Re: [R] Legality Question about R's Open Source GNU GPL License

From: David Henderson <>
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2008 11:46:50 -0700

Hi All:

I know this has been discussed at length already, but 1) I get R-Help in digest and didn't see this until 3am Pacific time this morning, and 2) We, REvolution, have been discussing this as of late. I thought I would pass on some of the knowledge we have recently obtained vis a vis the GPL and R.

First, I would like to say that you have already received some great advice and some good pointers to information about R and its use of the GPL. I'm only hoping to augment that information. Plus, I'm not a lawyer, but I have been visiting with lawyers a lot lately and this information comes from my interpretation of what they have told me about the GPL, specifically with respect to R.

With respect to your specific question, the GPL license in R would only have bearing on your code should you decide to distribute it and only when you distribute it and then only if you linked some compiled code to it (think C/C++/FORTRAN). So, if you are only distributing the compiled code within your corporation, you only have to provide the source for your code to your own colleagues as the GPL states that the code must be available upon request and only your colleagues should know about the code's existence to request it. If you are only creating script, then the GPL license provided in R provides an exception as discussed below. Note that installing R on your system does not GPL license all code on your system.

The topic of Linux being GPL is not really relevant. Generally, software libraries in Linux are provided with a LGPL license to avoid the GPL problem you describe. Also, there are exceptions in the GPL for Linux device drivers to prevent them from infecting code in Linux. So, using Linux is a different discussion than using R.

A better analogy for using R in corporate environments than something like apache is the BASH shell. BASH is GPL, but your BASH script is not GPL as there is an exception in the standard GPL for interpreted languages.

With respect to commercial versions of R, these R distributions will not have different licenses than the GPL already in R. Unless all of R Core and other copyright holders to the R source provide an exception to the GPL license in R, any commercial distribution of R will also have the same GPL license. It is doubtful that an exception will ever be granted for the R source code itself. What these commercial distributions do provide is support and services on top of open source R and in our case replacement of the BLAS routines with optimized ones.

If your legal department is still concerned, have them look at the license in Java. It most likely is GPL (unless you have a special commercial version of Java installed) and thus makes any Java program you create subject to the GPL in Java due to the JIT compiler used in Java. If your legal department does not have a problem with Java, then they should not have a problem with R.

And again, I am not a lawyer and you are receiving third hand information (some lawyers to me, and from me to you).

By the way, I enjoyed the y0k discussion...


Dave H

On Jul 29, 2008, at 3:00 AM, wrote:

> From: zerfetzen <>
> Date: July 28, 2008 11:32:04 AM PDT
> To:
> Subject: [R] Legality Question about R's Open Source GNU GPL License
> Hi,
> I use R at home, and am interested in using it at my work company
> (which is
> in the Fortune 100). I began the request, and our legal team has
> given some
> gruff about the open source license. Not boring you with the
> details here,
> but I used some info on as a rebuttal, and someone at the
> company
> replied that the generalities of GNU GPL may differ from R's
> specific GNU
> GPL license, and that I should refer specifically to it, and it
> should be on
> the CRAN website.
> I may be blind, but haven't seen such a document. Does one exist,
> and how
> may I obtain it? I believe they are wrong. Our legal team is
> notorious for
> being overly conservative, and I'm personally betting they think I
> won't
> look into it, and then they won't have to deal with it. But I will,
> and I
> want to use R. Thanks.
> PS
> Sorry if the document was posted and obvious, and I simply couldn't
> find it.
> Thanks.
> --
> View this message in context:
> Sent from the R help mailing list archive at

David Henderson, Ph.D.
Director of Community
REvolution Computing
1100 Dexter Avenue North, Suite 250
206-577-4778 x3203

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