I'm planning to make some origami crease pattern drawing software. Now this will be mainly based on an existing piece of software (Oripa 3.5) which is under the GNU GPL 3 license. The author mentioned you are also allowed to see it under a higher version if wanted.

Now to build this piece of software I use a number of tools/libraries. More specifically, the electron.js framework (under MIT license), vue.js framework (under MIT license) and the d3.js library (BSD 3 license). Moreover, electron.js uses node.js (MIT license).

What kind of license is possible for this piece of software? Is it possible to commercialise it?


Short Answer

Your work probably has to be released under the GPL and you probably won't be able to commercialize it.

Long Answer

First, let's get the MIT- and BSD-licensed dependencies out of the way. Those don't impose any restrictions on how you license your work, but they do have other requirements attached (such as attribution). I'm assuming those requirements aren't a problem for you.

Now, the GPL. The big question is whether your work is "based on" a GPL-licensed work to such a degree that it is legally considered derived from it. If you're just duplicating functionality or taking inspiration from the user interface, then it's probably not derived, and you can license your project however you want. On the other hand, if you're forking the original project's source code, your project is almost certainly derived.

If your work is derived from the original work, then you need to release your work under the GPL too. After all, that's the whole point of copyleft.

Can a GPL work be commercialized?

This depends on your business model. The GPL doesn't forbid you from selling your software – actually, the FSF encourages charging distribution fees for fundraising – but it does make earning a profit very difficult. You will have to provide corresponding source alongside every binary distribution, and anyone who has the software will be able to redistribute it to anyone else. If you think you can make that work, go for it.

Another Option

You could always try negotiating directly with whoever owns the copyright to the GPL work you want to derive from. If they themselves are not bound by GPL-licensed dependencies, they might license their work out to you under different terms.

  • Thanks for the response. I heavily use the source code of Oripa to make my software. However, Oripa is written in Java, while I'm using Javascript. So technically, I'm not forking. Furthermore, I plan to add a lot of new features. The question concerning commercialisation was mere for the interest. I will probably plan to release it as open source. Oct 26 '17 at 15:42
  • @SimonMarynissen The FSF says, "translation of a work is considered a kind of modification. Therefore, what the GPL says about modified versions applies also to translated versions."
    – Maxpm
    Oct 26 '17 at 18:24

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