I'm tasked with developing a dashboard using shiny, but I'm concerned about the GPL-3 license. My understanding is this, and please correct me where I've gone wrong:

  • If the dashboard is used inside my group and never distributed, no concern of copyleft.
  • If the dashboard is shown to the public but fully contained on our controlled computers, no concern of copyleft.
  • If the dashboard is accessed by an external person, even if it is hosted on our computers, that person has rights to access the source code.
  • If the dashboard is installed on a 3rd party computer, the owner of that computer has rights to access the source code.

The middle two are the points of confusion. Does a demonstration constitute distribution and therefore rights to source code? Does access to a controlled computer also convey rights to the source code?

Any help in interpreting these details is appreciated.

1 Answer 1


The GNU GPL does not really concern software use (other than saying it can't be constrained). What matters is distributing software. If the software stays on your own hardware, you do not owe the source code to anyone. So only in the four situation do you need to provide the source code.

The GNU AGPL is tighter, requiring you to provide the source code if someone uses software on your computer via the internet.

  • 1
    Thank you! That was my thought, but I was stuck on the term "distribution." I truly appreciate the response!
    – KirkD-CO
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 4:13
  • @KirkD-CO That's why the GPLv3 invented the term “to convey”: a kind of distribution that allows the recipient to make copies of the software. So in simple terms: if the user can make a copy they must get access to the source.
    – amon
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 11:07
  • @amon But it's broader than that. Most people wouldn't know how to copy the firmware from their modem, but if it includes GPL software they have to make the source available to you. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 12:11
  • Tthis is an excellent discussion! Thank you both for your thoughts here. For the uninitiated (aka, limited legal experience) it can be very confusing. I do find it incredibly interesting, though, not to mention helpful.
    – KirkD-CO
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 15:14

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