What obligations are involved in distributing software licensed under the GPLv2?

The licensee has the following obligations when distributing software under the GPLv2:
a) Delivery of the license text
According to sec. 1 GPLv2, a copy of the license text must be provided with the copy of the program. This can be a physical copy printed on paper, or a nonphysical copy in the form of a corresponding text file. This duty ensures that each acquiring party can learn about how to acquire rights from GPL and will receive an offer to conclude a license agreement.
b) Copyright sign
Sec. 1 GPL provides that a “suitable” copyright sign (such as © 2008 [name of the right holder]) must be affixed to each copyrighted item in an easily perceivable location.  In addition, existing copyright signs may not be removed.  This clarifies who is the holder of the software rights.
c) Exclusion of liability
Sec. 1 GPL also stipulates that the exclusion of liability must be referenced on each copyrighted item and existing references must be kept unchanged. Since these references may be relevant in other regulations, they must be included even if they do not affect German law since a flat exclusion of liability violates German law (→ What is the legal standard for liability and warranty in Germany?).
d) Accessibility of the source text
If the program is delivered in object code or as an executable, the corresponding source text in the form governed by sec. 3 GPLv2 must be made accessible well.  The following alternatives are available: 

  • Concomitant delivery of the complete source text on a conventional data carrier.
  • Written offer valid for at least three years to anyone to deliver the complete source text on a conventional data carrier at a price that does not exceed your own costs. This offer can also be made in the accompanying users' manual.
  • If distribution is noncommercial and the program was acquired without the source text and only through a written offer, it is enough to pass on this offer to the acquiring party (so that the acquiring party can address the original offerer).
  • If the program is distributed via the Internet, it is sufficient to offer the source text for downloading on the same website. Otherwise, a mere offer to download is not sufficient.

e) Prohibition of additional obligations
It is impermissible to make the use of the software depend on additional obligations that are not listed in GPLv2 (see sec. 6 GPLv2).
If the software was changed, some additional obligations must be observed (→ What obligations are involved in distributing changed versions of software licensed under the GPLv2?).


This FAQ is based on the FAQs of the commentary “Die GPL kommentiert und erklaert” [Discussions and explanations of the GPL] published by ifrOSS at O’Reilly.
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