can GPL license be used commercially?

can GPL license be used commercially

can GPL license be used commercially?

The GPL (General Public License) is a widely used open-source license that grants certain freedoms to users and developers. However, there is often confusion surrounding whether the GPL can be used for commercial purposes. Can you sell software that is licensed under the GPL? Can you build a business around GPL-licensed code? In this article, we will explore the implications of using the GPL license for commercial purposes and provide clarity on this often misunderstood topic.

The GPL is a popular choice for open-source software developers because of its unique conditions. When you license your software using the GPL, you grant the users of that software certain freedoms. These include the ability to redistribute copies, modify and improve upon the code, and use it commercially without restriction. However, this raises an important question: can businesses make money off of GPL-licensed software?

The answer is yes. Businesses are encouraged to use GPL-licensed software for commercial purposes. The GPL explicitly states that anyone who receives a copy of the software is free to use, modify, and redistribute it, including for commercial gain. However, this does not mean that businesses can simply take GPL-licensed code and sell it as their own without following certain guidelines.

Overview of GPL Licensing

The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a copyleft license that ensures freedom for users to use, study, modify, and distribute software. It is one of the most commonly used free software licenses and has been widely adopted across the software development community.

The GPL places certain obligations on users, including the requirement to distribute the complete source code of any modified versions of the software and to grant the same rights to downstream users. While the GPL allows for the commercial use of GPL-licensed software, it requires that any derivative works or modifications are also offered under the GPL, ensuring that the freedom and openness of the software are preserved.

This license has been pivotal in fostering collaboration and innovation in the world of open-source software. However, it is important for individuals and organizations to understand the rights and responsibilities that come with GPL licensing to avoid any legal issues.

Definition of Commercial Use

Commercial use refers to the utilization of open source software (OSS) for profit-making activities or in any business or commercial setting. Unlike proprietary software developed by companies under strict copyright restrictions, open source software allows businesses to freely use, modify, and distribute the software without licenses or monetary compensation, subject to certain conditions.

The definition of commercial use may vary depending on the specific open source license in question. Generally, commercial use encompasses using OSS to develop, enhance, or support products or services intended for financial gain. This includes incorporating open source software into commercial software solutions, using it to provide services or products to customers, or leveraging it as part of a business operation.

From a legal perspective, businesses must be aware of the license compliance requirements associated with each open source license they use. Failure to comply with the specific terms, such as providing access to the source code and distributing the software under the same open-source license, may result in copyright infringement and legal disputes.

Additionally, using open-source software for commercial purposes raises intellectual property concerns. Companies need to ensure that they have the necessary rights to use and modify the software, avoiding any infringement on intellectual property rights of the original code or any third-party contributions. Furthermore, businesses must be knowledgeable about potential liability issues that may arise from using open source software.

can GPL license be used commercially

Advantages of Using GPL Licensing for Commercial Purposes

Open-source software licenses such as the GNU General Public License (GPL) offer several advantages for businesses utilizing them in commercial settings. GPL licensing allows companies to freely use, distribute, and modify the software without the need for costly licenses, providing a cost-effective solution for commercial software development.

By using GPL-licensed software, businesses can harness the collaborative power of the open-source community, benefiting from the continuous improvement and innovation driven by a global network of developers. Additionally, GPL licensing promotes transparency and ensures that any modifications or enhancements made to the software are shared back with the community, further contributing to the growth and advancement of open source software. This collaborative approach fosters a greater sense of trust and reliability in the software, making it an attractive option for commercial purposes.

Furthermore, the viral nature of the GPL license can provide a competitive edge for businesses by preventing competitors from incorporating their GPL-licensed code into proprietary software projects. Overall, the advantages of using GPL licensing for commercial purposes encompass cost-effectiveness, collaboration, transparency, community growth, and competitive protection.

Benefits to Software Development Companies

GPL (General Public License) is a copyleft license, which means it grants users the freedom to use, study, modify, and distribute the software. While there may be some additional restrictions, GPL licensing provides numerous benefits for software development companies that want to use it for commercial purposes.

One of the key advantages is increased agility. GPL licensing enables companies to iterate quickly and respond to market demands by leveraging the existing codebase. This saves valuable time and resources that would otherwise be spent reinventing the wheel. Additionally, the high-quality code available through GPL-licensed projects can significantly enhance the development process and result in robust and reliable software.

