When the South Korean developer of a suite of productivity apps called Hancom Office incorporated an open-source PDF interpreter called Ghostscript into its word-processing software, it was supposed to do one of two things.
To use Ghostscript for free, Hancom would have to adhere to its open-source license, the GNU General Public License (GPL). The GNU GPL requires that when you use GPL-licensed software to make some other software, the resulting software also has to be open-sourced with the same license if it’s released to the public. That means Hancom would have to open-source its entire suite of apps.
Alternatively, Hancom could pay a licensing fee to Artifex, the developer of Ghostscript. Artifex allows developers of commercial or otherwise closed-source software to forego the strict open-source terms of the GNU GPL if they’re willing to pay for it.
But after it began using Ghostscript in its software in 2013, Hancom did neither: it did not open-source its software, and it did not pay Artifex a licensing fee.
At the end of 2016, Artifex filed a lawsuit against Hancom in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
“Upon discovering Hancom’s abuse of the GNU GPL and infringement of Artifex’s valuable copyright in Ghostscript, Artifex demanded that Hancom cease its infringement and remit to Artifex a reasonable royalty for Hancom’s years of unlicensed use of Ghostscript,” the company said in its complaint. “Rebuffed by Hancom, Artifex turns to this Court to enjoin Hancom from further infringement and to seek relief and recovery for Hancom’s abuse of Artifex’s open source license.”
Artifex also said in its complaint that Hancom reported $86.3 million in revenue in 2015.
The enforceability of open source licenses like the GNU GPL has long been an open legal question. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held in a 2006 case, Jacobsen v. Katzer, that violations of open source licenses could be treated like copyright claims. But whether they could legally considered breaches of contract had yet to be determined, until the issue came up in Artifex v. Hancom.
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That happened when Hancom issued a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the company didn’t sign anything, so the license wasn’t a real contract.
“Not so,” said Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in her order on the motion on April 25. Corley said the GNU GPL “provides that the Ghostscript user agrees to its terms if the user does not obtain a commercial license. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant used Ghostscript, did not obtain a commercial license, and represented publicly that its use of Ghostscript was licensed under the [GNU GPL]. These allegations sufficiently plead the existence of a contract.”
Corley denied the motion, and in doing so, set the precedent that licenses like the GNU GPL can be treated like legal contracts, and developers can legitimately sue when those contracts are breached. It’s an important win for the open-source community. Of course, whether Artifex will actually win the case it’s now allowed to pursue is another question altogether.
I was working on a project. In which a user can upload PDF and convert it into images and So that i have used GhostScript dll (gsdll32.dll). Now in my application i want to charge from users as monthly subscription so that i can provide them more features.
But i neither have any knowledge about the licencing terms nor about ghostscript tearms & conditions.So do i need to purchase any licence regarding Or is there any other free C# library, that can be used for pdf processing, which i can use in a commercial applicatoni without acquiring any licence ?
Well i am preferring any free c# library for regarding (Premium Saas or direct application selling).
Thank youIf anyone having real time experience regarding above, Please help me out.
closed as off-topic by shree.pat18, bummi, Kevin Brown, matthias_h, C4 - TravisJan 31 '15 at 5:15
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I am not a lawyer. You should get one, if you are concerned about possible legal issues.
Does Commercial use of GhostScript as Saas needs a licence?
Well, first of all, you need a license to use any software (except one, which is public domain) in any way.
As for Ghostscript at the moment Artifex offers it under: a) GNU Affero GPL, which is license for free/libre software; b) non-free/proprietary license, which Artifex calls a ‘commercial license’. But it’s called ‘commercial’ because, I guess, Atrifex makes money on it, definitely not because that is only way for you to use Ghostscript for profit.
Any free software license, including GNU AGPL, by definition gives you, once you obtain a copy of software, right to use it for commercial purposes, including selling it; but you, of course, have to strictly follow the terms of that license. The key point of GNU AGPL is that it is a strong copyleft license. That means, that you have to make your entire software product, which is based on Ghostscript, subject of GNU AGPL, which in turn put you under obligation to provide to your customers (including customers of SaaS) correspondent sources for your product and to grant them permissions to (0) use it in any purpose, (1) redistribute it, (2) modify it and (3) distribute modifications; all of that in accordance with GNU AGPL.
So no, you have not obtain ‘commercial license’ from Artifex to use Ghostscript in your app. But if are not going to provide these four freedoms to your users, then yes, you’d better contact Artifex and ask them a price.
By the way, Artifex is not pioneer of that practice of copyleft/proprietary bi-licensing, it is well-known for years.
As for why I said ‘at the moment’. Not so long ago, prior to version 9.06 (inclusive), free/libre license of Ghostscript was not GNU Affero GPL, but ordinary GNU GPL (see license files
doc/COPYING in source archives as a proof), which is a bit more permissive – it does not oblige you to grant any permissions to users that interact with your software via client-server protocol over a network but does not possess a copy (that’s what you mean by ’SaaS’, I guess). Users who bought a copy still have to obtain it under GNU GPL.
Version 9.06 is definitely not too old – is supplied now in testing version of Debian. You might consider using it.