[Rd] GPL and R Community Policies (Rcpp)

Martyn Plummer plummerM at iarc.fr
Thu Dec 2 15:20:54 CET 2010

Dear Dominick,

The R community does not have a conflict resolution mechanism.  We are
quite used to disputes that end with one party, usually a recognized
authority, saying "No, you are objectively, verifiably wrong".   We
cannot, as a group, deal with anything else.

Everybody knows that you have an acrimonious relationship with the
current developers of Rcpp (and if they don't then a cursory look at the
rcpp-devel archives will confirm this).  The issue of the acknowledgment
that you are complaining about is merely a symptom of the further
deterioration of this relationship.   Appeals to authority or public
opinion are not going to help you obtain satisfaction.

Having your free software taken up and developed by other people is not
the worst thing that can happen.  For a free software developer, the
worst thing that can happen is that they get run over by a proverbial
bus and their software dies with them.


On Wed, 2010-12-01 at 13:21 -0500, Dominick Samperi wrote:
> This post asks members of the R community, users and developers,
> to comment on issues related to the GNU Public License
> and R community policies more generally.
> The GPL says very little about protecting the the rights of original
> contributors by not disseminating  misleading information about them.
> Indeed, for pragmatic reasons it effectively assumes that original authors
> have no rights regarding their GPL-ed software, and it implicitly leaves
> it up to the community of developers and users to conduct themselves in a
> fair and
> reasonable manner.
> After discussing these matters with Richard Stallman I think
> we more-or-less agreed that a GPL "copyright" notice is nothing
> more than a way to deputise people to serve as protectors of the
> principles of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). It has nothing to
> do with protecting the "rights" or the "ideas" of original
> contributors. There is no peer review, no requirement to
> explain your contributions, and anybody can essentially
> do as they please with the software provided they retain
> the copyright/FSF deputy notice---of course, you can
> always work-around this last restriction by modifying the
> implementation and placing it in a new file, because
> nobody is checking (GPL doesn't require it).
> The GPL is all about "freedom", not responsibility. It is entirely
> focused on "deregulation", not on the protection of intellectual
> property or professional reputations. It serves the useful purpose
> of making great software more widely available, but it does not
> dictate how people should behave and should not be used
> as a moral compass.  (See recent book titled
> "You are not a gadget: a manifesto", a rejoinder to the
> GNU manifesto.)
> As a counterbalance I think the community of developers and
> users need to play a more active role in the evolution of
> shared values and expectations. In this spirit I respectfully request
> that the R community consider the following.
> The author line of the latest release of the R package
> Rcpp (0.8.9) was revised as follows:
> From: "based on code written during 2005 and 2006 by Dominick Samperi"
> To: "a small portion of the code is based on code written during 2005 and
> 2006 by Dominick Samperi"
> As it is highly unusual (and largely impossible) to quantify the relative
> size of the the contribution made by each author of GPL'ed software, this
> has
> effectively changed an acknowledgment into a disparaging remark. It
> is also misleading, because I am the original creator of the Rcpp library
> and package (it was forked by Dirk Eddelbuettel and is now effectively
> part of R core development). Incidentally, the README file for
> Rcpp 0.6.7 shows that my contributions and influence were not
> confined to the period 2005-2006.
> A look at the change history of Rcpp would quickly reveal that to be
> fair other authors of Rcpp (and perhaps other R package authors)
> should have their contributions qualified with "a small portion of the
> code",
> or "administered by", but this is precisely the kind of monitoring that
> inspired Richard Stallman to say we must "chuck the masks" in the
> GNU Manifesto.
> It is obviously a great benefit for the R community to have Rcpp actively
> supported by the R core team. I am very grateful for this. What I do
> have a problem with is the fact that my contributions are disparaged
> by people who have benefited from my past work.
> It seems to me that there are two possible resolutions. First, if my
> name is used in the Rcpp package it should be used to provide fair,
> accurate, and courteous acknowledgement for my past contributions.
> Second, if this is not possible, then my name should not be used at all.
> If the second option is selected then the only place my name should
> appear is in the copyright ("deputy") notices.
> Incidentally, the fact that the word "copyright" is profoundly misleading in
> the context of GPL is not a new idea, and the word "copyleft" is
> sometimes used instead. But copyleft is not used in source files
> because this would unlink GPL from the well-established legal
> framework associated with "copyright", making it more difficult for
> the FSF to enforce its principles (the critical link is provided by
> the copyright holders or "deputies").
> A final clarification: authors of original works do retain a legal
> copyright on  their original work in the sense that they are free
> to modify this work and release it as non-free software (or
> under a different free license), but this has no effect on the
> version that was released under GPL. The latter version and
> all of its progeny belong to the public (or to the FSF from
> a legal point of view).
> Please feel free to express your opinion on these matters.
> Thanks,
> Dominick
> 	[[alternative HTML version deleted]]
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