Re: [R] glmmADMB and the GPL -- formerly-- How to buy R.

From: Berwin A Turlach <berwin_at_maths.uwa.edu.au>
Date: Wed 24 May 2006 - 15:27:34 EST

G'day Dave,

I have read your e-mail now several time and can't make up my mind if you want a genuine discussion or just trying to do some flame-baiting.

But here are my 2 cents. And, in case that you don't read through the whole reply, let me make it clear to you that this is my personal opinion, that probably few people (if any) on this list might agree with me and that I definitely not speak for the list.

>>>>> "DF" == dave fournier <otter@otter-rsch.com> writes:

    DF> Some of you have been following the discussion of the GPL and     DF> its inclusion in the glmmADMB package we created for R users. True in my case.

    DF> I would like to provide a bit of background and include an     DF> email we received from Prof. Ripley [...] It is usually considered bad form to forward privately sent e-mails to a public forum. Some people are even going so far as to argue that e-mails, as other communications, are copyright protected material and that by posting private e-mails, or other communications, to public forums without the permission of the person who sent the private e-mail the poster is breaching copyright laws.

So I hope you asked Brian for his permission to post his private e-mail, because I don't remember seeing it posted to any of the mailing lists related to R.

In any case, if you wish to positively engage with a community, I would advise you to learn about the rules according to which that community plays.

    DF> so that everyone can be aware of how some might use the GPL to     DF> try to force access to proprietary software. Well, that is only possible if the software was released under the GPL. So what is the problem?

    DF> I think this is interesting because many have voiced the
    DF> opinion about the benign nature of the GPL and that commercial
    DF> enterprises who avoid it do so mainly out of ignorance.
I must have missed these opinions being expressed in this particular thread, but have a vague idea what you are talking about. Though, I have the impression that you are a bit confused as there are two issues:
  1. Commercial enterprises who release their software under the GPL. Since these enterprises released their software under the GPL, they should not be ignorant about it and what it implies. If they are, they should sack their lawyers and get better advise.
  2. Commercial enterprises who say that they don't want to port their product to Linux (or other GPL based operation systems) with the argument that this would force them to release the source code of their software. To those enterprises it is usually pointed out that they are misinterpreting (or, if you wish, ignorant of) the GPL and that by providing their software on a GPL'd platform they are not forced to supply source code and they can release their software under other licences if they wish. (And it seems that several commercial enterprises got this message as there is quite a bit of commercial software available under Linux these days: S-PLUS, Matlab, Mathematica, Maple,....)

The case of glmmADMB seems to fall under the first category, it was released under the GPL and you should have been aware of what this means because you decided to release it under the GPL.

    DF> I have noticed two things: Users of the R-help list appear to
    DF> rely largely on the advice of a rather small number of
    DF> statistical experts.

How did you notice this? A lot of readers of mailing list choose to reply in private e-mails instead off replies to the list. My default is to "reply-to-sender" and not "reply-to-all"; other people's mail-tool have other defaults. The R mailing lists are (as far as I know) configured that "reply-to-sender" goes only to the sender of the e-mail, not the whole list. Thus, you should be aware that by looking at what gets posted on R-help will give you a biased sample.
    DF> Second, the R users regard R as being more cutting edge and up
    DF> to date than lists devoted to commercial statistical packages
    DF> like SAS.

Sorry, I can't parse this sentence. Do you mean that R users regard commercial statistical statistical packages like SAS as being less cutting edge than R? Or that people on lists devoted to commercial statistical packages like SAS have a different opinion about R than R users? Or that R users regard R as being more cutting edge than some other mailing lists?

Was there any purpose in this statement other than flame-baiting?

