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There once was a time when my team decided to avoid usage of a GPLv3 licensed library (without modification). I didn't really know a thing about licenses at the time, so I just accepted it as a fact.

Recently I've read Definition of distribute in relation to the GPLv3. Now I can't stop thinking that we could have used the library.

It was going to be used by the customer as a microservice for a web app. This (in my understanding) was going to be considered distribution only to the customer. So, I don't have to opensource the whole code on the internet, right? Well, my manager said that any person still could have come to the customer and said "I know you're using GPLv3. Give me your whole app code." and they have to obey. I argued that the code must be shared only on distribution and/or modification. In the end, no one was convinced.

I've read some more things like

I still don't have proof of me being right or wrong. So, my question is: Do I have to opensource the code of the whole web app or a particular microservice if a microservice uses a GPLv2/GPLv3 library (without modification)? Do I have to do it on demand from a random person?

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Do I have to opensource the code of the whole web app or a particular microservice if a microservice uses a GPLv2/GPLv3 library (without modification)?

If a microservice uses a GPL licensed library (in the backend code), then that microservice needs to be distributed under the GPL license as well.

Do I have to do it on demand from a random person?

No (assuming we are talking about GPL code in the backend).

The GPL license only requires that you provide source code to those people that have obtained a copy of your binaries. And the GPL allows you to choose freely who you provide your binaries to.

What could happen is that one of your customers distributes the microservice further and that you get a request for the source code from one of those indirect customers. But a random person cannot demand the source code based solely on the knowledge that it is under the GPL (or another opensource) license.


When it comes to front-end code, the situation becomes completely different. Because front-end code is downloaded to the devices of your visitors, you are actually distributing the front-end code to them and that would entitle any visitor of your service to receive a copy of the sources of your front-end code if that code would be subject to the GPL license.

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