They're a pretty decently sized company within the space and I assume they did their due diligence and so, I'm wondering if I misunderstood something. Are you not allowed to include paid software (A) that is licensed to you under GPL v2 if:

  • The overall product (B) you're building using (A) is also GPL v2
  • I include their license and also give credit.

I am not sub-licensing/re-selling, as they told me. I am simply using their software to make mine work.

What am I misunderstanding?

  • 7
    Nitpick: GNU is the organisation. The open-source license is the General Public License, often abbreviated to GPL, and often referred to for clarity as the GNU GPL.
    – ArtOfCode
    May 17 '20 at 23:09
  • 1
    Are you sure that's what they said? I think that the "if" should be an "unless". GNUv2 allows (not not allow) you to include code into yours if your code is also GNUv2 and you include the copyright and license of the included code - exactly what they say but opposite
    – slebetman
    May 18 '20 at 15:29
  • how was the software conveyed/distributed to you? this will probably be an important factor; for example, if you work-for-hire, you can't just take a copy your employer's code home with you; on the other hand, if you downloaded something from a publicly accessible website, you probably can reuse it
    – lofidevops
    May 18 '20 at 16:15
  • 8
    Is this one of those companies that distributes their code under GPL but for a fee will license it to you under different terms? I ask because if that's the case they could be confused thinking you want to sell your stuff with a more standard enterprise-y license without sharing your source code. Many companies do this precisely to make money off of other companies who want to use the GPL code but not share their own code. May 18 '20 at 17:29
  • @slebetman Or that's the OP's [correct] interpretation of the licence, rather than a quote from the vendor. May 18 '20 at 20:54

Assuming that the original work was distributed under the GNU GPLv2, and that you have made a work which is a derivative of it (in copyright terms), you may redistribute your derivative work subject to GPLv2 ss 2 and 3.

The point of distributing under the GPL is to enable a work to continue to be used and/or repurposed by as large a number of people as possible. That said, in my experience people and organisations do occasionally release under the GPL without fully understanding what they are permitting1. Sadly for them, there are no take-backs from people who have already acquired a copy under those terms (see eg my article: "the license is irrevocable once even partial performance has occurred").

In this case the licensor seems to be unwilling, so you will need to be very, very sure of your grounds before you proceed. Read the section entitled "How to Apply These Terms to Your New Programs" at the end of the GPL. If the licensor has done everything the GPL recommends, you have good grounds for believing that the work was licensed to you on those terms. If, by way of example on the other hand, you downloaded it from a page titled "Here's our GPL software" but the code made no mention of that, then you might want to be a great deal more hesitant. If anything of significance (eg your business, or your house) rests on this you will want to take professional legal advice, which this is not, before proceeding.

But assuming you do proceed, then as long as you obey the requirements of GPLv2, particularly ss 2 and 3, with respect to your derivative work, then you should be OK.

1See by way of example the sad fate of SleepyHead, wherein the highly-dedicated lead developer generously published his work under GPL, putting in thousands of hours of his own development time while failing to understand how free software development works. He then completely lost it when other people dared to take the current code and release it. He halted all development and walked away from the project (as is completely his right), concluding "Friends don’t let friends release full blown complex applications under the GPL".

Final note for anyone interested in sleep apnoea and free software: the fork survived and is doing nicely, at https://gitlab.com/pholy/OSCAR-code .

  • 2
    "you may redistribute your derivative work subject to GPLv2 ss 2 and 3." -- Typo? May 18 '20 at 17:23
  • 8
    "ss" is an abbreviation for "section" or "sections".
    – Eilon
    May 18 '20 at 17:56
  • 8
    Note that if they have not followed the GPL recommendations, but are claiming their code is GPL licensed, I'm fairly certain that the FSF will want to hear about it, as that would likely be a case of either a company in need of legal education about such things or a company which is willfully misrepresenting things (or possibly violating license terms). May 18 '20 at 19:50
  • 1
    @AustinHemmelgarn don't forget that the licence is not binding on the original author. If they are not required to follow the GPL, then they are not required to follow it in any particular way. This is merely about trying to be as sure as possible that they clearly expressed a desire to convey the code under GPLv2 at the time, so that they cannot later claim that such was not their intention.
    – MadHatter
    May 19 '20 at 6:20
  • @MadHatter I had noticed the goodbye notice, but not the story behind it. Could you summarize or provide a link to a summary? May 19 '20 at 14:21

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