Let's say I have a server side software(running as a service) with no direct interaction with the user but nevertheless commercial. This software contains open source components.

Most of the open source licenses require at least to display a copyright notice (or even attribution or full license text).

Where can one display this if there is no user interface ?

  • 2
    Which licence(s) apply to the open-source components in your server-side application?
    – MadHatter
    May 11, 2017 at 15:13
  • Below two license types that specifically require to deliver the license text: GPLv2 : and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program. Apachev2: You must give any other recipients of the Work or Derivative Works a copy of this License; and
    – ossx
    May 12, 2017 at 6:55
  • Yes, but neither reuire you to do that until you give someone a copy of the application. As Amon observes below, almost the only licence with requirements triggered by the use of the program is the AGPL.
    – MadHatter
    May 13, 2017 at 7:57
  • So in conclusion: if you only run the program on a server AND it doesn't interact directly with the user AND it's not AGPL, you can use it without triggering the distribution clause which leads to the obligation of fulfilling the additional license conditions.
    – ossx
    May 15, 2017 at 7:04
  • Not quite. If you only run the program on a server AND ( it doesn't interact directly with the user OR it's not AGPL ) , you can use it without triggering the distribution clause etc. etc. By the way, you might want to consider accepting Amon's answer.
    – MadHatter
    May 15, 2017 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


Most open source licenses allow you to run the program for any purpose, and only require you to reproduce the license or copyright statement when you pass on a copy of the program, whether in source or binary form. The details depend on the license.

When you run the open-source software only on your servers and do not give a copy of your software to other legal entities, these licenses do not impose any restriction. Concrete examples:

  • The GPLv2: “Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted”.

  • The Apache v2 License does likewise not restrict your ability to run the program. It also gives you a copyright license to “publicly perform” the program, and a patent license to use the work.

So these licenses do not oblige you to display any notices about the open-source components used by your server-side code.

An open-source license that is notably different is the AGPLv3. It “explicitly affirms your unlimited permission to run the unmodified Program” and to “make, run and propagate covered works that you do not convey”. However: “if you modify the Program, your modified version must prominently offer all users interacting with it remotely through a computer network (if your version supports such interaction) an opportunity to receive the Corresponding Source”. If your system has a client side user interface, the user interface can display these acknowledgements together with other legal notices. In other cases, this is more tricky and should be covered in another question.

  • So basically if you use an open source component that doesn't interact directly to a user it is considered only running the program not building upon it ?
    – ossx
    May 12, 2017 at 11:18
  • 1
    @florinx No, a system that uses GPL components is subject to the GPL. However, this only comes in to play if you give someone a copy of your code, e.g. when a SaaS product also wants to offer on-premise installation. You can run the GPL software (= your code + open-source components) on your servers without having to provide any notice to users, because you are not giving your users a copy of the program.
    – amon
    May 12, 2017 at 11:28

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