Making Open Work
May 8–9, 2017: Training & Tutorials
May 10–11, 2017: Conference
Austin, TX

A practical guide to GPL and copyleft compliance

Bradley Kuhn (Software Freedom Conservancy), Karen Sandler (Software Freedom Conservancy)
1:30pm5:00pm Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Level: Beginner

Who is this presentation for?

  • Developers, software managers, and lawyers

Prerequisite knowledge

  • Familiarity with the basic concepts of open source and free software licensing (You may wish to peruse The Copyleft Guide in advance and come with questions.)

What you'll learn

  • Explore the legal mechanisms that create obligations under copyleft licenses
  • Understand the specific provisions of the GPL that most often require compliance attention
  • Learn how to prepare a CCS release to accompany a product that contains copylefted software and the typical options and permissible means to provision that CCS to customers
  • Gain an introduction to the political climate of copyleft enforcement and what to expect, and how to respond, if your company errs in its copyleft compliance efforts


All staff involved in production of any product that contains software must know the basics of license compliance, and copylefted and GPL’d software is in nearly everything. Nearly every company relies on some GPL’d software in their business, and many also distribute GPL’d software as part of their products. Even Apple distributes GPL’d software, and nearly every IoT device on the market runs Linux, which is GPL’d; therefore GPL requirements are a necessary and integral part the distribution and supply chain of many companies’ products. Even SaaS companies face compliance questions since they distribute hundreds of thousands of lines of JavaScript to their users.

The GNU General Public License (GPL) requirements are both technical and legal. Bradley Kuhn, an instructor who has done more GPL compliance work (and taught more courses on it) than anyone, and Karen Sandler, one of the most experienced lawyers in FOSS licensing, share the information you need to ensure your company’s compliance with the GPL and related licenses, focusing on the policy goals that GPL seeks to achieve and the oft-ignored but most important aspects of the GPL. Bradley and Karen start by offering an overview of the key provisions of GPL for those who wish to redistribute modified versions of GPL’d software, including handling binaries found in IoT devices. They then explain in plain and straightforward language the most challenging concept in GPL—complete, corresponding source code (CCS)—and discuss its preparation and procurement. Karen and Bradley conclude by outlining what companies can expect if, despite their best efforts, they fail to comply with GPL and the usual necessary remedies to receive restoration of GPL permissions.

Photo of Bradley Kuhn

Bradley Kuhn

Software Freedom Conservancy

Bradley M. Kuhn is the president and distinguished technologist at Software Freedom Conservancy, on the board of directors of the Free Software Foundation, and editor-in-chief of He’s been a part of the software freedom movement since 1992. Previously, he worked as a system administrator and software developer for various companies, taught AP computer science, served as executive director of FSF, led FSF’s GPL enforcement, launched its associate member program, invented the Affero GPL, was president of the Software Freedom Conservancy, and has been a primary volunteer and full-time staffer at the Conservancy. He earned his BS in computer science from Loyla University in Maryland and an MS in computer science from the University of Cincinnati. His master’s thesis discussed methods for dynamic interoperability of free software programming languages. An excerpt from his thesis won the Damien Conway Award for Best Technical Paper in 2000. Bradley also received an O’Reilly Open Source Award in 2012 in recognition for his lifelong policy work on copyleft licensing. He has a blog, is on, and cohosts the audcast Free as in Freedom.

Photo of Karen Sandler

Karen Sandler

Software Freedom Conservancy

Karen M. Sandler is the executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy. Karen is known for her advocacy for free software, particularly in relation to the software on medical devices. Previously, she was executive director of the GNOME Foundation, where she has since been elected to the board of directors, and general counsel of the Software Freedom Law Center. Karen co-organizes Outreachy, the award-winning outreach program for women, and is an advisor to the Ada Initiative. She is also pro bono counsel to the FSF and GNOME and pro bono general counsel to QuestionCopyright.Org. Karen is a recipient of the O’Reilly Open Source Award and cohost of the oggcast Free as in Freedom.