Tag Archives: copyright

Is Red Hat really an Open Source company ?

This question keeps cropping up every once in a while on different LUG lists where I lurk. It is a fairly established fact now in the FOSS world (or for that matter in the software world) that businesses can be both Open Source as well as commercial (ie: for profit). However, the specifics of the mechanism for doing this is still not well understood.

As an example, there was a post on the Mumbai GLUG list, questioning whether the restrictions on the distribution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux were similar to restrictions of an ELUA of proprietary software and whether copying RHEL CDs was piracy.

Well, since a few people thought it was a good explanation, I’m posting my reply(*) here:


I think there are a few basic things that you need to understand before you understand the answers to your questions:

  1. Unlike the proprietary world, FOSS does not distinguish between developer, user and distributor. Each person receiving FOSS software, has the right to assume any or all of the three roles. There is no ‘END USER’ (for an ELUA to exist). So from that perspective, you are a distributor if you share something (using a CD, online, pen-drive …or any media).
  2. Piracy is the practice of hijacking a naval vessel and plundering it. Software Piracy is a silly nonsensical term. Software related violations include things like copyright violation, trademark infringement and unfortunately patent violations …etc.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here is a simplified (IMHO) explanation of what everybody already said:
RHEL == Linux Kernel + GPL/BSD/MIT …etc licensed Software + Red Hat trademarks (artwork etc)

Q: How must does the RHEL distro cost ?
A: 0/-

Q: How does Red Hat make money, if the cost of the RHEL distro is 0 ?
A: Subscriptions, trainings, consultancy …and maybe more.

Q: How is the RHEL distro. distrubuted ?
A: The sources are available for free on redhat.com and Red Hat provides CDs/DVDs of the distro. to it’s customers (people who buy subscriptions or undertake trainings …etc)

Q: Can you ask Red Hat to send you a RHEL distro CD if you are not a Red Hat customer ?
A: No
Update: As Thomas Cameron, points out in the comments, it is possible to get the ISO images if you sign up for an evaluation at http://www.redhat.com/rhel/details/eval/.

Q: Can you download RHEL sources from Red Hat servers ?
A: Yes

Q: Can you use the downloaded sources to make a RHEL CD ?
A: Yes
Update: Another clarification, from Thomas, although you can compile the sources and create a CD, you cannot call it RHEL. It is a clone.

Q: Can you distribute (including sharing with your neighbor) the CDs you made ?
A: Yes ! IF you remove all the trademarks from the CDs (so that your neighbour is clear about the fact that what she is getting is not coming directly from Red Hat).
Update: This is exactly what CentOS does. (thanks jkanti, for pointing that out in the comments)

Q: If you have received a CD/DVD from Red Hat (because you are a customer), can you make /exact/ copies of that CD/DVD and distribute it ?
A: No ! That is trademark violation.

Q: Instead of making copies, can you use the same CD/DVD you received from Red Hat to install RHEL on more than one systems ?
A: Yes, you can..
Update: No, you cannot. Installation of RHEL on more systems than the number of subscriptions you have purchased is considered as redistribution, which implies trademark violation. Again, thanks Thomas, for the correction.

Hope that clarifies everything. If you have more questions, ask here or just contact Red Hat directly :).


(*) verbatim, except for reformatting for the purpose of this post. Thanks Raj Mathur, for the blog post suggestion ! Of the whole bunch of things need to learn about blogging …recognizing what would make a post is the most important šŸ™‚