I am considering basing some new software on a LGPL web application. I want to utilize this new software for creating one website for my employer, and we do not intend to sell or distribute the software itself to anybody. Does publishing web pages from LGPL software constitute "distributing" in the license, so I would have to publish our changes to the LGPL code as well?

I understand that none of you are lawyers so IANAL is implied. I also understand that I could contact the developers of the LGPL software and ask for a different license.

  • 2
    Does publishing web pages from LGPL software constitute "distributing" in the license - It's a bit fuzzy, as described in the Javascript Trap. Give us a bit more info on what exactly you are doing, web pages is an extremely vague and chaotic term.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 10:46
  • @YannisRizos Excellent point! Javascript is just used for minor eye-candy features of the web application.
    – David
    Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 10:59
  • A what is internal or not inside a company version: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/162870/… Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


There's a variant of the GPLv3 called the "Affero GPL v3". To quote gnu.org,

The GNU Affero General Public License is a modified version of the ordinary GNU GPL version 3. It has one added requirement: if you run the program on a server and let other users communicate with it there, your server must also allow them to download the source code corresponding to the program that it's running. If what's running there is your modified version of the program, the server's users must get the source code as you modified it.

It follows that "running a program on the server" is not distribution; the base GPLv3 already covered that.

  • 1
    Is the same true also for LGPL, which is the focus of the question, then?
    – David
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 13:10
  • 1
    The LGPLv3 is strictly weaker then the GPLv3. "This license is a set of additional permissions added to version 3 of the GNU General Public License." I.e. anything that's allowed under the GPLv3 is also allowed under the LGPLv3. Since "running binaries on a server without available source code" is allowed under the GPLv3, it's also allowed under the LPGLv3.
    – MSalters
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 13:16
  • Where exactly does it imply in the above that running a program on the server is not distribution?
    – Jus12
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 8:33
  • 3
    @Jus12: It's one of Grice's Maxims, the maxim of quantity. If someone says that A always applies, but in situation S A and B apply, then it follows that B is not universal. If the FSF feels it necessary to add restrictions to the GPL3 in order to create the AGPL3, it follows that the FSF does not believe those restrictions exist in the GPL3 - a strong statement since they authored it.
    – MSalters
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 18:52
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    @MSalters More explicitly, section 0 of the GPL v3 contains the line "Mere interaction with a user through a computer network, with no transfer of a copy, is not conveying." (GPL v3 doesn't use "distribute" at all because that term is defined in local copyright law and is outside FSF control [and possibly different in different places]; "propagate" and "convey" are the replacements, and "convey" is what triggers the GPL's requirements)
    – cpast
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 20:10


"Distribution" always implies that the source is in usable form. In fact I was searching for something that explains this clearly, and the Javascript Trap article gave an excellent pointer. Even from very Richard Stallman's point of view, just because javascript gets downloaded in your browser doesn't mean it is open - it is still close. Now he goes on ranting about close web applications, indirectly providing an argument that web site downloading doesn't qualify as distribution if it is within a context of application.

Another good example is GitHub, which obviously uses git (pure GPL). But it is using git! Even if they have modified git to fit their purpose, it is not necessary to publish it back.

Given the above arguments, it is very clear that almost all of SaaS, and providing hosted services is using than distributing the application.

On the contrary if you are creating a package which allows people to create websites. that clearly falls under distribution - but this is not the case with you.

So I think you are safe. However, it is a very strong argument to defend on court. Because the very word distribution has different meaning in laws in different locales. Getting permission from the original author is your best bet.

  • Git is published under GPL v1 (as far as I can see), and I believe that there is a difference with regards to what constitutes distribution between GPL v1 and V3 (which was one of the reasons for creating a new version). I am though very unsure about, this.
    – David
    Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 13:27
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    @David gpl v3 simply changes the word from 'distribute' to 'convey', most of GPL3 is to do with tivoisation and patents. The changes about webapps not distributing source are in the affero-GPL Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 17:21

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