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Note: There are many questions answers related to the licensing. But I think my requirement is specific, so asking a separate question.

We are considering to fork a GPL 2 project and use it for commercial purposes. This project has not been updated in past 2 years, but it's a great solution for our requirement. Ofcourse we will be enhancing it in future, but for now we would like to use it as it is. We are not direclty selling the product, but we will offer it as a service(with monthly subscription). Can we do this?

What happens to the license and copyright? Since we are not distributing the product, the end users may not get to know these information.

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    When you say "offer it as a service" and "not distributing", are you saying your forked GPL'd code will run entirely on servers that you control, and all the client-side code you have to interact with those servers is totally unrelated to the GPL'd project? – Ixrec Apr 3 '16 at 23:19
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    Legal aspects apart, what do you think will morally justify to use and make money with the work somebody else has created and shared with the public without also sharing your improvements of it? – 5gon12eder Apr 4 '16 at 0:14
  • The length of time that a project has not been updated does not matter. When you say you will offer it as a service, what do you mean by that? – Robert Harvey Apr 4 '16 at 2:01
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    @Ixrec yes. The software will be running on our servers. we need to add enhancements to "client-interaction". It is not totally unrelated to the GPL'd project. – Raghavendra N Apr 4 '16 at 3:00
  • @5gon12eder as I said the last update to the code is made 2 years ago and the project is not active. we cannot continue to use this for long term without further enhancements. We thought we can fund our enhancement work by having a small client base with the current version. – Raghavendra N Apr 4 '16 at 3:05
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Yes, GPLv2 code can be used in the manner you describe. That in fact is one of the motivations for the AGPL and GPLv3. The modified code must, of course, never be given to anyone outside the organization or the obligation to make the source code available will be incurred.

There will probably be a negative reaction from the open-source community, as this use is considered technically legal but just not cricket (it's viewed at best as profiting from someone else's work without compensating them for it in any form such as by contributing new work back for others to benefit from). Possibilities for avoiding this include contributing the changes back (if they aren't a core part of the business) or contacting the project to see if the copyright holders would license the project's code for internal use in return for financial or other support (even if this project isn't under active development, hardware and other resources may be needed for other projects the copyright holders are working on).

The client side needs to be examined also. If there are any modifications made to the client code, the source code for them will need to be made available since the client will be distributed to customers. If there isn't a client (eg. a web application) or if an unmodified client is used, there won't be a legal issue.

  • "There will probably be a negative reaction from the open-source community ..." - stand by to be surprised :-) – Stephen C Apr 4 '16 at 7:28
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    But GPLv3 would allow you to use the code in the same way. The changes in GPLv3 are about other things: ifross.org/en/what-difference-between-gplv2-and-gplv3 – Stephen C Apr 4 '16 at 7:43
  • Yes, it would. Both stemmed from the same source, people finding loopholes to make products based on GPL'd software available to users without making the source code (or at least usable source code) available and without quite violating the license. They just approach it in different ways to fit different situations. – Todd Knarr Apr 4 '16 at 10:00
  • I'm confused. In your answer (sentence 2) you seem to be saying that one of the motivations of GPLv3 is to prevent its use in commercial services ("the manner you describe"). If so ... how does it do that? – Stephen C Apr 4 '16 at 14:00
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Read the GPL 2 license carefully, and be prepared to share the code along with all your changes with others.

If you hand over the software to anybody outside your company without giving them the source code, then you have the obligation to provide the source code to anybody in the world who asks you for it.

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Since you are not distributing the software to anyone outside your organization, there is no requirement to make the source code for your changes available. The applies for GPLv1, GPLv2 and GPLv3.

Also, the GPL places no restrictions on the purpose you use the software for. You can use it for commercial purposes ... provided that the way you use it does not conflict with the specific requirements for making source code available.


Now Affero Public License does require you to make your changes available if you use the product in a publicly available service. However Affero is NOT GPL.

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