    DF> For these reasons I was surprised to see the following post on
    DF> the web in reply to a question on negative binomial mixed
    DF> models.
    DF> https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/r-help/2005-February/066146.html
    DF> I thought that this was bad advice as certainly our ADMB-RE
    DF> software could handle this problem easily.
Fair enough. More flame-baiting or would you kindly let us know whether ADMB-RE was available in February 2005? Was glmmADMB (readily) available at that time? I note that the quoted e-mail is about 18 months old, and glmmADMB is at version 0.3. I also note that the person seeking advice was asking specifically whether what he wanted to do was possible to be done using R. In my opinion, he got a sensible and correct answer at that time.
    DF> [...]  The R code that Anders wrote is simply an interface
    DF> which takes the R specification for the model and outputs a
    DF> data file in the format the an ADMB program expects.  The ADMB
    DF> program is a stand alone exe. The R script then reads the ADMB
    DF> output files and presents the results to the user in a more
    DF> familiar R format.  [...]

Yes, by looking at the package and the R code that is there, it is quite obvious that this is what is done.
    DF> [...] Now it appears at some revision someone put a GPL notice
    DF> on this package although Anders states that he did not do so,
    DF> and and he is certain that it was not originally included by
    DF> him. [...]

Yes, someone must have done this. If you cannot figure out who did it, you have to tighten the procedures in your company. A question which could be of interest here is whether the person who put the GPL notice into the package had the authority to do so? Of course, to answer that question you first have to find out who did it.

    DF> [...] In any event the R script is easily extracted from the     DF> package by those who know how to do so [...] Yes, download glmmADMB_0.3.tar.gz from your site (it was still there yesterday after Hans Skaug's e-mail), uncompress it and untar it.

    DF> [...] and we have no problem with making the ADMB-RE source to
    DF> the exe (TPL file) available.  In fact the original was on our
    DF> web site but was modified as we made to program more robust to
    DF> deal with difficult data sets.  The compiled TPL file links
    DF> with our proprietary libraries and we have no intention of
    DF> providing the source for these, [...]
Well, speak with your lawyers. They can probably advise you want your obligations under the GPL is. My understanding is that if you release the exe under GPL, then releasing the ADMB-RE source for the exe would be the minimum, possibly even the source to all the libraries that the exe links too. But, as I said several times in the last days, IANAL.
    DF>  [...] Prof.  Ripley  seems to  feel  that he  is a  qualified
    DF> spokesman for the open source community. I have no idea what
    DF> the community at large feels about this.
Well, I have no idea how Brian feels or what the community at large feels but:
1) The R community, and you are posting to an R mailing list, is only

   a small part of a community that at large subscribe to the ideas of    the GPL.
2) "open source" is a term that encompasses many things and, IIRC,

   Richard Stallman and the FSF are very critical about "open source"    and that community.
3) If asked about who are spokesman for the open source community,

   other names would spring to my mind. And, see 2), these names    would not include Richard Stallman or the FSF.

    DF> What follows is Hans Skaug's post with Prof. Ripley's reply. Which seems to be a private e-mail and, hence, completely a matter between Hans and Brian.

    DF> Hans' post was an attempt to reach some sort of consensus with
    DF> the R community so that users who so wished could continue to
    DF> use the glmmADMB software.  So far this is the only response
    DF> we have received.

I was tempted to respond, if only to point out that glmmADMB_0.3.tar.gz was still available from your web-site. But then, since IANAL, I refrained since:
a) I don't feel qualified on giving you advice on how to sort out your

   licencing issues; and
b) I already pointed out earlier in a reply to Spencer Grave how the

   license of glmmADMB should probably be formulated to be above water    and not in conflict with the GPL. Just read up that e-mail.

    DF> I guess it is up to the R community to decided whether     DF> Prof. Ripley speaks for all of you. I might flog a dead horse here, but I hope that you will eventually get the message:

   It was a private, off-list e-mail. You can't seriously expect that    opinions expressed in such an e-mail can be taken as "speaking for    the R community".

Even if it had been an e-mail to the R mailing list, such e-mails nly express the opinions of the sender, not that of the members of the mailing list and not that of the R community (which could encompass more than the readers of a mailing list) at large.

Cheers,

        Berwin


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