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

dave fournier otter at otter-rsch.com
Tue May 23 18:01:03 CEST 2006

Dear List,

Some of you have been following the discussion of the GPL and its inclusion
in the glmmADMB package we created for R users. I would like to provide 
a bit of background and include an email we received from
Prof. Ripley so that everyone can be aware of how some might use the
GPL to try to force access to proprietary software. I think this is 
interesting because many have voiced the opinion about the benign nature 
of the GPL and that commercial enterprises who avoid it do so mainly out 
of ignorance.

I have noticed two things:
Users of the R-help list appear to rely largely on the advice of a
rather small number of statistical experts. Second, the R users regard R 
as being more cutting edge and up to date than lists devoted to 
commercial statistical packages like SAS.

For these reasons  I was surprised to see the following post on the web 
in reply to a question on negative binomial mixed models.


I thought that this was bad advice as certainly our ADMB-RE software 
could handle this problem easily.  However one never knows exactly what 
sort of data people might use in a particular example that could lead to
difficulties so I decided to code up a program that R users could test 
for this problem.  However R users are used to a different approach for 
model formulation so that it was difficult for the average R user to 
access the program. I approached Anders Nielsen who is both an 
experienced ADMB user and R user and asked him to write an interface in 
R which would make the program more accessible to R users. He created a 
package and the whole thing seems to have had some success with at least 
one PhD thesis based on calculations using it. The R code that Anders
wrote is simply an interface which takes the R specification for the 
model and outputs a data file in the format the an ADMB program expects.
The ADMB program is a stand alone exe. The R script then reads the ADMB 
output files and presents the results to the user in a more familiar R
format. Now it appears at some revision someone put a GPL notice on this 
package although Anders states that he did not do so, and and he is 
certain that it was not originally included by him. In any event the R 
script is easily extracted from the package by those who know how to do 
so and we have no problem with making the ADMB-RE source to the  exe 
(TPL file) available. In fact the original was on our web site but was 
modified as we made to program more robust to deal with difficult data 
sets.  The compiled TPL file links with our proprietary libraries and we 
have no intention of providing the source for these, but that is exactly 
what Prof. Ripley seems to be demanding since he claims that he wants 
the program to run on his computer which it apparently does not do at 
present. Prof. Ripley seems to feel that he is a qualified spokesman for 
the open source community. I have no idea what the community at large 
feels about this.

What follows is Hans Skaug's post with Prof. Ripley's reply.

 > On Mon, 22 May 2006, H. Skaug wrote:
 >> > About glmmADMB and GPL:
 >> >
 >> > We were not very cautious when we put in the GPL statement.
 >> > What we wanted to say was that the use of glmmADMB is free, and
 >> > does not require a license for AD Model Builder.
 > But that is not what you said, and you are legally and morally bound to
 > fulfill the promise you made.
 >> > Am I correct in interpreting this discussion so that all
 >> > we have to do is to remove the "License: GPL" statement
 >> > from the DESCRIPTION file (and everywhere else it may occur),
 >> > and there will be no conflict between glmmADMB and the
 >> > rules of the R community?
 > I have made a request under the GPL. `All' you have to do is to fulfill
 > it.
 >> > We have temporarily withdrawn glmmADMB until this question has been
 >> > settled.
 > You can withdraw the package, but it has already been distributed under
 > GPL, and those who received it under GPL have the right to 
redistribute it
 > under GPL, including the sources you are obliged to give them.  That's
 > part of the `freedom' that GPL gives.
 >> > hans
 >> >
 >> >
 >> >
 >>> >> Brian Ripley wrote:
 >>> >>
 >>> >> The issue in the glmmADMB example is not if they were required 
to release
 >>> >> it under GPL (my reading from the GPL FAQ is that they probably 
were not,
 >>> >> given that communication is between processes and the R code is
 >>> >> interpreted).
 >> >
 >>> >> Rather, it is stated to be under GPL _but_ there is no source 
code offer
 >>> >> for the executables (and the GPL FAQ says that for anonymous FTP 
it should
 >>> >> be downloadable via the same site, and the principles apply 
equally to
 >>> >> HTTP sites).  As the executables are not for my normal OS and I 
would like
 >>> >> to exercise my freedom to try the GPLed code, I have requested 
the sources
 >>> >> from the package maintainer.
 >> >
 >> >
 > -- Brian D. Ripley, ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk Professor of Applied 
Statistics, http://www.stats.ox.ac.uk/~ripley/ University of Oxford, 
Tel: +44 1865 272861 (self) 1 South Parks Road, +44 1865 272866 (PA) 
Oxford OX1 3TG, UK Fax: +44 1865 272595

Hans' post was an attempt to reach some sort of consensus with the R 
community so that users who so wished could continue to use the glmmADMB 
software.  So far this is the only response we have received. I guess it 
is up to the R community to decided whether Prof. Ripley speaks for all 
of you.



David A. Fournier
P.O. Box 2040,
Sidney, B.C. V8l 3S3
Phone/FAX 250-655-3364

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