Another benefit is improved security. With GPL licensing, companies have access to a community of contributors who actively review and enhance the codebase, which leads to more secure software. Regular updates and collaboration ensure that vulnerabilities are swiftly addressed and patched, reducing the risk of exploitation.

Moreover, GPL licensing provides flexibility to software development companies. They can modify and customize the software to meet specific requirements without concerns about copyright infringement or legal issues. This flexibility empowers companies to adapt the software to their unique needs, giving them a competitive edge in commercial settings.

The success of commercial open source software projects like Red Hat, MongoDB, and WordPress further illustrates the advantages of GPL licensing for commercial purposes. These projects have thrived by leveraging the benefits of GPL licensing, attracting large user communities and generating revenue through various channels.

Open Source vs. Proprietary Software Solutions

Open source software and proprietary software solutions are two distinct approaches to software development, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

One key difference lies in the access to source code. Open source software allows users to access, view, and modify the underlying source code, promoting transparency and collaborative development. In contrast, proprietary software keeps the source code hidden from users, limiting customization and dependence on the software provider for updates and improvements.

Licensing restrictions are another crucial aspect. Open source software typically adopts licenses like the GPL, allowing users to freely use, modify, and distribute the software. This grants users a high degree of freedom, but it may also impose certain obligations, such as distributing modifications under the same open source license. On the other hand, proprietary software licenses are usually more restrictive, limiting how the software can be used, modified, and distributed.

These differences in source code access and licensing have implications for commercial use. Open source software offers development flexibility, allowing businesses to tailor the software to their specific needs and reduce development time and costs. It also fosters innovation through collaboration and knowledge sharing within the community.

However, proprietary software provides certain advantages as well. It often comes with comprehensive support, specialized features, and higher assurance of quality and security from the software provider. Additionally, proprietary software may better align with certain industry standards or regulations, making it more suitable for specific commercial use cases.

can GPL license be used commercially

Increased Flexibility and Accessibility

GPL licensing offers increased flexibility and accessibility for commercial purposes. When a software is released under the GPL license, it provides users with the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the software without any restrictions. This means that businesses can freely customize the software to suit their specific needs, allowing for greater flexibility in commercial settings.

The accessibility aspect of GPL licensing is equally important. With GPL, users have access to the complete source code of the software. This not only allows for transparency and auditability but also enables businesses to understand and modify the underlying code to meet their requirements. Additionally, the GPL license ensures that any modifications made to the software are also shared back with the community, contributing to the overall improvement of the software.

One key benefit of GPL licensing for commercial purposes is the ability to leverage open source projects. With GPL, businesses can build upon existing open source projects and incorporate them into their own software solutions. This can save significant time and development costs, as well as foster innovation through collaboration with the open source community.

Disadvantages of Using GPL Licensing for Commercial Purposes

While GPL licensing offers numerous benefits for businesses, there are some potential disadvantages to consider when using this license for commercial purposes. One major drawback is the copyleft nature of the GPL license, which requires any modifications or derivative works to also be released under the GPL license. This can restrict businesses from developing proprietary software, as they are obligated to share their code with the community.

Additionally, the viral nature of the GPL license means that if a business incorporates GPL-licensed code into their software, their entire software may have to be open-sourced as well. This can present challenges for businesses looking to protect intellectual property or maintain control over their software. Furthermore, the requirement to distribute the complete source code can lead to concerns about potential copyright infringement and legal issues. It is essential for businesses to fully understand and comply with the licensing requirements of the GPL license before using it for commercial purposes.

Legal Requirements & Copyright Infringement Issues

Using the GNU General Public License (GPL) for commercial purposes requires an understanding of the legal requirements and potential copyright infringement issues. The GPL is a copyleft license that ensures the source code of the software is freely available to its users, granting them the right to modify and distribute it.

Failure to comply with the GPL license terms can result in severe consequences, including copyright infringement. If GPL-licensed software is used in a commercial setting without adhering to the license requirements, the copyright holder has the right to issue a cease and desist order, forcing the infringing party to stop using the software. This can lead to legal battles, financial penalties, and potentially damage the reputation of the company.

