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I'm a little confused. Can I use a GNU GPLv2 licensed piece of software with a proprietary (closed source) piece of software without affecting the license of the proprietary software?

Am I able to distribute a pre-compiled (vendor supplied binary with no modification) piece of GNU GPLv2 software (executable) with our software without breaking license terms.

I want to be able to distribute it with our product, but we also need to have the ability to run the executable as a standalone process and pass some parameters to it.

By doing this we want to ensure that our source stays closed is this the case?

Thanks

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  • How does your software interact with the GPL software? Do you copy portions of the GPL sources into your proprietary program? Do you link to the GPL software as a library? Do you exchange complex data structures with the GPL software? Do you call the GPL software as an external application? Do the two sit next to each other in the filesystem without direct interaction? – Bart van Ingen Schenau Oct 2 '20 at 11:23
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    The GPL program is a compiled exe direct from the vendor all I do in the code is do a Process.Start("GPLProcess.exe"); and pass some parameters – BillyDay Oct 2 '20 at 11:52
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Yes you can do this.

  • You can distribute/provide GPL and non-GPL software side by side, without any further license obligations. This is often called “mere aggregation”.
  • A non-GPL program can launch a GPL program without any further license obligations, provided that they are clearly separate programs.

For example, you could create a proprietary text editor that internally uses the Markdown text format. You could bundle a copy of the GPL-licensed Pandoc tool to export the Markdown as various formats, provided that you do this by launching Pandoc as a separate process (in contrast to embedding Pandoc as a library in your application).

Of course, you must still comply with the GPL for the GPL-covered program. In particular, this means:

  • providing a copy of the license
  • when providing binaries: providing the complete corresponding source code (see the license text for details)

If you have an installer that bundles your own software with GPL-covered software, it should be possible to install the GPL software separately, without having to agree to any of your EULAs or licenses (you must not restrict the recipient's rights under the GPL). Your software should also work with modified variants of the GPL-covered program, so e.g. don't calculate checksums for the GPL-covered binaries.

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From the license:

For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.

0. … Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted, and the output from the Program is covered only if its contents constitute a work based on the Program (independent of having been made by running the Program). Whether that is true depends on what the Program does.

1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.

You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.

It is clear that you can distribute, if you follow the distribution rules. It is clear that you can use for any purpose. (See also the free-software definition)

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  • The highlighted section of §0 doesn't apply here, because OP didn't ask about running GPL software on their computer, but about bundling and distributing it. Therefore they have to determine whether or not their proprietary software could be considered a derivative work of the GPL software. If it is, then it has to be open source as well, in order to comply with the license. – Felix G Oct 5 '20 at 8:15
  • @felix If the GPLed code is not modified. Then there is no derivative work. – ctrl-alt-delor Oct 5 '20 at 20:20
  • Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple (in this particular case it is, but not in general). The most obvious example would be an application using a GPL licensed library, which would definitely be considered a derivative work, even if the library itself isn't modified. – Felix G Oct 6 '20 at 8:07

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