[Rd] non-infectious license for R package?

Mario Emmenlauer mario at emmenlauer.de
Sat Mar 25 14:29:16 CET 2017

Dear All,

thanks a lot for all the quick and helpful responses! I'm currently
interested in the "stance" of this community towards closed source
contributions. The way I understand it, currently my options are quite
limited: I would most likely need to use a remote procedure call API,
and build one side of the API as GPL. But this would make the coupling
much slower and more error-prone.

I was actually hoping to give modellers very efficient access to big
image analysis data (single cell results in multi-TB range). Currently
R seems not easily combined with the classical closed-source company
model. Are there considerations to release just the part that is
required to build the interface to R under a more permissive license?

All the best,


On 24.03.2017 15:44, Marc Schwartz wrote:
> See inline...
>> On Mar 24, 2017, at 8:52 AM, Mario Emmenlauer <mario at emmenlauer.de
>> <mailto:mario at emmenlauer.de>> wrote:
>> Dear All,
>> I've been following this mailing list for over three years now, but
>> its just now that I have realized that R is licensed under GPL! :-)
>> I'm not a lawyer and I don't want lawyer advice, but I'd like to get
>> your feedback on a license question. 
> Hi, 
> With the usual IANAL caveat and that I am not speaking on behalf of any other
> parties:
> The questions you are posing will require legal advice, so your desire above to
> not get legal advice is in direct conflict with what you actually need here.
> To your comments below, you cannot change existing licenses on software, R or
> otherwise. That is only something that the copyright holder(s) can do and you
> are not one of them.
> The GPL has a FAQ here:
>   https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html
> that you may find enlightening.
> A very general statement, which is that if your compiled code (in whatever
> language) does not "link" against R's libraries and does not directly contain
> GPL licensed code (e.g. copying and pasting R Foundation copyrighted source code
> into yours), that is one way to steer clear of the viral part of the GPL license
> vis-a-vis R, if you want to, but not the only way and not a guarantee either.
> There can be nuances, some of which are covered in the FAQ above.
> On the other hand, if your compiled code is linking to R's libraries, which you
> seem to suggest may be the case below, then your code, at least the relevant
> parts of it, will need to be licensed under a GPL compatible license.
> This again is part of the nuance, in terms of the scope of the impact on your
> code (all or parts) and where legal advice is needed, to steer clear of
> downstream potential issues that could result in legal and financial liabilities
> for you.
> The issue of linking to third party proprietary libraries is something that you
> will have to evaluate with respect to their licenses and any limitations that
> they may impose on your code and it's licensing.
> Since you seem to also be suggesting that you may use closed source components
> in your package, you should be aware, that vis-a-vis CRAN, you would not be able
> to submit your package for distribution via that channel, since CRAN submissions
> may not contain pre-compiled binaries or similar and the entire package must
> conform to a compatible open source license. Thus, if you go down that path, you
> would have to find other distribution channels for your package, such as a
> company web site, etc.
> None of the above should be construed as legal advice and if you plan to go down
> the path of offering a commercial service that you would charge clients for, a
> lawyer is mandatory to provide legal guidance and to assess your business risks.
> Even if your actual R related package is offered free of charge, while
> generating revenue through other means, if you should run afoul of software
> licensing requirements, that can still leave you open to financial liabilities
> and put your business and even personal assets at risk.
> Regards,
> Marc Schwartz
>> My goal is to develop commercial
>> software for image analysis of biomedical samples that may be used
>> i.e. in academic institutions. Since I've been an academic software
>> developer for long, a priority for me is to make the data and tools
>> easily accessibly for other developers. I have toyed with the idea to
>> make a (free) R package that can very efficiently fetch data from the
>> database and push back results for visualization. To clarify: I am
>> not using R in my software. I'd rather like the institutions of my
>> customers to have open (internal) access to their data.
>> Now for the question: To efficiently get the data into R, I assume a
>> package (possibly in C or C++) is the most reasonable way? If yes,
>> would such a package automatically be infected by the GPL? If the
>> package links to (proprietary closed source) libraries to efficiently
>> access the data, would the libraries in turn be infected?
>> I'm asking this very naiively because I understand statement [1] in
>> such a way that it is generally encouraged to make data available in
>> R. Obviously open source is the preferred way, but my understanding
>> is that also closed source extensions can add value and may be
>> welcome.
>> I was therefore hoping that somebody has prior experience in this
>> regard, or can shed further light on statement [1]. Is the R-C-
>> interface infectious per se, even when data flows only into R, not
>> vice versa? If its infectious, could just the very core of R be
>> licensed additionally under a non-infectious license?
>> Furthermore, can I avoid infecting my full software stack, for example
>> by making only the package open source under a permissive license? Are
>> there any guidelines how to legally bridge between the proprietary and
>> the R-world? I guess other people have tried this before, can someone
>> share his/her experience?
>> [1] https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/r-devel/2009-May/053248.html
>> All the best,
>>    Mario Emmenlauer

Viele Gruesse,

    Mario Emmenlauer

BioDataAnalysis GmbH, Mario Emmenlauer      Tel. Buero: +49-89-74677203
Balanstr. 43                   mailto: memmenlauer * biodataanalysis.de
D-81669 München                          http://www.biodataanalysis.de/

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