Re: [R] Non-GPLed packages (was How can you buy R?)

From: Prof Brian Ripley <>
Date: Sat 20 May 2006 - 23:31:01 EST

On Sat, 20 May 2006, Patrick Burns wrote:

> It is my understanding that interpreted code is
> considered to be data and hence not able to be
> legally restricted in the same way that compiled
> code can be.

Yes: see for a clearcut opinion from FSF.

However, most R packages contain compiled code that is linked against R's headers and is dynamically linked into R, and that is a more contentious issue. See and especially

See also Q2.11 in the R FAQ, which says

`The R Core Team does not provide legal advice under any circumstances'

(including here). The onus is on those distributing packages to ensure that they meet the requirements of R's GPL.

> Patrick Burns
> +44 (0)20 8525 0696
> (home of S Poetry and "A Guide for the Unwilling S User")
> Gavin Simpson wrote:
>> On Fri, 2006-05-19 at 15:43 -0700, Spencer Graves wrote:
>>> I'd like to know what people think is the meaning of section 2.b of
>>> the GPL (
>>> "You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in
>>> whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part
>>> thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties
>>> under the terms of this License."
>>> After section 2.c, the GPL continues, "If identifiable sections of
>>> that work are not derived from the Program, and can be reasonably
>>> considered independent and separate works in themselves, then this
>>> License, and its terms, do not apply to those sections when you
>>> distribute them as separate works."
>>> I'm not an attorney, but it would seem to me any code written in R is
>>> arguably "derived from" R. Even if R code were not "derived from" R, I
>>> don't see how it could "reasonably be considered independent" of R. If
>>> my interpretation is correct, then any claim by an R package developer
>>> to a license more restrictive than GPL would not be enforceable; such
>>> claim would seem to violate the spirit, intent, and letter of the GPL.
>> {I cleared the recipients list out as this would have required moderator
>> intervention before getting through}
>> IANAL [1] but AFAICS this is referring to the source for R itself, not
>> code written in the R language. Therefore, glmmADMB would not be
>> violating the GPL as it is not releasing the source for R (or parts
>> thereof) under a different or more restrictive licence. The authors of
>> glmmADMB are free to choose their own licensing terms for their
>> software, and they appear to have licenced the linking R code under the
>> GPL. However, they are not required to release their ADMB software under
>> the GPL or provide the source code, because it doesn't include GPL
>> software as an integral part.
>> Again, IANAL and may have got this all wrong - happy to be corrected -
>> but that is my understanding...
>> G
>> [1] I Am Not A Lawyer
>>> A "boundary" case is provided by the "glmmADMB" package. As I read
>>> the GPL, this package must operate under GPL. This means that if anyone
>>> wants their source code, the authors of that package are required to
>>> give it to them. I just noticed that the version of "glmmADMB" that I
>>> downloaded 3/14/2006 does NOT contain a "src" subdirectory. This
>>> surprises me, given the comment on ""
>>> that "we generally do not accept submissions of precompiled binaries".
>>> That is, however, not required by the GPL, as I understand it. Rather,
>>> it seems to say that Otter Research (, who
>>> distribute more general "AD Model Builder" software, could be required
>>> to make freely available source code for all the binaries they use.
>>> This should be fairly easy for them, because their "AD Model Builder"
>>> produces C++ code, which they could easily include in a "src"
>>> subdirectory of their package. The GPL would NOT require them to
>>> distribute source code for the "AD Model Builder" itself, since that has
>>> an independent existence.
>>> If anyone has any evidence contradicting the above, I'd like to know.
>>> Best Wishes,
>>> Spencer Graves
>>> Marc Schwartz (via MN) wrote:
>>>> On Fri, 2006-05-19 at 17:59 -0300, Rogerio Porto wrote:

>>>>> While reading the various answers, I've remembered that
>>>>> the juridic part can't be that so simple. If I'm not fogeting
>>>>> something, there are some packages in R that has a more
>>>>> restrictive licence than GPL.
>>>>> HTH,
>>>>> Rogerio.
>>>> Any CRAN packages (or other R packages not on CRAN) that have
>>>> "non-commercial" use restrictions, likely would not be able to be used
>>>> by the OP anyway, even prior to this new policy.
>>>> So I suspect that this would be a non-issue.
>>>> If Damien's employer is willing to accept the GPL license (probably the
>>>> most significant issue) and feels the need to pay for "something", they
>>>> could make an appropriate donation to the R Foundation. Perhaps even
>>>> secure a little PR benefit for having done so.
>>>> Is Damien's employer allowing the use of Firefox instead of IE?
>>>> If so, the precedent within the confines of the policy has been set
>>>> already. Firefox is GPL, free and no CD.
>>>> There is an awful lot of "commercial" software out there than can be
>>>> purchased online, "properly licensed" and downloaded, without the need
>>>> for a physical CD. Anti-virus software perhaps being the most notable
>>>> example.
>>>> So:
>>>> License: GPL
>>>> CD: Don't need one
>>>> Purchase: Donation to the R Foundation
>>>> Being able to use R: Priceless
>>>> :-)
>>>> HTH,
>>>> Marc Schwartz

Brian D. Ripley,        
Professor of Applied Statistics,
University of Oxford,             Tel:  +44 1865 272861 (self)
1 South Parks Road,                     +44 1865 272866 (PA)
Oxford OX1 3TG, UK                Fax:  +44 1865 272595

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