My case:

My app is proprietary full-stack server app that will be distributed as closed source. I want to package my app into an VM. The VM have Ubuntu installed which contains Linux (GPL v2 licensed). And there is also my app installed. So, my client can setup my app by just have a copy of the VM and run it easily. And it might be also comes with VirtualBox (GPL v2 licensed).

TL; DR: My app will be closed source and distributed with copyleft OS.

The question:

Is this case counts as mere aggregation or derivative work? Does this violates the GPLv2 license? And also, what is the criteria that a case counts as mere aggregation or not?

1 Answer 1


what is the criteria that a case counts as mere aggregation or not?

The GPL FAQ gives you the formal answer here:

This is a legal question, which ultimately judges will decide.

i.e. there is no "bright line" which you can point to and say that something one side of the line is aggregation and something the other side of the line is a combined work. It is something which can evolve with time, and can have different meanings in different jurisdictions.

That said, distributing a piece of software with an operating system is just about the clearest case possible of something being aggregation. All the components communicate only via "arms length" mechanisms with no deep knowledge of the internals of each other.

As an aside, remember that if you distribute a VM image, you are still responsible for being in compliance with the licence of every single binary, both GPL and otherwise, contained in that VM image - e.g. if you give me a Linux VM image, you must also give me the option of receiving the exact source of the kernel image used, the exact source of every GPL utility installed on the filesystem and so on. Think carefully about how you are going to manage this.

  • 2
    Curse you - posted seconds ahead of the answer I was in the middle of writing, and significantly better than my answer was going to be. +1 from me :)
    – MadHatter
    Apr 21, 2022 at 7:49

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