Tesla releases some of its software to comply with open source licences

Home Risk & Audit Software

by | May 22, 2018

Tesla has been taking some flak for years now in the software community for using open source software without complying with the licenses.

In a step toward compliance, Tesla is now releasing some parts of its software, which is going to be useful to Tesla hackers and security researchers.

Tesla is a software-heavy company and it has been using a lot of open source software to build its operating system and features, such as Linux Kernel, Buildroot, Busybox, QT, and more.

Some of the copyright holders have been complaining that Tesla hasn’t been complying with their licenses.

Software Freedom Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization pushing for open source software, has been on Tesla’s case for a while over the issue:

“Conservancy has been engaging with Tesla on its GPL compliance since June 2013, when we advised Tesla that we had received multiple reports of a GPL violation regarding Tesla’s Model S. Customers who purchased Tesla’s Model S received on-board system(s) that contained BusyBox and Linux, but did not receive any source code, nor an offer for the source. In parallel, we also asked other entities to advise Tesla about GPL compliance. We know that Tesla received useful GPL compliance advice from multiple organizations, in addition to us, over these years.”

But this week, Tesla started on the road to compliance by releasing some of its source code on GitHub.

They sent out an email to those who requested the code:

“I’m reaching out you since you are someone who has expressed interest or requested open source code from Tesla in the past.

We would like to let you know that we now have two repositories on GitHub that might be of interest. You can find them here:



Today they contain the buildroot material that is used to build the system image on our Autopilot platform, and the kernel sources for those boards as well as the Nvidia Tegra-based infotainment system in Model S/X. It is expected to be amended with material for other systems in the car in the near future.

Currently the material that is there is representative of the 2018.12 release, but it will be updated with new versions corresponding to new releases over time.

It does not contain the proprietary applications Tesla has built on top of this system image such as the actual Autopilot software stack, Nvidia proprietary binaries, etc.

Work is underway on preparing sources in other areas as well, together with a more coordinated information page. We wanted to let you know about this material as it is available now while work continues on the other parts.

For further questions, please contact opensource@tesla.com.”

Software Freedom Conservancy sent out congratulations to Tesla for a move in the right direction this week:

“We’re thus glad that, this week, Tesla has acted publicly regarding its current GPL violations and has announced that they’ve taken their first steps toward compliance. While Tesla acknowledges that they still have more work to do, their recent actions show progress toward compliance and a commitment to getting all the way there.”

But the organization did point out that Tesla still has some work to do before being fully compliant.

Electrek’s Take

We have reached out to verygreen, a Tesla hacker and friend of the site known for giving us our first look at Tesla’s new map system, to ask him what kind of impact this move will have on the community.

He said that first off, it’s a first step toward Tesla fulfilling their legal obligations, which is going to reduce the company’s exposure to potential actions from the license holders.

Secondly, the source code is going to be useful for Tesla owners with root access who are trying to build their own features on top of Tesla’s system.

Security researchers who are hunting for weaknesses and bugs could also use the code to facilitate their work, which could potentially lead to safer products for Tesla.


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