within a project that involves distribution of software that will (on recipient side) then be flashed into a hardware component, i have to make the different libraries available under the same distribution package (.zip). the package is composed of proprietary code, plus MIT, plus BSD, plus GPLv2 and the source files of these will be included inside the zip in separate subfolders together with the respective licenses. A make file will also be part of the package. Recipient will then have to compile the sources and flash into the hw.

My concern is that having a GPL component inside the distribution package will contaminate the proprietary code turning it into GPL.

would this be the case? or since they are distributed as separate components (although inside the same zip), the above will not happen and i only need to take care of complying with the respective license terms of each component?

1 Answer 1


The GPL FAQ addresses the issue of "mere aggregation", when it writes

An “aggregate” consists of a number of separate programs, distributed together on the same CD-ROM or other media. The GPL permits you to create and distribute an aggregate, even when the licenses of the other software are nonfree or GPL-incompatible.

I see no reason why aggregation in a ZIP file should be any different from aggregation on a CD-ROM. So no, unless there is some other reason why you should have to release your proprietary code under GPL (such as, for example, the proprietary code being derived (in copyright terms) from the GPL code) then the mere act of packaging the two of them together in a ZIP file doesn't suddenly create such a reason; at least not as I see it (though IANAL/IANYL).

  • that's a good point. that means that when recipient compiles the proprietary part with the GPL part, if he then further redistributes it will have to do it under GPL... this means i need to carefully tailor the license rights over the hw component to prevent recipient from further distribution of the demo board in order to avoid having him distributing the entire source code of the software under gpl. would you say this is correct?
    – paul black
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 15:35
  • Is the proprietary part linked to the GPL part in this compilation operation?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 15:36
  • 1
    The GPL code sounds like a library, inasmuch as it's compiled and linked into an executable along with your proprietary code. How did you discover which calls your proprietary code could make into the GPL library? I'm guessing it was by reading the library code, then using the knowledge of the API so gained, to write appropriate calls into the library in your code. Is this a reasonable description of what happened?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 16:24
  • 1
    i would say yes, but again i'm not that much into the technical details.
    – paul black
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 16:26
  • 4
    Then I think you may have a problem, because your code may well be a derivative in copyright terms of the GPL library. At that point, getting the customer to assemble the system themselves won't make it distributable under the existing licence arrangements; you'd have to GPL your code also, to comply with the distribution requirements of the GPL library. But that's nothing to do with aggregation, and everything to do with derivative works. Also, it's probably an issue on which you should take professional advice.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 16:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.