Re: [R] licensing of R packages

From: Berwin A Turlach <berwin_at_maths.uwa.edu.au>
Date: Sat, 15 Nov 2008 00:48:27 +0800

G'day Brian,

On Fri, 14 Nov 2008 11:47:46 +0000 (GMT) Prof Brian Ripley <ripley_at_stats.ox.ac.uk> wrote:

> On Fri, 14 Nov 2008, Duncan Murdoch wrote:
>
> > I think they are talking about cases where the GPL libraries are
> > compiled into the new product. Packages generally don't include
> > copies of anything from R, so our GPL doesn't apply to them.
> > (Writers may have chosen to copy and modify base functions; if so,
> > they are copying our code, and the GPL would apply.)
>
> That _has_ happened several times (usually without any credit and
> removing the copyright header from the R version), so package writers
> do need to be aware that base functions are not fair game. Often it
> comes to light when the forked version fails when e.g. .Internal
> calls are changed.

Removing credits is definitely poor form but nothing that the GPL stops, IIRC. If you want credits to be carried on, you would need to use a license such as the original BSD license. IIRC, it was exactly this clause, that credits have to be kept, that made the original BSD license a "GPL-incompatible Free Software License".

As far as I understand, removing a copyright header is indeed a pretty big no-no. And copyright law seems to be a funny thing. Recently I was asked by the maintainers of AucTeX whether I was willing to sign over the copyright of contributions I once had provided. When I looked at one of the files for which they wanted the copyright signed over, not a single line looked familiar to me (I cannot write elisp code at the level that the code was at). The file attributed copyright to me and I vaguely remember that I once contributed it so that AucTeX would have support for some .sty file. But over time, presumably also to keep up with changes in AucTeX, the file was completely re-written by others; with none of the original code remaining (as far as I can tell). Still, it was suggested to me that I am the copyright holder just because I contributed the original file, even though by now not a single line of the code originated from me.

Cheers,

        Berwin



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