Non-compliance with the GPL license terms can also have valuation implications for technology companies. If a company is found to be using GPL-licensed code improperly, it may impact the company’s perceived value, potential investment opportunities, and overall market position.

To reduce the risk of encountering these issues, it is crucial to carefully consider the applicable open source license and ensure that it aligns with the intended use of the software. Establishing an open source policy can provide guidance for employees and developers on the use of open source software within the company. Furthermore, implementing an open source compliance procedure can help identify and resolve any licensing issues before the software is distributed.

Difficulty in Modifying and/or Distributing Code Under a GPL License

Modifying and distributing code under a GPL license can present several challenges for individuals and organizations. The GPL license imposes certain obligations and requirements that must be adhered to, which can sometimes complicate the process.

One of the primary difficulties is related to modifying the code. The GPL license requires that any modifications made to the GPL-licensed code must also be licensed under the GPL. This means that if you make changes to the code, you are obligated to provide the modified source code to users when distributing the software. This can be time-consuming and may require a good understanding of the original code and how the modifications impact it.

Incorporating GPL-licensed code into proprietary programs can also pose challenges. The GPL license stipulates that if you combine GPL-licensed code with proprietary code, the entire program must be distributed under the GPL. This can be problematic for companies that want to keep their proprietary code closed-source, as it essentially requires them to make their entire program open source if they use GPL-licensed code.

When it comes to linking, both static and dynamic linking can have different implications for licensing. With static linking, where the GPL-licensed code is directly included in the executable file, the entire program is considered a derivative work and must be licensed under the GPL. On the other hand, dynamic linking, where the GPL-licensed code is loaded at runtime, may allow the proprietary program to remain separate and not subject to the GPL license.

Technical Limitations of the License Agreement

The GPL license, while popular in the open-source community, does come with certain technical limitations when it comes to commercial use. One key limitation is the requirement to distribute the complete source code. This means that if you use GPL-licensed software for commercial purposes, you are obligated to provide the source code to users along with the executable file. This can be challenging for companies that want to keep their proprietary code hidden.

Another limitation is the reselling or reusing of the code. The GPL license strictly prohibits any restrictions on the redistribution of the software. This means that once you distribute GPL-licensed code, others have the right to use, modify, and distribute it freely. It can be problematic for commercial settings where companies depend on selling their software.

Modifying and distributing GPL-licensed code also poses challenges. The GPL license requires that any modifications made to the code must also be licensed under the GPL. This means that if you modify GPL-licensed code, you are obliged to provide the modified source code to users when distributing the software. This can be time-consuming and may require a good understanding of the original code and its implications.

Understanding these technical limitations is crucial to avoid copyright infringement issues and legal requirements associated with GPL licensing. By acknowledging and adhering to the GPL license agreement’s terms and conditions, commercial software development can proceed with a clear understanding of the limitations it entails.

Restrictions on Reselling or Reusing Code Subject to GPL Licensing

When it comes to reselling or reusing code subject to GPL licensing, there are certain restrictions in place. The GPL license explicitly prohibits any limitations on the redistribution of the software. This means that once you distribute code under the GPL license, others are granted the right to freely use, modify, and distribute it.

For proprietary developers, breaching the GPL can have serious consequences. If they use GPL-licensed code in their proprietary software projects without complying with the license requirements, they risk copyright infringement and potential legal actions. This could result in facing significant fines and reputational damage.

To avoid such legal issues, it is crucial for proprietary developers to identify and understand the GPL licensing terms of the code they are using. This means carefully reviewing the license terms, ensuring compliance with the conditions, and understanding the implications for their proprietary software development.

In case of breach of the GPL, the copyright holders and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) may take legal action to enforce the license. Legal remedies for such breaches may include injunctions, damages, and attorneys’ fees. Therefore, it is vital for proprietary developers to respect and adhere to the GPL license requirements to avoid legal complications and protect their own interests.

Other Types of Open Source Licenses Suitable for Commercial Purposes

In addition to the GNU General Public License (GPL), there are other types of open-source licenses that can be used for commercial purposes. These licenses provide developers with varying degrees of freedom and flexibility to use, modify, and distribute the code, while still maintaining a level of control over its use.

Understanding these alternative licenses is important for commercial software development, as it allows developers to choose the one that best fits their needs and ensures compliance with legal requirements. In this article, we will explore some of the other open-source licenses suitable for commercial purposes and discuss their key features and implications.

