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For my GPL open source software I use LGPL-based libraries. I recently found a very useful NVIDIA SDK which I would like to use for my software. NVIDIA is using its own license, and I have difficulty understanding if it is OK to use the license with my GPL project.

Could someone tell me if I can use the license for my GPL project?

The following is the copy of the license file which I found at the corresponding SDK folder:

Copyright 2011 NVIDIA Corporation

BY DOWNLOADING THE SOFTWARE AND OTHER AVAILABLE MATERIALS, YOU ("DEVELOPER") AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE FOLLOWING TERMS AND CONDITIONS

The materials available for download to Developers may include software in both sample source ("Source Code") and object code ("Object Code") versions, documentation ("Documentation"), and other materials (collectively, these materials referred to herein as "Materials"). Except as expressly indicated herein, all terms and conditions of this Agreement apply to all of the Materials.

Except as expressly set forth herein, NVIDIA owns all of the Materials and makes them available to Developer only under the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement.

License: Subject to the terms of this Agreement, NVIDIA hereby grants to Developer a royalty-free, non-exclusive license to possess and to use the Materials. The following terms apply to the specified type of Material:

Source Code: Developer shall have the right to modify and create derivative works with the Source Code. Developer shall own any derivative works ("Derivatives") it creates to the Source Code, provided that Developer uses the Materials in accordance with the terms of this Agreement. Developer may distribute the Derivatives, provided that all NVIDIA copyright notices and trademarks are used properly and the Derivatives include the following statement: "This software contains source code provided by NVIDIA Corporation."

Object Code: Developer agrees not to disassemble, decompile or reverse engineer the Object Code versions of any of the Materials. Developer acknowledges that certain of the Materials provided in Object Code version may contain third party components that may be subject to restrictions, and expressly agrees not to attempt to modify or distribute such Materials without first receiving consent from NVIDIA.

Government End Users: If you are acquiring the Software on behalf of any unit or agency of the United States Government, the following provisions apply. The Government agrees the Software and documentation were developed at private expense and are provided with RESTRICTED RIGHTS. Use, duplication, or disclosure by the Government is subject to restrictions as set forth in DFARS 227.7202-1(a) and 227.7202-3(a) (1995), DFARS 252.227-7013(c)(1)(ii) (Oct 1988), FAR 12.212(a)(1995), FAR 52.227-19, (June 1987) or FAR 52.227-14(ALT III) (June 1987),as amended from time to time. In the event that this License, or any part thereof, is deemed inconsistent with the minimum rights identified in the Restricted Rights provisions, the minimum rights shall prevail.

No Other License. No rights or licenses are granted by NVIDIA under this License, expressly or by implication, with respect to any proprietary information or patent, copyright, trade secret or other intellectual property right owned or controlled by NVIDIA, except as expressly provided in this License.

Term: This License is effective until terminated. NVIDIA may terminate this Agreement (and with it, all of Developer's right to the Materials) immediately upon written notice (which may include email) to Developer, with or without cause.

Support: NVIDIA has no obligation to support or to continue providing or updating any of the Materials.

No Warranty: THE SOFTWARE AND ANY OTHER MATERIALS PROVIDED BY NVIDIA TO DEVELOPER HEREUNDER ARE PROVIDED "AS IS." NVIDIA DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS, IMPLIED OR STATUTORY, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF TITLE, MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT.

LIMITATION OF LIABILITY: NVIDIA SHALL NOT BE LIABLE TO DEVELOPER, DEVELOPER’S CUSTOMERS, OR ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY CLAIMING THROUGH OR UNDER DEVELOPER FOR ANY LOSS OF PROFITS, INCOME, SAVINGS, OR ANY OTHER CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, DIRECT OR INDIRECT DAMAGES (WHETHER IN AN ACTION IN CONTRACT, TORT OR BASED ON A WARRANTY), EVEN IF NVIDIA HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. THESE LIMITATIONS SHALL APPLY NOTWITHSTANDING ANY FAILURE OF THE ESSENTIAL PURPOSE OF ANY LIMITED REMEDY. IN NO EVENT SHALL NVIDIA’S AGGREGATE LIABILITY TO DEVELOPER OR ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY CLAIMING THROUGH OR UNDER DEVELOPER EXCEED THE AMOUNT OF MONEY ACTUALLY PAID BY DEVELOPER TO NVIDIA FOR THE SOFTWARE OR ANY OTHER MATERIALS.

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  • If you are the sole author of the GPL code, you can link to any library that you want. You can even grant a GPL exception, allowing others who use your code to also link to that library.
    – lofidevops
    Apr 12, 2023 at 17:43

2 Answers 2

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No.

The GPL is 'viral' and under the FSF's current interpretation, simply statically linking code to GPL stuff means that it must have a GPL compliant licence. (That's a debatable position in itself, but the FSF are the best placed to comment on the implications)

The Nvidia licence is going to be nowhere near GPL compliant, as it's restricting you from decompiling the object code they provide.

IIRC you may also have issues with the trademarks clause, but would have to check that.

The licence stinks anyway- They can terminate without cause simply by sending you an email.

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  • Out of curiosity, would it be legal if you can dynamically link the NVIDIA SDK? Apr 24, 2016 at 20:28
  • Don't think so. (The whole thing they were trying to prevent is Tivo-isation, whereby GPL code still requires a proprietary binary lump to run)
    – leezer3
    Apr 29, 2016 at 21:33
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"The GPL is 'viral' " is no more true than it is of all EULAs, and copyright in general. If you incorporate other people's work into your own, then you may only do so on the terms that they agree to.

Neither GPL nor the Nvidia Source Code License (NSCL) allow you to change the license.

You can write your own program that depends on two libraries, one on a GPL, the other on the NSCL. You can distribute your source code, and let the user build your program themselves. This way another person can edit your source to use different libraries if they wish to.

Remember that the entire FSF GNU project was developed in the space of Unix variants. It gradually replaced the proprietary components of the existing systems with free-and-open GPL components.

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  • The GPL goes a step further than you describe: 'Derived works' (a term from copyright law) must also be distributed under the GPL and the stewards of the GPL (the FSF) maintain that linking a library into an executable creates a 'derived work'. Assuming the position of the FSF is upheld in court (which nobody has dared to challenge yet), this implies that you cannot legally distribute a project, in source or otherwise, that contains both a GPL library and a GPL-incompatible library. Aug 30, 2023 at 9:10
  • This is true of all copyright software - if you include a library you create a derived work. For most proprietary libraries you can only use the code where and how the library authors permit, and may also need to pay royalties. For the FSF's answers to such questions see the section "Combining work with code released under the GNU licenses" in gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html
    – NickH
    Sep 26, 2023 at 8:38

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