We are studying a prospect of using Ghostscript in a commercial product (Windows desktop application).

I read about sidestepping licensing GS altogether by simply suggesting to the users that they can download and install GS on their own to improve their experience (the software actually works without it, too, but most users would want to render/load PDF documents).

So, suppose we don't ship Ghostscript ourselves, but instead have our software check its availability and, in case if it is absent, suggest how to obtain it (short explanatory text and link to their download page). In case if it is installed, the program would use the Ghostscript API.

To me it sounds legal, as Artifex says something like "you are not allowed to ship GS if your application doesn't meet so-and-so conditions". Would anybody care to share an opinion on this?

  • Not an answer, but may help you find some: this seems very similar to what some Linux distributions that don't distribute non-free software do. They'll prompt you at appropriate times to (optionally) download the non-free software yourself. Debian does this; others may as well. Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 14:34
  • 3
    Audacity does something similar concerning LAME, which it uses for encoding to mp3, if available, and advises where it can be downloaded from - audacityteam.org/help/faq_i18n?s=install&i=lame-mp3
    – yoniLavi
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 23:52

2 Answers 2


IANAL, but as long as you do not distribute Ghostscript, you do not make any copies of the program or parts of it, and you do not build any "derived work" from it, Artifex has no legal foothold against you. They obviously cannot charge you for designing your program in a way it can run an arbitrary command line utility with a configurable name and configurable parameters for PDF conversion. And I am pretty sure they cannot charge you for making the default configuration matching the signature of the current Ghostscript version.

Everything else happens by the user of the software - whatever conversion utility he installs is up to him - it is his responsibility, not yours, to use only legally obtained software for this task. And downloading, installing and just using the current Ghostscript version is perfectly legal, it is explictly allowed, encouraged and free of charge by the distributor.

So in short, what you have in mind IMHO obeys the license conditions of the current Ghostscript version.

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    I'm just curious: What, if the software would require Ghostscript to work? Also, what if the Software does not require it, but offers it on the own setup through downloading it from their servers similar to web installers? Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 13:40
  • @modiX: well, I am as curious as you what a lawyer or judge may think about this ;-) We had a very similar discussion about "require to work" scenario in context of the GPL (not AGPL) license earlier here.
    – Doc Brown
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 15:30
  • Section 2 is pretty explicit in forbidding "shipping" Ghostscript with non-AGPL software without additional license from Artifex. Requiring Ghostscript isn't, itself, a problem, but the means by which you coax the user into obtaining and installing GS might be if it's sufficiently automated as to constitute "shipping". Things are a little less cut-and-dried in the online package manager world than they were with physical discs. As long as it's a separate user decision and action, it should be within license. Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 18:06
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    @StanRogers: as you wrote - it should be - but I bet, if you ask five lawyers about this, you get six opinions ;-)
    – Doc Brown
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 18:14

It sounds to me like you are just choosing to 'integrate' your product with Ghostscript, giving people the choice to use it or not. It's up to them to legally obtain a copy of Ghostscript.

We do that with many products including a PDF printer similar to Ghostscript (the one we use has to be paid for if our customers want to use it). We tell our customers that we integrate with it and it's up to them to buy it. The company who sell it can't really complain, if anything we are promoting their product by encoraging our users to buy theirs as well. It's very similar with Ghostscript, all you are doing is integrating with it and promoting it, it's up to the customer to download it, and it's up to Ghostscript to decide if they are licensed to do that for free or to pay for it.

Many products integrate with many other products all the time and as long as they are not shipping those third-party products to their customers, they don't have to worry about licencing.

As a bigger example... the application I work on uses MSSQL for it's database. It's up to our customers to provide a copy of MSSQL to enable our application to work. We don't have to worry about the licensing of that even though our application is only designed to work with MSSQL and doesn't work without it.

The main thing is probably making sure it's clear to your customers, before they buy your product, which features rely on software you don't provide. Otherwise your customer could have a case against you if they think you supply everything they need.


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