Conditions on distributing Ghostscript in a commercial context

Table of contents

This document sets forth the conditions under which Ghostscript may be distributed in a commercial context: under a written license from Artifex Software Inc., the copyright holder's exclusive commercial licensing partner, or under certain other very limited conditions.

For other information, see the Ghostscript overview.

Use of the public-access "free" version of Ghostscript

Ghostscript is a copyrighted work whose copyright is owned by artofcode LLC. Some versions of Ghostscript are distributed freely under the name AFPL Ghostscript or (for older versions) Aladdin Ghostscript; these versions are always distributed with a license, called the Aladdin Free Public License (also known as the AFPL), which permits AFPL Ghostscript to be redistributed freely under certain conditions. These conditions will almost always be met easily by individuals in their personal use of AFPL Ghostscript. AFPL Ghostscript may be used freely, including by commercial entities for evaluation or unsupported internal use. However, distribution for commercial purposes of Ghostscript, or anything containing or derived from Ghostscript in whole or in part, generally requires a written commercial license from Artifex Software Inc., the sole entity authorized by the copyright holder to grant such licenses. More specifically, the AFPL states:

Distribution of the Program or any work based on the Program by a commercial organization to any third party is prohibited if any payment is made in connection with such distribution, whether directly (as in payment for a copy of the Program) or indirectly (as in payment for some service related to the Program, or payment for some product or service that includes a copy of the Program "without charge"; these are only examples, and not an exhaustive enumeration of prohibited activities). However, the following methods of distribution involving payment shall not in and of themselves be a violation of this restriction:
Posting the Program on a public access information storage and retrieval service for which a fee is received for retrieving information (such as an on-line service), provided that the fee is not content-dependent (i.e., the fee would be the same for retrieving the same volume of information consisting of random data).
Distributing the Program on a CD-ROM, provided that the files containing the Program are reproduced entirely and verbatim on such CD-ROM, and provided further that all information on such CD-ROM be redistributable for non-commercial purposes without charge.

The intent of the exception provided in clause (i) is to allow commercial organizations operating an FTP server or a bulletin board to distribute AFPL Ghostscript freely from it, provided that:

the organization complies with the other provisions of the AFPL, which include among other things a requirement to distribute the full source code of AFPL Ghostscript and of any derived work, and to distribute the AFPL itself along with AFPL Ghostscript;
the only charge for downloading AFPL Ghostscript is a charge based on the distribution service and not one based on the content of the information being retrieved (i.e., the charge would be the same for retrieving a random collection of bits of the same size);
the server or BBS is accessible to the general public, i.e., the phone number or IP address is not kept secret, and anyone may obtain access to the information (possibly by paying a subscription or access fee that is not dependent on or related to purchasing anything else).

Similarly, the exception in clause (ii) is intended to allow inclusion of AFPL Ghostscript on "freeware" CD-ROMs that contain only material that is in the public domain, or is freely redistributable provided only that a copyright notice is retained (such as the Independent JPEG Group libraries), or is distributed under some other kind of license allowing free redistribution such as the GNU General Public License.

If you want to distribute software in a commercial context that incorporates Ghostscript and you do not want to meet these conditions, you should contact Artifex Software to find out about commercial licensing. Commercial licenses involve a (negotiated) payment, and include support and other benefits. These are the only ways you legally can distribute Ghostscript or anything containing Ghostscript: either by distributing AFPL Ghostscript under the requirements of the AFPL, or by getting a commercial license from Artifex Software.

For commercial licensing, please contact:

Licensing Information
Artifex Software Inc.
454 Las Gallinas Ave., suite 108
San Rafael, CA 94903 U.S.A.
+1-415-492-9861 telephone
+1-415-492-9862 fax

If you have questions about the information in this document, please contact:

artofcode LLC
940 Tyler St. Studio 6
Benicia CA 94510 U.S.A.
+1-707-746-6398 fax

GNU Ghostscript (GPL)

Older versions of Ghostscript are distributed with a license called the GNU General Public License (also known as the "GNU License", the "GPL", or "copyleft"), which allowed distribution with commercial products under certain conditions. Each branch of AFPL Ghostscript is generally released under the GPL one year after the first public release or when the next major version of AFPL Ghostscript becomes available. These versions will be identified as "GNU Ghostscript." The remainder of this section applies only to versions identified explicitly as GNU Ghostscript versions; the generic name Ghostscript may apply to any of the GPL, AFPL and commercially licensed versions.

The full GPL is included under the name COPYING in the GNU Ghostscript fileset, and can also be obtained directly from the Free Software Foundation:

Free Software Foundation, Inc. (FSF)
59 Temple Place, Suite 330
Boston, MA 02111-1307 U.S.A.
+1-617-542-5942 telephone
+1-617-542-2652 fax (including Japan):

or in Japan by free dial fax:

0031-13-2473 (KDD)
0066-3382-0158 (IDC)

The GPL gotten directly from the FSF or the contents of the COPYING file are authoritative, but for those unfamiliar with the GPL, we now summarize its provisions.

Anyone may copy and distribute GNU Ghostscript (both source and object code), but they must distribute the source code as well as the object code (or, if they distribute only the object code, they must include an offer in writing to provide the source code at no more than reproduction cost), keep all copyright and other notices, and include the GPL with the copies. (Note that this allows anyone receiving such a copy to distribute it freely as well.)
Anyone may modify GNU Ghostscript, but the provisions of (1) apply to modified or derived works as well.
GNU Ghostscript may be "aggregated" with another program; in this case, (1) and (2) do not apply to the other program, but only to GNU Ghostscript.

Provision (1) makes it much harder to have a commercial business based only on selling copies of GNU Ghostscript (as distributed with the GPL) or products that contain GNU Ghostscript, since any customer is free to make as many copies as they want for any purpose. Provision (2) effectively prevents the development of proprietary commercial products that incorporate GNU Ghostscript without a commercial license as a part, since these are "derived works" in the legal sense.

Questions have arisen at times in particular cases regarding provision (3) as to whether GNU Ghostscript is "aggregated" with other parts of a commercial product, or whether the product has become a "derived work." Normally, combining GNU Ghostscript with another piece of software creates a "derived work"; we consider GNU Ghostscript to be "aggregated" with another piece of software, which we will refer to as "the application", only if all of the following conditions are met:

Regarding this last point, the GPL clearly intends that if the distributor only offers to provide the GNU Ghostscript source code (as opposed to actually distributing the source code with every copy of the application), then they must deliver the source code in a timely way to anyone requesting it.

The GPL makes it clear that if someone receives GNU Ghostscript only in its GPL-licensed form, they only have a right to distribute it if they comply with the GPL. artofcode LLC, as the copyright holder, takes this requirement very seriously, and will, if necessary, take legal action to ensure that anyone distributing GNU Ghostscript with the GPL complies with the conditions set forth above.

Copyright © 1996-2002 artofcode LLC. All rights reserved.

This software is provided AS-IS with no warranty, either express or implied. This software is distributed under license and may not be copied, modified or distributed except as expressly authorized under the terms of the license contained in the file LICENSE in this distribution. For more information about licensing, please refer to For information on commercial licensing, go to or contact Artifex Software, Inc., 101 Lucas Valley Road #110, San Rafael, CA 94903, U.S.A., +1(415)492-9861.

Ghostscript version 7.05, 22 April 2002