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I want to distribute a combined work containing program X, plugin P and plugin Q. Plugin P has a proprietary license (which allows redistribution) and plugin Q is distributed under the GPL. X has a license which is compatible with both, such as LGPL.

Obviously, I'm not allowed to distribute this combined work under any license.

Can I distribute an installer script which installs X, P and Q on the user's computer when they run it? Is there any GPL violation happening here?

I may even include copies of X and P, or X and Q, inside the installer. The other component will be downloaded from the Internet so that I can claim the installer is not derived from it.

  • To clarify regarding plugin P (with a proprietary license): did the plugin's copyright owner give permission for it to be freely downloaded and/or distributed? – jkdev Jul 29 at 4:25
  • @jkdev Yes - question updated. (Otherwise this would be a trivial question.) It could also be a GPL-incompatible free software license. – user253751 Jul 29 at 11:05
  • How are you combining them? – rage Jul 29 at 11:50
  • @rage The installer installs program X, plugin P and plugin Q on the user's computer when it runs. P and Q both have intimate communication with X, and possibly, slightly less intimate communication with each other via X (however they are not explicitly designed to work together). – user253751 Jul 29 at 11:59
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According to the GPL FAQ:

I would like to bundle GPLed software with some sort of installation software. Does that installer need to have a GPL-compatible license? (#GPLCompatInstaller)

No. The installer and the files it installs are separate works. As a result, the terms of the GPL do not apply to the installation software.

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  • But what about the other plugin installed by the installer? The installer itself might comply, but the program it installs does not comply. – user253751 Jul 29 at 11:57
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    @user253751 If you install proprietary software, link it with GPL-licensed software, and use it for yourself but don't distribute it, you're not violating the GPL. – jkdev Jul 31 at 3:39
  • @jkdev Okay, but I didn't just do so on my own computer, I distributed a script that anyone can use to easily do so. – user253751 Jul 31 at 18:48
  • @user253751 So they're allowed to use the software for themselves, but not to distribute it. (Although they might not know those rules if they're not experts in software licensing... maybe you should include a notice that says "You are allowed to use the installed software but not to distribute it"?) – jkdev Jul 31 at 19:03
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    @user253751 Loopholes are legal. They wouldn't be loopholes otherwise. In this case, the proprietary software isn't undistributable by itself -- it can be distributed by itself. It's just that you're not allowed to distribute the GPL software together with the linked proprietary software; the GPL doesn't allow that. – jkdev Jul 31 at 20:26
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Can I distribute an installer script which installs X, P and Q on the user's computer when they run it?

I have the feeling that you are treading on thin ice here and you should definitely consult a lawyer with experience in open-source licensing before betting a company on it.

Your safest option is to distribute X without any plugins and let the user install them afterwards. It would be even better if the plugins are retrieved from different locations, as that can give you a defense that you don't know about the conflicting licenses and that you can't control it either.

Otherwise, I see a possibility where you might be on the hook for "contributing to copyright infringement" because you knew about about X+P+Q not being legal to be distributed and not telling your customers who make that combination.

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  • Probably worth consulting a lawyer if you're a company, yes. If you're a hobbyist? – user253751 Jul 29 at 21:54
  • @user253751, as a hobbyist I would distribute only one of the plugins. Find someone else to distribute the other. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jul 30 at 5:43

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