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License in question is GNU GPLv3 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/quick-guide-gplv3.html).

Abstract Context:

I have written a software A that

  1. downloads a docker image of software B as part of the procedure to install software A
  2. runs the docker image of software B locally
  3. calls API of software B, assuming that software B is up and running before software A starts.

Question: Software B is under GNU GPLv3. Is the distribution of software A affected/restricted in anyway by the GPLv3 license of software B?

Example: Distribute a software that downloads docker image of Neo4J (community edition is under GNU GPLv3 licensed) and runs it as data store.

My understanding is that since

  1. I do not distribute binary/docker-image of software B
  2. there is a clear boundary between software A and software B, in that software A invokes an API provided by software B, which is the intended use of software B.

I do not need to care much about the fact that software B is under the the GNU GPLv3 license

Will be nice if you can provide reference pointer to support your answer. Thank you very much!

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  1. I do not distribute binary/docker-image of software B
  2. there is a clear boundary between software A and software B, in that software A invokes an API provided by software B, which is the intended use of software B.

Both of those considerations are actually irrelevant, or partially so.

If your work needs to be licensed under the GPL depends entirely on if it is considered a derived work of a GPL-licensed work. If you distribute the GPL work or not is not part of the consideration. For example, if I create and distribute a patch to the Linux kernel, then that patch must be licensed under the GPLv2 license, irrespective of whether I distribute it on its own or together with the rest of the Linux kernel.

Also, having a clear boundary between the two software products by its own is not sufficient to avoid that software A gets considered to be a derived work of software B. There is also a clear boundary between an application and the third-party libraries that it uses (and even stronger among the third-party libraries themselves), but if one of those libraries is under the GPL license, then the entire application, including all libraries are affected by that.

A sufficiently clear boundary is a boundary that is only crossed by a communication mechanism that is commonly used for communication between independent applications. Fortunately for you, socket communication fits that bill.

Question: Software B is under GNU GPLv3. Is the distribution of software A affected/restricted in anyway by the GPLv3 license of software B?

No, software A is not affected by the GPL license of software B. They communicate with each other using mechanisms that are sufficiently abstracted that they are considered to be independent from each other in terms of copyright.

As distribution format is not a consideration, you could even bundle the docker image of software B with your installation media of software A.

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This sounds like "mere use" of B. You could even ship both together ("mere aggregation", there is no intimate relationship between A and B).

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