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I've read lots of discussion on shipping commercial products that link against GPLv2/3 libraries, and products that include code from GPLv2/3 software. But I haven't been able to satisfactorily answer my question about shipping a commercial product that uses GPLv2/3 binaries.

Specifically, I'd like to bundle a modified version of TexLive with my commercial product. My software uses some of the TexLive binaries for interpreting and rendering LaTeX that the user writes. The way my software uses these GPL'd binaries is by executing them and reading their output.

I have no problem adding a notice to my software that it uses a modified version of TexLive, and pointing the users to where they can find the TexLive sources. The users will be free to build their own version of the appropriate TexLive binaries and configure my product to use them instead. (This is easy to ensure, since my product simply invokes the executables at the configured path).

Is this allowed by the GPL? Or does this require me releasing my entire product under the GPL?

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    There might already be a good duplicate for this somewhere, but I know the GPL FAQ item on this is pretty good: gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#MereAggregation. ("Where's the line between two separate programs, and one program with two parts? This is a legal question, which ultimately judges will decide.") – apsillers May 31 '16 at 13:16
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    TeX Live uses a number of different licenses, not just the GPL — I think it's actually mostly LPPL. You'd need to identify the licenses involved in the parts you're modifying and redistributing... – Stephen Kitt Jun 1 '16 at 7:09
  • “You may charge any price or no price for each copy that you convey,” — the gpl. So the product can be commercial. Are you referring to proprietary? – ctrl-alt-delor Jun 2 '16 at 8:54
  • Read the licence, on distributing the software, what it says about with and without source code. (distributing without source code is the only place that it imposes a restriction on price). – ctrl-alt-delor Jun 2 '16 at 8:56
  • tug.org/texlive/copying.html – Johannes_B Jun 11 '16 at 13:01
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This will be partly down to interpretation, and IANAL.

However this is how I'd read it: that you can indeed distribute in the way you have described, because all you're doing is executing and reading the output. I wouldn't consider this dynamically linked - you're not calling functions back and forth, you're essentially integrating "at arms length".

The FAQ answer that apsillers linked to in a comment deals with this:

By contrast, pipes, sockets and command-line arguments are communication mechanisms normally used between two separate programs. So when they are used for communication, the modules normally are separate programs. But if the semantics of the communication are intimate enough, exchanging complex internal data structures, that too could be a basis to consider the two parts as combined into a larger program.

From how you're described the way your program works, I'd interpret it to separate programs. But, crucially, others may differ, and as the answer notes, judges will decide.

There is one thing you implied though that certainly would be a problem: not distributing the source code for your modified version. I'm not entirely sure from the way your question was phrased what your plans are here, but for clarity's sake, it's not enough just to link people to the original source if you have bundled a modified version. You must provide the source of your modified version (or at least, include a written offer to provide it).

  • Can you cite your quote. – ctrl-alt-delor Jun 2 '16 at 8:59
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    @richard I don't think price was any part of my answer (or the question)? Re citing the quote, I linked to the FAQ answer that it came from directly above it – Tim Malone Jun 2 '16 at 9:07
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    Thank you, I think this is the conclusion that I also reached, but it's good to see other non-lawyers agree. I also have no problem publishing and distributing the source of the modified TexLive. Also @StephenKitt raised a good point that much of TexLive is licensed under LPPL, so I will have to consider that as well. – tdenniston Jun 6 '16 at 13:59

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