[Rd] non-infectious license for R package?

Mario Emmenlauer mario at emmenlauer.de
Sat Mar 25 14:35:55 CET 2017

On 25.03.2017 14:29, Mario Emmenlauer wrote:
> 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?

I.e. I was thinking of something like this FAQ entry of the GPL: How
can I allow linking of proprietary modules with my GPL-covered library
under a controlled interface only? From

> All the best,
>    Mario
> 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

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