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I have a few questions about GPLv3 and I want to find an answer to them or confirm that what I've found is correct.

Hypothesis: I pay 'someone' to make me a 'closed source' software. That someone decides to use in the delivered product an open source library which is part of a project licensed under GPLv3. Part of the functionality of the program relies on that library. (When I say product, I refer to the entirety of the software, meaning rights to it, source code and everything related to it is supposed to become 'mine'.)

1) Is it considered to be software distribution when I receive the product I paid 'someone' else to make for me?

2) The GPL says that internal use of the software within my company is allowed without having to comply with the licence. Is that correct? (Internal use refers to distributing the software only within my company and not with other companies or private individuals).

3.1) If I want to distribute the software (not internally), do I have to send the source code to the owner of the GPLv3 library, or just to the one I'm giving the software to?

3.2) Does the software needs to become 'open source' and made public? Or just the original GPLv3 owner needs to get access to it? Does he also get rights to it? Does that also mean that he can make it public and open source?

4) The moment I distribute the software outside of my company, it becomes licensed as GPLv3 and I have to comply with it? Or are there alternatives? Are all the alternatives involving the software not being 'closed source' anymore and giving rights to others to use them?

5.1) Is it considered illegal to receive the software without the 'LICENCE' file from the GPLv3 licenced part which that 'someone' used?

5.2) What if the original files do not contain any licence information either in the header? What if they have a short mention about their provenience in another file which links to those GPLv3 libraries in the usage?

I've seen people asking about GPLv3, but are answered instead about GPL in general, leading me to find some contradictory information, so I want to make sure I understand everything.

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1) Is it considered to be software distribution when I receive the product I paid 'someone' else to make for me?

If you specifically commissioned someone to create a software product for you and according to your specifications, then they create a "work for hire" and the copyright situation is similar as when they would be an employee. The transfer of that work to you is not considered to be distribution.

2) The GPL says that internal use of the software within my company is allowed without having to comply with the licence. Is that correct? (Internal use refers to distributing the software only within my company and not with other companies or private individuals).

Yes, that is correct, assuming your company is a single legal entity and you provide the software as part of the employment of your employees.

3.1) If I want to distribute the software (not internally), do I have to send the source code to the owner of the GPLv3 library, or just to the one I'm giving the software to?

If you distribute your software to other legal entities, then the GPL (any version) requires that you provide the source code to anyone that asks for it. You are not required to actively push the source code to the users of your product. You also don't need to send anything to the owner of the GPL library.

3.2) Does the software needs to become 'open source' and made public? Or just the original GPLv3 owner needs to get access to it? Does he also get rights to it? Does that also mean that he can make it public and open source?

If your product contains GPL code and you distribute your product externally, then you are required to distribute the product under the terms of the GPL license. This means that every recipient of your product gets the right

  • to make changes to the product
  • to re-distribute the original or changed product under the terms of the GPL license, for any price they want to ask for it (including free distribution).

The owner of the GPLv3 library does not get any special rights.

4) The moment I distribute the software outside of my company, it becomes licensed as GPLv3 and I have to comply with it? Or are there alternatives? Are all the alternatives involving the software not being 'closed source' anymore and giving rights to others to use them?

When you distribute outside your company, you must comply with the terms of the GPLv3 license, which means distributing your product under the GPLv3 license, or you lose the rights to distribute and use that GPLv3 library.

So, your software does not become automagically licensed under the GPLv3, but doing that is the only legal way to distribute the product externally. This does not mean that all the code must itself be under the GPL license, as long as everything is under a GPL-compatible license, whitch at least means that it must be an open source license.

5.1) Is it considered illegal to receive the software without the 'LICENCE' file from the GPLv3 licenced part which that 'someone' used?

No, it is not illegal.

First of all, the full text of the license might be in a file with a different name. And even if the full license text got separated from the files covered by the GPLv3 license somewhere in the process, that doesn't invalidate the license you got.

5.2) What if the original files do not contain any licence information either in the header? What if they have a short mention about their provenience in another file which links to those GPLv3 libraries in the usage?

If there is also no license information in the files themselves, the situation becomes more tricky. If the external file with licensing information ever gets separated from the source files, then it will appear that you have unlicensed files in your product. The problem with unlicensed files is that only the author of those files is allowed to use them in any way.