1. Copyleft Licenses:

Copyleft licenses, such as the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and the Affero General Public License (AGPL), enforce the requirement that any modifications or derivative works of the code must also be released under the same license.

This ensures that the code remains open source and prevents its incorporation into proprietary software without making the source code available. While this may restrict some commercial use cases, it can also foster collaboration and the sharing of improvements among the developer community.

2. Permissive Licenses:

Permissive licenses, such as the MIT License and the Apache License, grant more freedom for commercial use and modification of the code. These licenses require that the copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty be included, but they do not impose strict requirements on the distribution of derivative works.

Permissive licenses are often favored by businesses and commercial developers who want to freely incorporate open-source code into their proprietary software without sharing their modifications.

3. Additional Restrictions:

Some open-source licenses, such as the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) and the Eclipse Public License (EPL), include additional restrictions beyond what is typically found in copyleft or permissive licenses. These restrictions may regulate how the code is used, require that certain conditions be met, or stipulate specific patent grant clauses.

These licenses provide a middle ground between copyleft and permissive licenses, allowing for more flexibility while still imposing certain obligations.

Apache License 2.0

The Apache License 2.0 is a permissive open source license that provides developers with considerable freedom to use, modify, and distribute the licensed software. It is compatible with the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3, allowing software components with different licenses to be distributed together under compatible licenses.

When different software components with different licenses are combined, the resulting work is licensed according to the terms of the component with the most restrictive license. This means that if a component is licensed under GPL v3, the resulting work must also be licensed under GPL v3. However, if all the components are licensed under the Apache License 2.0, the resulting work can be licensed under Apache License 2.0 as well.

It is important to note that while Apache License 2.0 is compatible with GPL v3, the reverse is not true. Incorporating GPL v3 code into a larger work and licensing it under the Apache License 2.0 is not permitted, as it would violate the copyleft requirements of the GPL v3.

BSD License (3-Clause)

The BSD License (3-Clause) is an open-source license that is commonly used in commercial software development. It allows developers to use, modify, and distribute the software for both non-commercial and commercial purposes.

The key features of the BSD License include its simplicity and permissiveness. It grants users the freedom to modify and redistribute the code without requiring them to release the source code of the modifications. This makes it particularly attractive for commercial settings where companies may want to protect their proprietary software.

However, despite its permissiveness, the BSD License does come with some limitations and restrictions. One limitation is that it includes a copyright notice requirement, which means that any redistribution of the software must include a disclaimer and copyright notice. Additionally, the BSD License disclaims any warranty, meaning that developers and users must use the software at their own risk and cannot hold the original authors liable for any damages or issues that may arise.

Overall, the BSD License (3-Clause) offers a balanced approach for both open-source enthusiasts and commercial software developers, allowing for flexibility in usage while also providing some legal protection and limitations.

MIT License

The MIT License is one of the most popular open-source licenses used in the software industry. It is known for its simplicity and flexibility, making it a preferred choice for developers and companies in the open-source community.

The main advantage of the MIT License is its permissive nature, allowing users to freely use, modify, and distribute the software without imposing significant restrictions. This makes it ideal for both commercial and non-commercial projects, as it provides the freedom to incorporate the software into proprietary products without requiring the disclosure of the source code.

In the context of Blender, a popular 3D computer graphics software, the MIT License is often used in conjunction with the GNU GPL Version 2 or later. This combination ensures that different components of Blender, such as the Libmv module, can be licensed under different terms while still maintaining compatibility.

The Libmv module, which is responsible for motion estimation and 3D reconstruction, is released under the MIT License. This allows users to freely modify and distribute the module without any strict obligations. However, when Libmv is integrated into the larger Blender software, which is licensed under the GNU GPL Version 2 or later, the resulting combination must also comply with the terms of the GNU GPL.


In conclusion, there are a variety of open-source licenses available that can be used in commercial software development. The most popular licenses include the GPL v3, Apache License 2.0, BSD License (3-Clause), and MIT License. Depending on the needs of the project, developers may choose to use a single license or combine different licenses to achieve the desired results. Ultimately, the key is to find a license that offers the right balance of protection and flexibility for a particular project.