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

David Henderson dnadavenator at gmail.com
Tue Jul 29 20:46:50 CEST 2008

Hi All:

I know this has been discussed at length already, but 1) I get R-Help  
in digest and didn't see this until 3am Pacific time this morning, and  
2) We, REvolution, have been discussing this as of late.  I thought I  
would pass on some of the knowledge we have recently obtained vis a  
vis the GPL and R.

First, I would like to say that  you have already received some great  
advice and some good pointers to information about R and its use of  
the GPL.  I'm only hoping to augment that information.  Plus, I'm not  
a lawyer, but I have been visiting with lawyers a lot lately and this  
information comes from my interpretation of what they have told me  
about the GPL, specifically with respect to R.

With respect to your specific question, the GPL license in R would  
only have bearing on your code should you decide to distribute it and  
only when you distribute it and then only if you linked some compiled  
code to it (think C/C++/FORTRAN).  So, if you are only distributing  
the compiled code within your corporation, you only have to provide  
the source for your code to your own colleagues as the GPL states that  
the code must be available upon request and only your colleagues  
should know about the code's existence to request it.  If you are only  
creating script, then the GPL license provided in R provides an  
exception as discussed below.  Note that installing R on your system  
does not GPL license all code on your system.

The topic of Linux being GPL is not really relevant.  Generally,  
software libraries in Linux are provided with a LGPL license to avoid  
the GPL problem you describe.  Also, there are exceptions in the GPL  
for Linux device drivers to prevent them from infecting code in  
Linux.  So, using Linux is a different discussion than using R.

A better analogy for using R in corporate environments than something  
like apache is the BASH shell. BASH is GPL, but your BASH script is  
not GPL as there is an exception in the standard GPL for interpreted  

With respect to commercial versions of R, these R distributions will  
not have different licenses than the GPL already in R.  Unless all of  
R Core and other copyright holders to the R source provide an  
exception to the GPL license in R, any commercial distribution of R  
will also have the same GPL license.  It is doubtful that an exception  
will ever be granted for the R source code itself.  What these  
commercial distributions do provide is support and services on top of  
open source R and in our case replacement of the BLAS routines with  
optimized ones.

If your legal department is still concerned, have them look at the  
license in Java.  It most likely is GPL (unless you have a special  
commercial version of Java installed) and thus makes any Java program  
you create subject to the GPL in Java due to the JIT compiler used in  
Java.  If your legal department does not have a problem with Java,  
then they should not have a problem with R.

And again, I am not a lawyer and you are receiving third hand  
information (some lawyers to me, and from me to you).

By the way, I enjoyed the y0k discussion...


Dave H

On Jul 29, 2008, at 3:00 AM, r-help-request at r-project.org wrote:

> From: zerfetzen <zerfetzen at yahoo.com>
> Date: July 28, 2008 11:32:04 AM PDT
> To: r-help at r-project.org
> Subject: [R] Legality Question about R's Open Source GNU GPL License
> 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.
> -- 
> View this message in context: http://www.nabble.com/Legality-Question-about-R%27s-Open-Source-GNU-GPL-License-tp18696623p18696623.html
> Sent from the R help mailing list archive at Nabble.com.

David Henderson, Ph.D.
Director of Community
REvolution Computing
1100 Dexter Avenue North, Suite 250
206-577-4778 x3203
DNADave at REvolution-Computing.Com

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