Ubuntu: Can I legally build and sell desktops with Ubuntu pre-installed?


I'm starting a business and this is part of what I'm going to be offering. I'm almost complete with my certification in Linux Administration, but I don't know all of the ins and outs of the law Linux is under...


It depends. Ubuntu is free software (beyond some redistributable binary blobs), but if you're using it for commercial purposes there are trademark restrictions.

The Legal Fine Print

Permission from us is necessary to use any of the Trademarks under any circumstances other than those specifically permitted above. These include:

  • Any commercial use. OEM services. [...]
  • Use for merchandising purposes, e.g. on t-shirts and the like.
  • Use of a name which includes the letters BUNTU in relation to computer hardware or software.

Source: Ubuntu Trademark Policy

Hardware with a debranded Ubuntu OS

If you remove all branding, trademarks, and references to Ubuntu, you are legally okay to sell systems with it installed. Of course, you must provide the source code of all GPL components to customers that request it.

Hardware shipping with Ubuntu "as is"

To use the Ubuntu trademark, you must secure the Canonical's OEM services team's permission. You can contact them to see if what you're doing is okay. This should not be too difficult, as several small vendors like System76 and ZaReason have secured an agreement.


It is completely legal to sell a computer with Ubuntu preinstalled. It even lowers the cost.

It is also legal to sell CDs/DVDs with Ubuntu in them.

In both is legal because you are not selling Ubuntu, you are selling the hardware that comes with it. In the case of the PC, you are selling all that hardware that comes with Ubuntu so the end user does not need to worry about the many problems in Windows (Or the costs in Mac).

With the CD/DVD, you are selling the cost that you had to pay to have the CD/DVD. Burning the CD/DVD also has a cost as well as having a design printed on the CD/DVD.

If you worry about this, what you need to know is that the only thing illegal here is to charge directly for Ubuntu as it would something you made.

The laws of Freedom explicitly state:

  • Freedom to run the program
  • Freedom to access the code
  • Freedom to redistribute the program to anyone
  • Freedom to improve the software

These are freedoms oriented to what you can do with information, not how the information got to you. So charging for a CD of Ubuntu that you downloaded, burned, made a printing design on it, put on a plastic cover that you also bought with that nice logo you wanted to use is totally okay. Same goes for that computer you bought in pieces, assembled them, install Ubuntu and upgraded it. Installed additional tools for the end user. Tested the PC for 2 days to make sure it was perfect for your buyer. And then sold it to the buyer is also OK. You are actually charging for the work you put to offer this to the end user. Your client.. and after having Ubuntu installed in it he/she would be.. your happy client.

To give you a better feeling about this, you can see as companies like Dell, Asus and others sell Laptops with Ubuntu installed. Several universities offer CD/DVD with Ubuntu in them for a low price. Even events like Flisol offer installing Ubuntu (In this case free) since they can install it directly to the client or with a cost if they need to give out a CD/DVD of it (Of course since most of us pitch in, the cost of the CD/DVD for the new users is free).

UPDATE - AS mentioned by popey, there are a couple of things you need to read:

OEM Services (Read the WHOLE thing) - http://www.canonical.com/engineering-services/oem-services/oem-services

Trademark Policy - http://www.ubuntu.com/aboutus/trademarkpolicy

For the trademark, as long as you do not use a extensively modified version of Ubuntu (Extensive as in changing the directory structure, modifying many basic tools and programs, changing names, etc) you will not have a problem with the trademark. In your case where you only mention the installation and configuration of Ubuntu you won't have problems with this.

UPDATE 2 - As mentioned by drewbenn in his comment here is a good link about this: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DoesTheGPLAllowMoney which complements the rest mentioned in the answer.


Linux is protected both under copyright law and trademark law, as is Ubuntu. The GPL and similar Open source licenses give specific permission to copy Ubuntu software, as required by copyright law.

That leaves you with trademarks. Under the doctrine of nominative use, you are specifically allowed to use the Ubuntu trademark to describe Ubuntu. Trademarks are intended to signal that your customers get the "real deal" and not something that's just similar to Ubuntu.

You may not over-use the Ubuntu trademark. I.e. you cannot suggest that your hardware is also part of Ubuntu, that Ubuntu is optimzied for your hardware, or use their logo.

Jacob Johan Edwards suggests that Canonical imposes restrictions on the commercial use of the Ubuntu trademark. However, federal law does not give Canonical the right to impose restrictions on the legal use of trademarks.


Selling computers with Ubuntu pre-installed is actually not as clear-cut as others have explained. You should read the Ubuntu trademark policy specifically the parts under "Restricted use that requires a trademark licence". Note for example

Permission from us is necessary to use any of the Trademarks under any circumstances other than those specifically permitted above. These include: Any commercial use.

Selling a computer with Ubuntu pre-installed is "commercial use".


Vanilla Ubuntu: You should be fine. But if you install some more software on to it, like proprietary software you are not allowed to distribute, then maybe not.


Dell and Christmann (just to name a few) do what's asked in the first question. So yes it is legal to install Ubuntu and then sell the Computer - as long as you don't charge for something you don't have the rights to.

My University did sell CDs with Ubuntu on them. So yes, that's legal too.


I think Ubuntu is mostly GPL software, so the right to distribute it can't be restricted by license or trademark policy.

So you can install Ubuntu on an assembled PC, and it can't be prohibited to sell it. Now as a dealer, you have to inform your customer what you want to sell them. So it can't be prohibited to tell them, what you've installed on the hardware.

Of course in your acting you have to avoid the impression that you're acting in the name of Ubuntu, as part of the company behind Ubuntu or using their logo.

However, as a nice guy, I would tell them what I want to do.


It's possible...but you have to check that you are shipping your machine with proprietary software...If so then you have to get permission from respective owners...


I don't know what they are trying to say but as a linux user as well as developer I ensure you one thing There are some distribution of unix os that are made free for everyone and many struggled for this. So, I suggest use any of the free distribution and I request not to charge for the os but its up to you.


You can sell machines with Ubuntu pre-installed ,but you are not able to charge your customers for the operating system.

Note:If u also have question or solution just comment us below or mail us on toontricks1994@gmail.com
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