[R] Legality Question about R's Open Source GNU GPL License

Marc Schwartz marc_schwartz at comcast.net
Mon Jul 28 21:34:29 CEST 2008

on 07/28/2008 01:32 PM zerfetzen wrote:
> Hi,
> I use R at home, and am interested in using it at my work company (which is
> in the Fortune 100).  I began the request, and our legal team has given some
> gruff about the open source license.  Not boring you with the details here,
> but I used some info on gnu.org as a rebuttal, and someone at the company
> replied that the generalities of GNU GPL may differ from R's specific GNU
> GPL license, and that I should refer specifically to it, and it should be on
> the CRAN website.
> I may be blind, but haven't seen such a document.  Does one exist, and how
> may I obtain it?  I believe they are wrong.  Our legal team is notorious for
> being overly conservative, and I'm personally betting they think I won't
> look into it, and then they won't have to deal with it.  But I will, and I
> want to use R.  Thanks.
> PS
> Sorry if the document was posted and obvious, and I simply couldn't find it. 
> Thanks.

The license is available online here:


and there is a file called 'COPYING' in your R installation.

Note that if you are simply using R and are not planning to distribute 
it or associated applications/packages, the GPL does not really come 
into play.

The sticky issue with the GPL comes into play when you are going to 
distribute R and/or are going to link programs to R (which generally 
means compiled programs) and are then going to distribute those. In 
these situations, the GPL would require you to make the source code for 
R AND YOUR PROGRAMS available to the end-users. This might not be an 
issue if you are only going to do this within your company, such that 
any proprietary code you might create would not go outside the company.

More information is available here in FAQ form:


and here:


BTW, does anyone in your company use Linux, Apache, Subversion/CVS, 
Firefox/Thunderbird or other open source applications? Potential for 
double standard?

You might also want to show them this page:


to give them an idea of who is using R.


Marc Schwartz
<Insert favorite lawyer joke here...>

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