I plan to make a simple website with HTML, CSS, PHP and MarìaDB; however, when I read the MariaDB license (GPL V2) I noticed that it is incompatible with the PHP license (this can be seen in the GNU FAQ section).

I have some questions:

If the existence of such license incompatibility means that, for example, when using PHP code to make queries and insertions in MarìaDB, would you be incurring the license incompatibility?

If I were incurring license incompatibility, is there any way I can use PHP and MariaDB without incurring such incompatibility?


1 Answer 1


You are concerned that your application is somehow a derivative work of MariaDB and therefore subject to the GPL. It's not totally clear to me whether that is the case or not.

But it doesn't matter, because you are not distributing MariaDB itself (or any other part of your application). You're running it on a server which users are connecting to remotely. From MariaDB's licensing FAQ:

Internal usage is free

The GPL license only affects code that you distribute to other parties.

Internal usage within an organization is totally free and not subject to any conditions. There is no such thing as 'internal distribution' that would restrict the usage of your code by requiring it to be GPLed.

Connecting to a remote service that runs MariaDB (or any other GPL software) in the background is also free.

For internal programs for which you own all the copyright(s), there is essentially no risk in using GPL software. The argument you can use in your defense is that if the software became GPL as part of the distribution, you as the copyright holder could immediately revert your part back to its original copyright. No one has the right to require you to reveal or redistribute your code to the outside of your organization even if you would have distributed it internally linked with GPL software!

If your lawyers are concerned about distributions of software linked with GPL libraries between different legal entities within your organization, you can solve this by distributing your components and the GPL software separately, and have your other entity combining them. You can also switch to use the new LGPL client libraries.

The use you have described in your question clearly falls into this case, and the presence of this FAQ item clearly demonstrates that the MariaDB developers intended to allow you to do this. The Free Software Foundation (the people who wrote the GPL) agree with this position for both unmodified copies and derivative works.

Technically, you don't need a license to "use" a piece of software at all, assuming you have lawfully obtained it. But you're concerned about the possibility of creating a derivative work, for which a license is required. Fortunately, the GPL doesn't care about derivative works so long as they are not distributed.

  • This is true of all copyright licenses in the United States. Use is not one of the restricted rights (per 17 USC 106) so it is unrestricted. Copyright licenses just grant you extra privileges subject to conditions -- they don't add conditions to privileges you had. Because 17 USC 106(1) says you can't make copies of MariaDB, you need to comply with the terms of the GPL to get a license to do so. But 17 USC 106 puts no restrictions on your ability to use MariaDB. So you don't need any license to do so, so needn't comply with one's terms. Jan 3, 2021 at 5:14
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    @DavidSchwartz: I have edited the answer to clarify that OP needs a license to make copies of MariaDB (which they very likely want to do), and that the GPL specifically allows such copies to be made (which is why OP's use case is OK).
    – Kevin
    Jan 3, 2021 at 6:46
  • No court has agreed with that position. While it may have some technical merit, it makes zero practical sense. After all, you could download as many copies of MariaDB as you wanted and each copy would come with the rights granted under 17 USC 109 (which permits you to dispose of that copy however you please, including by internal distribution). Thus no court has ever held (nor would it make any sense to hold) that such internal transfers violate anyone's copyright. Distribution to the public, of course, is different because it's specifically reserved by 17 USC 106(3). Jan 3, 2021 at 7:06
  • @DavidSchwartz: As the first sentence of my answer acknowledges, there is also the possibility that OP is creating a derivative work, which is a separate reserved right. Regardless, per-seat licensing is very much a thing in the world of proprietary software.
    – Kevin
    Jan 3, 2021 at 9:01
  • Furthermore, 17 USC 117 (a)(1) is a lot narrower than what you describe, and I am aware of no other authority which could be read as permitting broad, unrestricted internal copying of software in particular. Please cite one.
    – Kevin
    Jan 3, 2021 at 9:16

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