Group: Hardware/Certifications/Respect Your Freedom/Criteria

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This is a development version of our hardware endorsement criteria. Please make suggestions on the discussion page. The official stable version lives on the FSF's site.

Policy on Computer Product Endorsements

Respects Your Freedom

This policy document seeks to cover criteria for all aspects of user interaction with and control of a device: the hardware must run free software on every layer that is user upgradeable, allow the user to modify that software, support free data formats, be fully usable with free tools, and more.

The FSF welcomes feedback on the discussion page for this document, including suggestions for improvements to the criteria, as well as ideas and art submissions for an endorsement mark.

If you haven't already, please read the press release introducing this document at <>.

Conditions for endorsement

These are the policy criteria for the FSF to endorse a product for its Certification Mark License Agreement. FSF asserts its right to exercise full control over the use of the Certification Mark in commerce in accordance to the criteria laid out in this policy document. Please read our Press Release <>.

Always 100% free software

Our endorsement is strictly conditioned on the seller's discharge of its commitment to ensure that all product software will always be free software. This applies to all software that the seller includes in the product, or provides with the product, or recommends for use in conjunction with the product, or steers users towards installation in the product, except for certain microcode and firmware.

The exception applies to auxiliary processors or low-level processors, none of whose software is meant to be installed or changed by the user or by the seller. This can include, for instance, microcode inside a processor, firmware built into an I/O device, or code compiled into an FPGA. The software in such auxiliary and low-level processors does not count as product software.

We want users to be able to upgrade and control the software at as many levels as possible. If and when free software becomes available for use on a certain auxiliary processor, we will expect endorsed products to adopt it within a reasonable period of time. This can be done in the next model of the product, if there is a new model within a reasonable period of time. If this is not done, we will eventually withdraw the endorsement.

By way of explanation, a general-purpose facility for installing other programs, with which the choice of programs to install comes directly from the user, is not considered to steer users toward anything in particular. However, if the facility typically suggests installation of particular programs, then it steers users towards those programs. All software, barring exceptions previously noted, must be licensed under an FSF recognized free software license. We maintain a license list <> that classifies common free and nonfree software licenses. It is not complete; if you are interested in an endorsement, we would be happy to review the licenses of your product software and advise you on whether or not they are free software licenses.

User installation of modified software

The seller must give the user, along with the product software source code, the practical capability to install replacement software for any and all of the free software in the device. This means the product must have the requisite facilities to install software in the processors that run free software, and include adequate and sufficient documentation on how to use them.

edit: Just to be specific, this should require that the manufacturer not cripple the ability of the user to modify memory locations on the device. Specifically, the use of e-fuses for locking (really permanently damaging) jtag circuits, or purposely disabling write abilities on flash / eeprom memory.


In addition to being free, all the product software must be buildable using 100% free software that's released to the public, on a 100% free operating system that is released to the public. In other words, a user should be able to rebuild all the product software, and replace everything on the programmable levels, using only readily available free software. The product must say (briefly) where to get the necessary build software. If some of this build software is included in an FSF-­endorsed 100%-free GNU/Linux distro (see our list <>), giving the name and URL of that distro suffices for the build software included in it.

Connection to non-free software products

All the software needed for the user to fully use and administer the product, and to get full use of all its features, must be free.

Software for building, installation and maintenance

The programs needed to build, install and manage the product software must be released as free software. It is not required that they be capable of running on the product, but if they cannot, they should be able to run on most modern GNU/Linux systems.

No spying

The product must not transmit or make available to anyone other than the owner any information about the owner's or the product's identity, location or activity except (1) when the owner asks to do so, (2) when inevitable due to communication protocols used, or (3) when required by law. If case 3 applies, the product should come with prominent warning plus a URL for where to obtain more information.

Confusion with other products

To prevent confusion among customers about exactly what product has been endorsed, any other products offered by the seller, which are not endorsed by the FSF, must be easily distinguishable from endorsed products: their names must not be similar and their packaging must also not be similar.


Encumbered formats are those whose implementation is impeded by patents, interface copyrights or other restrictions. If the device supports encumbered formats, it must also support free formats that serve the same purpose.

For instance, MP3 is an encumbered format, because several organizations actively work to get patent royalties from players. Its purpose is to serve as a lossy audio encoding format, providing a reasonable trade­off between sound quality and disk space. Ogg Vorbis is an unencumbered format and serves the same purpose, so we are willing to endorse Digital Audio Players (DAP) that play MP3 and Ogg Vorbis files. However, while the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is unencumbered, it does not serve the same purpose as these other formats; instead, it opts to provide perfect sound reproduction at the cost of much more disk space. Thus, we cannot endorse a DAP that only supports MP3 and FLAC files.

The device may support formats that are hampered by Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), but it can only use free software to do so. This means that users will be able to change that software and thus eliminate the restrictions.


Any software patents the seller owns, that cover any aspect of the product software or its operation, must be licensed to all users of any version of the software, in a way consistent with use and redistribution of that software as free software. Likewise for any patents that the company has obtained licenses to use in the product software.


Generally useful technical documentation about the product, such as user or developer manuals, must be released under a free license.

Incompatible endorsements

Any product-related materials that mention the FSF endorsement must not also carry endorsements or badges related to proprietary software, such as "Works with Windows" or "Made for Mac" badges, because these would give an appearance of legitimacy to those products, and may make users think the product requires them. However, we don't object to clear factual statements informing the user that the product also works with specific proprietary operating systems.

Cooperation with FSF and GNU public relations

The seller must use FSF approved terminology for the FSF's activities and work, in all statements and publications relating to the product. This includes product packaging, and manuals, web pages, marketing materials, and interviews about the product. Specifically, the seller must use the term "GNU/Linux" for any reference to an entire operating system which includes GNU and Linux, and not mislead with "Linux" or "Linux-based system" or "a system with the Linux kernel." And the seller must talk about "free software" more prominently than "open source."


Failing to meet these requirements at any point can result in immediate revocation of the endorsement. However, if the failure was unintentional we will look for a way to resolve the problem amicably by bringing the product into compliance with these terms. Either party can terminate this endorsement relationship at any time. Termination of the endorsement relationship does not require removing endorsement statements from products already packaged.

What comes with an FSF endorsement?

An FSF endorsement tells customers that your product respects their freedom: the user can change the device as much as you can, and they can do it with free software, and they'll be able to do all this without fear of running afoul of your patents or similar legal threats. Backed by the FSF's rock­ solid commitment to software freedom and users' rights, an endorsement tells the world that this is a product they can trust completely to work for them.

The exact methods we use to advertise an endorsement are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, depending on your own marketing needs, what's appropriate for the specific product being endorsed, and other factors. The following arrangements can all be discussed:

  • An endorsement badge you can display on your product's packaging, marketing, and other materials
  • Use of the FSF name in your press releases and advertising, including quotes from FSF executives
  • Publication of a press release through the FSF's own channels, either jointly with your own or separately

How do I proceed with having my product endorsed by the FSF?

Please review this document. If you are confident that your product meets the specification, please contact us:

FSF Free Software Licensing and Compliance Lab, 51 Franklin Street 5th Floor Boston MA 02110 Email: Telephone: +1 (617) 542 5942 x18 See for more information.

This page was a featured resource in October 2010.