While applying AGPLv3 I discovered the following statement on the GNU website's page titled How to use GNU licenses for your own software about 10 paragraphs in:

If you are releasing your program under the GNU AGPL, you only need to include the text version of the GNU AGPL.

If I interpret that statement in the context of other GPL licenses it seems to indicate the traditional GNU license headers are not required under AGPLv3. Under the GNU Afferno General Public License, is it true one only needs to include the text version of the COPYING file?

  • Sent email inquiry today to webmasters@gnu.org notifying them of what I perceive to be an error of omission in the quoted paragraph from the GNU website.
    – vhs
    May 29, 2017 at 5:46
  • Followed up Free Software Foundation and received reply from Donald R. Robertson, III, J.D., who confirms this is indeed a misunderstanding on my part and suggested in the selected answer. Donald also clarifies the word "only" intends to suggest regular GPL need not be included in addition to the AGPL. So literal it is confusing in context. But hey, attorneys...
    – vhs
    Jul 2, 2017 at 12:01

1 Answer 1


This is a misunderstanding.

The previous paragraphs talk about the requirements for the GPL and LGPL. Since the LGPLv3 is written as the GPL plus a set of extra permissions, you need to include both COPYING for the GPL and COPYING.LESSER for the LGPL additions.

In contrast, the AGPL is independent from the GPL and is contained in a single license text. So for an AGPL project you must not include the GPL license, and only the AGPL license text.

The “text version” in all cases means that the license should be included as a plaintext file, not in any markup format such as HTML, and not in any document format like ODT that would require special viewer software.

Per-file copyright + license headers are not required in any case, but probably still a good idea regardless of license. The value of these headers is that an independent file can be traced back to a project, and that essential license information is repeated in the file itself. However, the GPL licenses apply to a software as whole and not only to individual files, so as per my understanding only project-level license and copyright information is needed.

  • Thanks for the quick response. I'm not sure I understand. If the AGPLv3 is independent from the GPL, but each are contained in a single file, what could be the significance of the word "only" in the quote I pulled from the GNU site? Also, the AGPLv3 comes in 8 flavors, so I don't quite understand why the quoted line would indicate "text version" when it's my understanding any of them would do.
    – vhs
    May 28, 2017 at 12:25
  • For reference, here are the 8 varieties: gnu.org/licenses/agpl-3.0.html
    – vhs
    May 28, 2017 at 12:30
  • @JoshH The AGPLv3 shares ideas and terminology with the GPL, but is fundamentally an entirely different, independent license. The AGPL and GPL are not contained in a single file. The “only” contrasts this with the LGPLv3, which basically does the legalese version of #include "GPLv3" and would require you to reproduce both files (GPL and LGPL additions) when applying the LGPL.
    – amon
    May 28, 2017 at 12:35
  • 1
    The 8 AGPL documents are not different versions, but different formats that all contain the same license text. E.g. if you write documentation in Markdown, you can copy the license in Markdown format into your docs. But the actual license file should always be in plaintext because plaintext is the greatest common denominator of all text formats – you do not need special software, and do not need to understand any markup languages like HTML to read it. The plaintext format is a courtesy to your users, but the alternative formats would likely be legally OK as well.
    – amon
    May 28, 2017 at 12:35
  • I don't want to get hung up on words. In the specific line I copied from the website GNU website actually links to the TXT-only version. And the response says "should be included as a plaintext file". Something is off, and I suspect it's the GNU's website.
    – vhs
    May 28, 2017 at 12:42

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