I'm in the early concept and planning stages of a large-ish interactive installation. The installation is a one-off for a large client; think a mix between science museum interactive stands/kiosk-type devices and product showroom where visitors are guided around. Lots of networking, AV, lighting control, custom electronics, etc. etc..

The setup will likely include a motley assortment of tech from Windows PCs to Raspberry Pis, to *nix servers. A lot of closed-source custom software will be written for all this, but run on a variety of platforms, likely encompassing all sorts of licenses. There are no plans to modify any FOSS source code, only to build a somewhat complex stack out of various building blocks, but that stack is in effect part of the product in the end.

So since setting up, say, a MySQL server (unmodified) on a dedicated/purpose-bought piece of on-site hardware could be part of the complete system what would the licensing implications be? Would that for instance call for a commercial MySQL license or is it arguably "internal" still? Or would the use of a GPL Linux distro (again unmodified) on that hardware somehow impact everything else (esp. the closed-source apps at the very top of the stack) since it's part of the complete "product"?

Should note that while the software written specifically for this installation will be closed-source, the code will be held in escrow, so the client can get that too, pursuant to certain terms. And of course it's no problem to provide the client with any open source stuff used in the setup; that's as free to them as it is to us, we'd just be setting it up.

  • Your company's lawyer is the best person to ask.
    – RubberDuck
    Mar 13, 2017 at 1:40
  • @RubberDuck Of course, but nothing's even close to defined or spec'ed yet, so I'm just trying to get a feel for things. Long lead time on all of this, so it's all hypothetical at this stage. Just got to thinking about how the licensing works when use/deploy/redistribute/sell is sort of all tangled up.
    – user7639
    Mar 13, 2017 at 1:48
  • Bringing a machine with a software on it to your clients is generally considered distribution, so you would have to comply with the terms of the various licenses regarding distribution, but since you are not modifying, that does not mean you would need to buy a commercial license for MySQL for instance.
    – Zimm i48
    Mar 13, 2017 at 10:38
  • @Zimmi48 Thanks for the info. The distribution part is sort of what I suspected. The GPL FAQ says that distribution for a fee requires that the code be made available too (which would mean mirroring in this case, I suppose, even when unmodified). But the larger question is still whether the software's part of the overall "product" in some way shape or form...
    – user7639
    Mar 13, 2017 at 13:14
  • No mirroring. When physically distributing a software, the code should be physically distributed too. Make a DVD with it. Or put it somewhere accessible onto the machines themselves. And don't forget to hand over the license too. As for the larger question, I would say you fall into the aggregate category and thus you are safe.
    – Zimm i48
    Mar 13, 2017 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


I'll try to summarize in this answer what has already been said in the comments.

First of all, as noted by @RubberDuck:

Your company's lawyer is the best person to ask.

Second, you are bringing a machine with software on it to your clients. This is generally considered distribution of the software, and thus you have to comply with the terms of the software license regarding distribution. For strong copyleft licenses like GPL, they include giving a copy of the license and an offer to the source code (on a physical medium, because the software was physically distributed).

Third, the question of being bound or not by the software license terms regarding modification depends whether your product is a derivative of each of its components or not. Putting various software on a machine and making them work together is generally considered aggregation, not distribution.

Cf. (in section 5 of the GPL v3):

A compilation of a covered work with other separate and independent works, which are not by their nature extensions of the covered work, and which are not combined with it such as to form a larger program, in or on a volume of a storage or distribution medium, is called an “aggregate” if the compilation and its resulting copyright are not used to limit the access or legal rights of the compilation's users beyond what the individual works permit. Inclusion of a covered work in an aggregate does not cause this License to apply to the other parts of the aggregate.

and https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#MereAggregation

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer! Certainly clears things up quite a bit - I was missing the bit about aggregates. And yes, will still run things by a lawyer (whole contract's going there anyway) when the whole thing's more well-defined
    – user7639
    Mar 13, 2017 at 20:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.