[Rd] Non-GPL C (or R) inside of a package

Prof Brian Ripley ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Tue Aug 30 22:52:21 CEST 2011

On Tue, 30 Aug 2011, Duncan Murdoch wrote:

> On 30/08/2011 1:50 PM, Jeffrey Ryan wrote:
>> R-devel,
>> I am interested in creating a package that requires non-GPL'd 
>> (commercial) C code to work.  In essence it is a single .c file 
>> with no use of R headers (all .C callable functions).  For 
>> example's sake:
>>    1 #include<stdio.h>
>>    2
>>    3 void test (int *a) {
>>    4   *a = 101;
>>    5 }
>> The package isn't destined for CRAN, and I realize that this isn't 
>> R-legal, but looking for some expert advice from anyone else who 
>> may have encountered this previously.
>> The question is whether or not one can distribute code that has 
>> multiple licenses (.c or individual .R files), including some that 
>> are not GPL-compatible, as a tar.gz (or binary) file.  i.e., does 
>> the packaging process [R CMD ***] cause everything to become GPL, 
>> as we are using R itself to build the package?
> I can only say that the answer to the last question is "no":  the author gets 
> to choose the license for what s/he wrote.  The fact that you used R to 
> package it is irrelevant.  (Some extremists will disagree, and say that 
> because your package is intended to "link" to R, it must be licensed 
> compatibly with the GPL if you distribute it.  I don't think that's true.)

If no distribution is involved, the conditions under which the tarball 
can be distributed is not relevant.

As e.g. GNU tar is itself under GPL, using R to do the packaging is no 
different in principle to using GNU tar to do so and I've never heard 
anyone argue that using GNU tar affects the licence of the tarball.

I don't think that is the same issue as distributing non-GPLed code 
for use with R.  In the latter case the issue is what 'link to' 
actually entails, and one source of advice is the GPL FAQs.  E.g.

> If you are intending to distribute this file you are putting together, you'll 
> probably want to consult someone who knows the legalities as to whether you 
> can legally link to the commercial library...

> Duncan Murdoch
>> I can of course provide the C libs in this case as a separate install, but
>> that adds complexity to the overall build and install process.
>> Thanks,
>> Jeff
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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

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