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

From: Gad Abraham <>
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2008 09:59:57 +1000

Gad Abraham wrote:

>> 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.

> This is conflating two issues, the license of the compiler/interpreter,
> and the license of the code you wrote in that language.
> From
> ``Can I use GPL-covered editors such as GNU Emacs to develop non-free
> programs? Can I use GPL-covered tools such as GCC to compile them?
> Yes, because the copyright on the editors and tools does not cover the
> code you write. Using them does not place any restrictions, legally, on
> the license you use for your code.
> Some programs copy parts of themselves into the output for technical
> reasons--for example, Bison copies a standard parser program into its
> output file. In such cases, the copied text in the output is covered by
> the same license that covers it in the source code. Meanwhile, the part
> of the output which is derived from the program's input inherits the
> copyright status of the input.
> As it happens, Bison can also be used to develop non-free programs. This
> is because we decided to explicitly permit the use of the Bison standard
> parser program in Bison output files without restriction. We made the
> decision because there were other tools comparable to Bison which
> already permitted use for non-free programs.''

Replying to myself, Java is a particularly bad example here, because under the standard GPL v2, inheritance is considered derivative work, so every time you instantiate any object (thus inheriting from Object) and the Object class is GPL, then your code is GPL. For v2, there is the version of the GPL with the Classpath exception, that specifically allows for that.

This may have implications for object oriented R, as if I choose to extend the Matrix class, for example, then it's considered derivative work and hence under the GPL.

Gad Abraham
Dept. CSSE and NICTA
The University of Melbourne
Parkville 3010, Victoria, Australia

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