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I work for a large organization with multiple international companies part of a larger parent company. At this moment I am working on a software application for Android. This application is being developed for use within the organization.

Note that my software is not officially released and any distribution of the software is for either testing or development.

My question is the following: Does my software have to be compliant with the licenses of the libraries I use before distributing my software from say the Dutch branch of the company to the Chinese branch, which are other legal entities?

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Of course you have to follow the license. You seem to have a license that doesn't allow distribution and want to know if giving copies to the Dutch or Chinese branch of your company is distribution.

First, you should not make that decision. Your company's lawyers should do that. Second, such distribution is with some licenses perfectly legal if you distribute the software with source code. That's a business decision which you or your manager or his/her manager... can make.

Such questions (whether giving a copy to your Dutch branch is distribution) often don't have an answer that is yes or no but maybe - if you went to court, would a judge say that it is distribution? The answer is quite clearly "maybe". So unless you can find a safe way, there is a risk. Again, your lawyers will assess the risk.

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All use of intellectual property (IP) that you do not own must comply with the license terms of the IP. Most open-source software is released/shared under licensing terms. Typically they are not onerous, but legally they must still be respected.

Some licenses distinguish between commercial vs. non-commercial, profit vs. non-profit, or personal vs. business use. The use case you describe sounds like "business" use, and unless your organization is a non-profit presumably it sounds like "non-commercial, for-profit, business use." But a large organization should have general counsel that could confirm whether your use is compliant with the license terms of all the IP you use.

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    Note that for a license to be accepted as officially free/open source (as opposed to just source visible or the like), the license cannot distinguish between commercial/non-commercial etc. – curiousdannii Oct 18 '15 at 2:53
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If the software is only for use by those within the company, then there should be no barriers to fully complying with the licenses. Even the GPL, the most extreme license, does not require you to publish your source code for the whole world to access, but only to distribute it to those who get a compiled version.

Where it will make a difference whether it counts as distribution or not is if someone in another branch gives the software to someone outside the company. If the software is not considered distributed, then they have no right to do so, and could be prosecuted under trade secret laws. If it the software was however considered to have been distributed to them, then the GPL may give them the right to distribute it further.

  • Careful. What you think of as a company may really be multiple legal entities. – gnasher729 Mar 16 '16 at 20:46

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