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.

The use of the public-access "free" versions of Ghostscript

The GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL)

Ghostscript is a copyrighted work whose copyright is owned by Artifex Software, Inc. Some versions of Ghostscript are distributed freely under the name GPL Ghostscript or (for older versions) GNU Ghostscript; these versions are distributed with a license called the GNU Affero General Public License (also known as the "AGPL", or "copyleft"), which allows gratis and commercial distribution under certain conditions, most particularly, source complete source disclosure.

Versions of Ghostscript between version 4.03 and 8.54 were also distributed under a more restrictive license disallowing commercial redistribution entirely. These versions were labelled "AFPL Ghostsript" or just "Ghostscript", and were governed by the Aladdin Free Public License.

The full AGPL is included under the name COPYING in the GPL 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):

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

1. Anyone may copy and distribute GPL 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 AGPL with the copies. (Note that this allows anyone receiving such a copy to distribute it freely as well.)

2. Anyone may modify GPL Ghostscript, but the provisions of (1) apply to modified or derived works as well.

Provision (2) effectively prevents the development of proprietary commercial products that incorporate GPL Ghostscript without a commercial license as a part, since these are "derived works" in the legal sense.


If your application, including all of its source code, is licensed to the public under the GNU AGPL, you are authorized to ship GPL Ghostscript with your application under the terms of those license agreements. You do not need a commercial license from Artifex. The terms of the GNU AGPL include the requirement that your application be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties. Moreover, the entire application must be licensed to the public under the GNU AGPL or AFPL respectively.


If your application (including its source code) is not licensed to the public under the GNU AGPL, you are not authorized to ship GPL Ghostscript with your application under the terms of the GNU AGPL if any one of the following is true:

  • your application contains a copy of some or all of GPL Ghostscript;
  • your application is derived from, is based on, or constitutes a revision of some or all of AGPL or Ghostscript;
  • your application includes one or more functions that use some or all of AGPL or Ghostscript.

These criteria apply to your application as a whole. Even if only one section of your application satisfies one of these criteria, you are not authorized to ship GPL Ghostscript with your application unless your application, including all of its source code, is licensed to the public under the GNU AGPL.

If your application (including its source code) is NOT licensed to the public under the GNU AGPL and you intend to distribute Ghostscript (either internally or externally) for use with and usable by your application, you MUST first obtain a commercial license from Artifex.

Examples of Distribution

Some examples of distribution requiring a commercial license include:

1. Distributing Ghostscript (or any component thereof) within your non-GNU AGPL application.

2. Distributing Ghostscript on the same media with your non-GNU AGPL application for use with and by your application.

3. Distributing Ghostscript embedded within hardware.

Questions have arisen at times in particular cases regarding provision (3) as to whether GPL Ghostscript is "aggregated" with other parts of a commercial product, or whether the product has become a "derived work." Normally, combining GPL Ghostscript with another piece of software creates a "derived work"; we consider GPL 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:

  • The code and documentation for GPL Ghostscript are physically separated from the code and documentation for the application. For electronic form, it is both necessary and sufficient to put the GNU Ghostscript code and documentation in their own directory tree(s).
  • GPL Ghostscript, as delivered with the application, is usable independently of the application. More precisely, if a user deletes from the computer system all files delivered with the application except those in the GPL Ghostscript directories, the user will still be able to use GPL Ghostscript as described in GPL Ghostscript's documentation. Among other things, this requires that GPL Ghostscript not call any routines in the application, and not require any data or other files supplied as part of the application.
  • The application calls GPL Ghostscript in a way that allows an ordinary user to substitute another program for GPL Ghostscript. (Typically this requires use of a shell script or batch file, or a system call like "exec".) More precisely, if the user deletes from the computer system all the files in the GPL Ghostscript directories, and replaces the GPL Ghostscript executable with another program with the same name and conforming to the same documentation, the application will continue to work with it. One implication of this is that the GPL Ghostscript documentation must specify all properties of GPL Ghostscript on which the application relies; for example, if GPL Ghostscript has been modified by the addition of command line switches or language elements such as new operators, the documentation must describe any such additions that the application uses.
  • The conditions of the GNU AGPL are met with respect to GPL Ghostscript, including the requirement for propagation of the AGPL and the requirement for delivering (or an offer to deliver) source code.

Regarding this last point, the AGPL clearly intends that if the distributor only offers to provide the GPL 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 AGPL makes it clear that if someone receives GPL Ghostscript only in its AGPL-licensed form, they only have a right to distribute it if they comply with the AGPL. Artifex Software, Inc., as the copyright holder, takes this requirement very seriously, and will, if necessary, take legal action to ensure that anyone distributing GPL Ghostscript with the AGPL complies with the conditions set forth above.

Copyright © 2000-2018 Artifex Software, Inc. 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 visit contact Artifex Software, Inc., 1305 Grant Avenue - Suite 200, Novato, CA 94945, U.S.A., +1(415)492-9861.

Ghostscript version 9.23, 21 March 2018