is a derived work of the original source. Your customers need to know it is GPL-licensed and they need to be able to get access to the exact source code through your service. They need to be able to access the source code, compile the software and run it. If that is not the case something is obviously missing.
  • If you offer a link to an executable GPLed software, make sure that the software you link to is in harmony with the GPL-license. Otherwise you offer a link to a software, which is distributed without permission and license contract from the copyright holder(s). Depending on the applicable law, you may be held accountable for stuff you link! Usually it is best practice to link to the original source of the software, since this is probably the most credible software version, will have all the updates and and you will support the software developers, linking back to them.

I hope this helps to understand the matter a bit better.



Bit simpler explanation about GPL

Thx for the link!


No problem, it’s typical stuff then you are contributor to open source projects :wink:

How does this relate to the ti instaspin software?

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What does TI InstaPin suppose to do with VESC?

It was the starting point in the vesc development.

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But it’s only for TI microprocessors

I’m just saying, if you write a book and the first few pages were from Hemingway you would want to give attribution right?

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If we go this far we should also include GCC, LibC and, ChibiOS and other libraries is used in the code :slight_smile:

If you study the instaspin software you will see how big of a role it plays in un-sensored motor control and the development of the VESC software. Just trying to find out where the line blurs between proprietary software and open source when we give credit.

This thread is more general. I just want to create awareness. This is not predominately VESC-related. It refers to any GPLed stuff sold or distributed. Once software gets more complex, more parties hold a copyright to parts of the code used. As soon as you violate the GPL, you infringe the copyrights of all code contributors. Any of them can terminate their license if the violations are known and not cured within 30 days. Any of them can go to court. In consequence it is best to work it in harmony with the GPL.


After reading TI’s terms, it seems we are fine as long as we use the code with TI processors.

No. You want to print shit and mail it to my customers? fine. You want to write a plugin for shopify for me that automatically sends emails? ok. Short of that, No. They get a link and a good explanation.

No. I’ll be more than happy to link to GitHub where Vedder has his project stored already. I’m not creating ANOTHER duplicate file, duplicate repository, or duplicate anything that has to be updated, essentiually forking the fucking thing again. Linking directly the Vedder’s own repository IS the best and should be the only acceptable solution.

I’m not decompiling the FocBox variant of the BLDC-Tool to make sure Jason left the fucking comments in there. Fuck that. The source for BLDC Tool is available, i can link to that as well as link to the repository for the firmwares. But what i’m going to offer on my site for the FocBox as a download to work with the FocBox will be the software that came with the FocBox. I’m not going to confuse noobs looking for shit they actually need by shoving a bunch of shit they don’t understand in their faces.

This is the same shit just reworded with thinly veiled threats. The answer is the same. They get focbox software and a link to the original source with plenty of feel goodery and an opportunity to donate and support Ben. Period.

You keep talking about copyright. Look up First Sale Doctrine. I am a customer of Enertion. That means i can fucking sell this shit without regard to any of the shit Enertion is beholden to. I’m not a distributer. Enertion doesn’t ship things to me because they own me or because i’m a subsidiary. They ship things to me because they SOLD shit to me. I can then SELL that shit, as a SECOND SALE, to whoever the fuck i want however i want.


@longhairedboy @psychotiller All of that is irrelevant when it comes to you guys. As vendors you cannot be held liable for licensing issues that are directed at manufacturers, programmers, etc. This is just more heavy handed bullshit from on high that only has weight if you let it.

I would look at it like this…

If you sold carburetors, you can sell Holley 650 Double Pumper 4 barrel carbs all day long and it doesn’t matter if Holley is paying for manufacturing/resale rights from GMC because it uses a ton of the features that originated on the Quadrajet. It would matter to Holley, but not to you as a reseller.


I will extend what i believe is the best support I can do right now, because I want to. I want to provide information and i want to support Ben.

I will not fucking go this far its retarded.


Yeah. But no.

The DRV is made by TI…

Trampa: As to selling hardware with gpl’d code… Lol can pretty much do what you want, as your distributing the hardware. The code runs it and your not distributing the ‘code’ per say. As to get the code you’d have to JTAG and pull the hex file. To even acquire the code…

Go tell every company that sold a computer with a gpl’d bootloader they had to supply the code for binaries already on hardware. Lol

This is a joke and your obviously not familiar with the world of development.

DRV is only Gate controller with some sensing and protections… InstaSpin is algorithm to control BLDC which works “only” on TI microprocessors…

Yea but what gate drivers do you think instaspin was made for?