If this is the case, then you should contact the owner of the library and urge them to put proper license headers in the files. Until then, I would advise you not to use that library.

  • I see, thanks for your input, it really helped. One thing that is a bit confusing to me is when you're saying "If you distribute your software to other legal entities, then the GPL [..] requires that you provide the source code to anyone that asks for it". Does that really mean "anyone" or just anyone I distributed it to? Assuming it wouldn't be distributed to the entire world, but only to a selection of entities. – Yuri Jun 14 at 19:25
  • @Yuri: Anyone in possession of a copy of the product can ask for the source code. They don't need to have received that copy from you. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jun 15 at 8:16
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My, what a lot of questions. I'll try to answer them all, but the answers will of necessity have to be brief; you want longer answers, ask shorter questions. And, of course, IANAL/IANYL.

Is it considered to be software distribution when I receive the product I paid someone else to make for me?

Unless they are an employee of yours, generally, yes.

The GPL says that internal use of the software within my company is allowed without having to comply with the licence. Is that correct? (Internal use refers to distributing the software only within my company and not with other companies or private individuals).

Generally, yes.

If I want to distribute the software (not internally), do I have to send the source code to the owner of the GPLv3 library, or just to the one I'm giving the software to?

The GPL obliges you to provide source to anyone to whom you distribute the binaries, but not to anyone else.

Does the software needs to become 'open source' and made public? Or just the original GPLv3 owner needs to get access to it? Does he also get rights to it? Does that also mean that he can make it public and open source?

This is complex, and we deal with it at more length in other questions on this site, but my belief is that the entire work is a derivative of the GPLv3-covered library. As such, the entire work, when it is conveyed to others, must be conveyed under the terms of GPLv3. Everyone to whom it is conveyed gets those rights, and any of them may in turn choose to convey it more widely. If they do, then they, too, must convey it under the terms of GPLv3.

The moment I distribute the software outside of my company, it becomes licensed as GPLv3 and I have to comply with it? Or are there alternatives? Are all the alternatives involving the software not being 'closed source' anymore and giving rights to others to use them?

My belief is that yes, it does, and therefore, yes, you must. Your alternative is not to use GPLv3-licensed code when making your product (or having it made for you).

Is it considered illegal to receive the software without the 'LICENCE' file from the GPLv3 licenced part which that 'someone' used?

GPLv3 s5 requires (by inclusion of s4 requirements) that modified works based on GPLv3 code are conveyed with a copy of the GPL. It does not have to be in a file called LICENCE. Failure to do this isn't illegal per se, but it does open the conveyor up to accusations of copyright violation. Thanks to amon for spotting my original error, here.

What if the original files do not contain any licence information either in the header? What if they have a short mention about their provenience [sic] in another file which links to those GPLv3 libraries in the usage?

That's unhelpful, but not improper, unless the person who gave you a copy of the GPLv3-covered code excised this information from the headers in the process of modifying it to be part of your product.

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    First one (paying someone to write code and they use a GPL lib) would be a work for hire POSSIBLY and so it would not be distribution. Distinction would be based on terms of work, etc. and I ain't a lawyer. As far as alternatives to sharing your source the only one would be to go to the ORIGINAL copyright holders as well as the authors of any changes in your version and get ALL of them to agree to re-license the lib to you under other terms. In which case it probably would no longer be free software, although there are a few license that might work depending on exact need. – ivanivan Jun 14 at 2:27
  • Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted to know. I'm fine with short and to the point answers. – Yuri Jun 14 at 5:24
  • “GPLv3 advises, but does not require, […] a copy of the GPL” – GPLv3 section 4 requires you to “give all recipients a copy of this License along with the Program”, anything else is a license violation. But arguably, this copy could be provided by hyperlink – amon Jun 14 at 7:45
  • @Yuri then feel free to accept it, if you're happy with it. – MadHatter Jun 14 at 8:54
  • @amon yes, but s4 applies only to verbatim copies. Assuming author has made a derivative work by linking the library to other code, s5 applies instead. Oh, hang on, s5 says the s4 conditions apply also; you're right, thanks, I'll modify. – MadHatter Jun 14 at 8:57

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