[License-discuss] Is Web application including GPL libraries covered under GPL?

Chris Travers chris at metatrontech.com
Thu May 16 04:17:23 UTC 2013

Wrapped up in this discussion are basically two questions:

1.  Am I legally required to distribute the source of my application in
these cases?  This is a complex, fact-bound question and there is no
substitute for asking a lawyer what is required and what the potential
legal consequences enforced by judge and jury, are likely to be.  However
in addition to a lawyer, I think you should also ask the licensors of the
Java library what they expect, not because this carries significant legal
weight but because it affects the other questions below and it also
addresses the possibility of legal action regardless of how it turns out.

2.  Should I distribute the source if I distribute my application?  What
happens if I don't?  In general, I think you should distribute the source
if using GPL'd libraries one is linking to.  In addition to the possibility
of lawsuits regardless of their merits, you also have the possibility of
bad press and hostility from many would-be users of your application.
Regardless of the legal requirements, there is a general norm of releasing
source.  The GPL as a social contract expects this.  You will get good
things by releasing source and bad things by not.  The social contract
aspects are often at least as important as the legal aspects.

As for displaying text from libraries, I am pretty sure it depends on the
text, the expressiveness vs functional aspects, and the like.  I would not
think that error messages would be a problem.  an original poetry
collection certainly would be.  Again it's fact bound.  Talk with a lawyer.

Best Wishes,]Chris Travers
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