In this video, Richard Stallman claimed that Linus Torvalds created Linux kernel as a proprietary software and then liberated it ('liberated' is the term Stallman used).

Assuming so, when was the Linux kernel made libre by Linus Torvalds?

The Linux article on English Wikipedia says as of now:

Torvalds initiated a switch from his original license, which prohibited commercial redistribution, to the GNU GPL.

but the source doesn't mention a specific year like 1992.

  • 10
    In what way is this question off-topic?
    – UncleBod
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 7:19
  • 3
    The title of this question was better before the edit: "libre" is not an English word, but "liberated" is.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 14:38
  • 31
    @AaronF: "Libre" is a jargon term, just like "software". It is used as an alternative to "free", because "free" in English has two meanings, whereas Romance languages distinguish between "libre" and "gratuit" (ex. French). And since most of the world understands Spanish, French, or Italian, and "libre" is also understood by English speakers via words like "liberty" or indeed "liberate", it has stuck around as a language-neutral, universal way of referring to "Free Software" without the confusion about the meaning of "Free". Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 14:55
  • 19
    @AaronF That comment demonstrates precisely the misunderstanding while led to the term "libre software" being introduced: it is not "free because you don't have to pay for it"; it is free because you are free to use, modify, and distribute it. A common description is "free as in free speech, not free as in free beer". It has been "liberated" from the control of a single owner, and users have been granted "freedom" over what to do with it. Plenty of software is available without charge, but with restrictions on what you can legally do with it, so this is an important distinction.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 16:04
  • 5
    "Free as in mattress, or free as in puppy?" Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


February 1992 it changed to GPL license.

Change to GPL is notified in 0.12 release, February 1992

First GPL release 0.99, December 1992

  • 4
    And this also means that at least the change at this time can't be interpreted as "liberating" (in the Stallman sense) Linux - removing the "you may not distribute it for money" condition clearly means it wasn't "proprietary" before.
    – dirkt
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 16:47
  • 7
    @dirkt As far as Richard Stallman is concerned, software which you are not free to distribute for money is not Free Software. Consequently, removing that restriction "liberated" the software from that constraint.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 18:03
  • 9
    @dirkt You or I might disagree, but that's how Richard Stallman and the FSF see the world: software is either "free" or it is "non-free". Calling a license that makes the source available but restricts its use "proprietary" may seem an exaggeration, but Stallman isn't particularly known for his subtlety or acceptance of grey areas.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 20:17
  • 6
    @another-dave No, but he has authority over his own speech. Right now, neither the question nor the answer uses "proprietary" or "liberated" other than in a quote from Stallman; the necessary context for understanding that quote is how he chooses to use those words, not who else agrees or disagrees with him.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 10:55
  • 5
    @another-dave Whatever terminology you use, the change from restricting to allowing commercial distribution is a hugely significant moment in the history of the project. The question could be reworded to not mention Stallman at all, and still be interesting (but for some reason your comment was under the answer, which already doesn't mention him).
    – IMSoP
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 8:34

To provide a source more substantial than Wikipedia…

The licence change was announced in the release notes for Linux 0.12:


The Linux copyright will change: I've had a couple of requests to make it compatible with the GNU copyleft, removing the "you may not distribute it for money" condition. I agree. I propose that the copyright be changed so that it confirms to GNU - pending approval of the persons who have helped write code. I assume this is going to be no problem for anybody: If you have grievances ("I wrote that code assuming the copyright would stay the same") mail me. Otherwise The GNU copyleft takes effect as of the first of February. If you do not know the gist of the GNU copyright - read it.

The release tarball dates it as January 16th, 1992.

The next release was numbered 0.95; the release notes for that version are dated March 7th, 1992 and describe the licence change as complete.

You must log in to answer this question.