R-beta: Re: S Compatibility

Kurt Hornik Kurt.Hornik at ci.tuwien.ac.at
Wed Apr 30 12:29:02 CEST 1997

>>>>> Martyn Plummer writes:

> At 03:28 30/04/97, ihaka at stat.auckland.ac.nz wrote:
>> Bill Venables writes:
>> (As a complete side-issue, Brian Ripley and I have a kind of
>> convention: we refer to the language as "S" and the commercial
>> product as "S-PLUS".  There is a useful distinction to be made.)
>> This is generally what I try to do too.
>> However, I suspect though that most people don't know that there is a
>> difference, and these days so few people can get access to the non-plussed
>> version, I wonder how important it is to make the distinction.  :-(

> How important is it to avoid being sued, or less facetiously, what is
> the legal status of R? If I were Mathsoft I would be less than pleased
> at the development of R and would try to stop it if I could. I have
> been wondering for some time if this is possible. But I am not a lawyer
> and the issue seems very unclear to me.

> I suppose the argument that the S language (as opposed to the S-PLUS
> product) is public domain. Is this true? Surely S is a commercial
> product developed by Lucent Technologies which is licensed exclusively
> to Mathsoft? Arguably (and I'm being devil's advocate here) the S
> language, and not just the source code, is the intellectual property
> of Lucent.

> I know this isn't the first freeware project which is "not unlike" an
> existing commercial product.  But in other cases the commercial
> product is either a brand name which can be licensed to anyone whose
> software passes a validation test suite (eg Linux/UNIX or
> GNUstep/OpenStep) or else the freeware version is used with
> authorization from the commercial developer (eg Mesa/OpenGL). R does
> not fit into either category.

> Perhaps I'm worrying over nothing, but it would be nice to have
> some reassurance.

If I may suggest something here:

One could ask John Eaton <jwe at bevo.che.wisc.edu>, the author of Octave, 
what he knows about these problems.  As far as I am aware, he did look
into the legal situation before he started `cloning' MATLAB.  But of
course, the situation MATLAB/Octave is different from S/S-PLUS/R, as the
MATLAB language really is not specified anywhere.

Or, and that's perhaps the right thing to do, one could ask Richard
Stallman.  [As an aside, perhaps not everyone is aware that one of the
issues on the GNU Task List is

   * An implementation of the S language (an interpreted language used
     for statistics).

]  I am sure he'd be delighted to help ...

I think that roughly speaking, you cannot copyright a language, onlt its
implementation.  But I may be wrong ...

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