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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Using a Little Open Source

I want to make a little hobby project.  Maybe I will make it available for sale  on Google Play and Apple App Store.

The project will use:

 an open sourced framework with MIT License.  The framework has a bunch of dependencies, and I plan to use it with all of those dependencies.  The dependencies are under a whole potpouri of different types of open source licenses  there is more info on this page. 

 image content that is licensed under GNUGPL or GFDL, I couldn't figure out what was what more info on the link below

And a commercial privately licensed Python Library which is not open source at all.  Also some commercial art assets that I have bought from online asset marketplaces.  The code I would write would be mostly modifications of the commercial library.  And animations of commercial and open source art assets.

What are my responsibilities if I do this?  I can't open source the commercial portion or my modifications to it.  So what do I need to do if I want to use this open source stuff mixed with commercial stuff and stay compliant with the licensing?
C. Stark Send private email
Monday, March 14, 2016
You're asking for contract review involving multiple contracts regarding international intellectual property law.

I have a law firm that answers these sorts of questions for me. Depending on the seniority of the partner that prepares an opinion level, the hourly rate runs from $400/hr for a new junior guy to $2500/hr for one of the senior partners.

I recommend you find such a qualified firm and then you can get the proper advice. Be aware that qualified firms don't take walk ins, you'll need a recommendation from a reputable lawyer you know who can vouch for you to them and them to you.

Good luck.
Scott Send private email
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Thanks.  I work with one of those thousand man law firms in NYC and they are bloody expensive.  I was hoping there was a simple answer that wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg to obtain.
C. Stark Send private email
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
it would be cheaper for me to commission an artist to do the work for me than to get the answer from my lawyers.
C. Stark Send private email
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Well, IANAL and all that, but...

First, for the proprietary Python, you mention "The code I would write would be mostly modifications of the commercial library." So the first simple question is: did you buy the license to this commercial software, and does that license say you are free to make and distribute modifications to the library as included within your software?

That, to me, would be the first key hurdle. The info for that should be in the commercial license for it.

The next hurdle would be the issue of combining open-source code with this proprietary code. If everything were LGPL, I think you can do that. MIT possibly, too. But it mentions that at least two elements are GPL: the Wesnoth image content, and jEdit. It's not clear to me if you have to include jEdit or not, from a technical standpoint (that is, can you rebuild RenPy without it and still get the same functionality out of it?). I'd guess no.

So let's say for a worst case you have two GPL bits then. The deal is you apparently cannot combine GPL with proprietary in one piece of software. GPL is "viral" and turns everything it touches into GPL (or is supposed to). So you couldn't make one program and distribute that as one big bundled-up product.

BUT, if you could somehow separate the proprietary part and the GPL'd part--such as providing them as separate downloads with instructions to run them together but being verbally explicit that they use each other but are NOT part of each other--you could do it according to the GPL:

"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.

LINK: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#GPLInProprietarySystem

So, if you can get past the first hurdle, it seems like there is a mechanism whereby you can get all users need to use your idea into their hands, if you, in the words of The Offspring, "Keep 'em separated."
Racky Send private email
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Thank you Racky for your insightful answer. 

For jEdit.  I can omit it  and build without it.  No problem there.

So that leaves the only GPL art content from Wesnoth which was my main concern anyway.    From what I am reading, GPL is the license that really complicates things.

So here is what I think I understand:

I can use the content with my program, and keep my program proprietary, if the GPL portion is a completely separate download.  I don't like this method, it will be a mess, it is hard enough to get users to properly download and install 1 program. 

Concerning mixing any proprietary licensed content with GPL they are incompatible licenses.  I might be able to still do the project but even if I made it free,  I need to go back to the 2 separate downloads to make it happen.  Not a good solution.

If I omit using any purchased commercial proprietary content,  I can use GPL content, and mix it with other compatible licenses (LGPL, MIT), and my code.  Then I can release the whole thing under some modified version of GPLv3.  I can even sell it, but I will lose all protection on my code. 

My conclusion:  GPL is OK for hobby stuff if it is going to be used only with other compatible licenses.  GPL should be avoided like the plague in commercial projects
C. Stark Send private email
Thursday, March 17, 2016
C. Stark, that seems correct to me, to the extent I understand this.

Where are the GPL (GFDL?) images gotten from? I ask because--I'm not at all sure--but it might be possible to write the program such that it gives the user an option to download images from the web, of any sort, and then "suggests" the Wesnoth images as an option. This is making the argument that your program is not inherently intertwined with the GPL'd images, it is just making use of them. You wouldn't have to include two downloads when they want your application, but you would have to have the user take the action to download those images during gameplay or whatever (though you could wrap it in the program, sort of like how Firefox gets add-ons).

I'm not sure this would work or not, legally. Here is some discussion of using GPL'd images in commercial work:

It is a huge pain. You're right: GPL and commercial really are matter/antimatter, unless you come up with a creative way to monetize. Canonical (Ubuntu) does, as does Hwaci, the husband-and-wife business behind SQLite, but they get money from either support or corporate's-gotta-have-it-anyway licensing, or encryption tool licensing.
Racky Send private email
Friday, March 18, 2016
Release all your source code and then you can use GPL.

This stuff drives me crazy all the people for the last 20 years "I want to use GPL but not release source code and I also am too much of a cheap ass to hire a lawyer because I already know I'll have to pay him a bunch of money and he'll tell me the GPL doesn't allow that, so instead I want to waste the time of random people on the internet who are not lawyers to tell me it is OK to use GPL and not release source code, and then I am imagining that I will be able to use it as a defense in court that I asked anonymous non-lawyers on the internet for their opinion over and over until I got the answer I wanted."
Scott Send private email
Friday, March 18, 2016
You can't use any GPL components if your app is commercial, unless you also release the source of your commercial app.  That's all it literally comes down to.  No lawyer needed.
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, March 18, 2016
GPL has been specifically designed by a team of lawyers to prevent people from using GPL to create things for use by others and then not release all the source code that touches it. Yet always this same question about using GPL without releasing the source code using some theory or some way of dividing things. If it's so obvious and clear how to do this, then go for it. If not, then hire a smarter team of lawyers than the ones that wrote the GPL and try to find a loophole that will stand in court. Or just violate the license and hope for the best, maybe it will work out for you, but if you're going to sell things out of license (piracy) why not just sell mp3 downloads of the Beatles or something that would make more money.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Yes Scott.  I am cheap.  I can't deny that.  I even take pride in how cheap I am. 

And I agree with you that nobody should use forum advice as a legal defense.  Don't worry I am not going steal GPL content and then say some guy on a forum said it was OK.

But My question went beyond keeping my source closed.  It included uncertainties about using GPL and mixing it with a commercial component I bought elsewhere. 

And the people on this forum were helpful in having me come to the right conclusion without the need of a lawyer.  Thank you Racky and everyone else who contributed.

The conclusion I have come to is that if you use GPL and then buy an art or script or library somewhere else.  You have just mixed 2 incompatible licenses.  And whether or not you want to release your source code, you cannot release the other guys intellectual property.  So you cannot release that project at all whether you open source your portion or not.

(Unless of course you make 2 separate projects and 2 separate downloads and no automatic way that combines them and leave it up to the user to put it all together.  Which is not really a route that I think is a good idea.)

This thread helped clarify what I can and cannot do.
Thank you again
C. Stark Send private email
Thursday, March 24, 2016

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