I am creating a closed source application whose task is to launch other open source applications (similar to start menu of windows).

So i have included various opensource applications under licences like :

  • LGPL
  • MIT license
  • Apple Public Source License Version 2.0
  • Apache creative commons
  • CeCILL

I have not modified the opensource applications and i am ready to publish source of the opensource applications, but i do not want to disclose the source code of my launcher application.

  1. I intend to offer the whole stuff free with a commercial hardware. i.e. i am charging only for hardware and not for software. Can i do so ?

  2. Further in future i intend to sell the whole software bunch by including only the cost incurred for developing the closed source module, can i do so ?

I have gone through the gpl documentation but i am not able to relate the scenario with the information in docs.

Please explain the answer w.r.t. the individual licence, so that i can exclude the applications incase their license does not permit me to do so!

  • 2
    You need to distribute the source of your application if it is a derived work of a work under the GPL. Whether mere bundling constitutes 'deriving' is a legal question that cannot be competently answered by strangers on the internet. You must get legal advice. – Kilian Foth Oct 1 '14 at 8:28

The Open Source licenses in general do not prohibit you to charge a fee for the distribution of the software. You are even allowed to charge a fee without providing any added value, though I am not sure how many people would make use of that.

The catch is that under the GPL you must give your users exactly the same rights that you have gotten yourself, so you can't forbid your users to resell the (GPL) software for a lower amount. With other licenses, the freedoms you need to give your users vary.

With regards to your launcher application, this is covered under the GPL FAQ under I'd like to incorporate GPL-covered software in my proprietary system. Can I do this?

You cannot incorporate GPL-covered software in a proprietary system. The goal of the GPL is to grant everyone the freedom to copy, redistribute, understand, and modify a program. If you could incorporate GPL-covered software into a non-free system, it would have the effect of making the GPL-covered software non-free too.

A system incorporating a GPL-covered program is an extended version of that program. The GPL says that any extended version of the program must be released under the GPL if it is released at all. This is for two reasons: to make sure that users who get the software get the freedom they should have, and to encourage people to give back improvements that they make.

However, in many cases you can distribute the GPL-covered software alongside your proprietary system. To do this validly, you must make sure that the free and non-free programs communicate at arms length, that they are not combined in a way that would make them effectively a single program.

The difference between this and “incorporating” the GPL-covered software is partly a matter of substance and partly form. The substantive part is this: if the two programs are combined so that they become effectively two parts of one program, then you can't treat them as two separate programs. So the GPL has to cover the whole thing.

If the two programs remain well separated, like the compiler and the kernel, or like an editor and a shell, then you can treat them as two separate programs—but you have to do it properly. The issue is simply one of form: how you describe what you are doing. Why do we care about this? Because we want to make sure the users clearly understand the free status of the GPL-covered software in the collection.

If people were to distribute GPL-covered software calling it “part of” a system that users know is partly proprietary, users might be uncertain of their rights regarding the GPL-covered software. But if they know that what they have received is a free program plus another program, side by side, their rights will be clear.

So, in short, if your launcher just spawns the GPL code in a different process and you don't advertise your launcher application as containing or incorporating the GPL code, there are no problems. In that case, the various programs are considered to be independent works for copyright law.
The GPL license is the most strict one in this regard. The other licenses mentioned are easier to incorporate in a proprietary application.

  • ThankYou ,"You cannot incorporate GPL-covered software in a proprietary system" straightaway answered my question, but "you can distribute the GPL-covered software alongside your proprietary system" and "arms length" again confused me...... Since my launcher simply launches opensource apps can i say that they both are at arm's length?....Regarding you don't advertise your launcher application as containing or incorporating the GPL code ,if i create a video which shows an opensource application being launched from my launcher application ,can i use it for marketing purpose ? – Puneet S. Chauhan Oct 1 '14 at 9:53
  • @PuneetS.Chauhan: Separate processes that only communicate through standard OS features is indeed considered to be "at arms length". And as long as the viewer/reader can't get confused whether the GPL/open source application is contained within the launcher or not, you can advertise it in any way you want. To be on the safe side, avoid words like "part of" or "contains" when referring to the combination of the two. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Oct 1 '14 at 10:44

For the use case of an application launcher, it is definitely allowed, but there are terms, which vary depending on whether it's GPL2 or GPL3. For the GPL2, you must ship the source code on the same server that is used to download the binary (section 3a).

The GPL3 (section 6d) is more permissive, but you have to be prepared in case the 3rd party website goes down or stops hosting the particular version of the source.

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