[Rd] non-infectious license for R package?

Marc Schwartz marc_schwartz at me.com
Sat Mar 25 16:19:04 CET 2017

> On Mar 25, 2017, at 8:35 AM, Mario Emmenlauer <mario at emmenlauer.de> wrote:
> 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
> https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#LinkingOverControlledInterface
>> All the best,
>>   Mario



As per the language included in the section of the FAQ that you reference above, if you want to go down that path, you would have to engage in formally communicating with the R Foundation, as the copyright holders of R, to solicit their formal position, which would be final. Note that depending upon the specifics, there may be other parties that would also have to render a decision, since other individuals also hold copyrights to included code in the standard R distribution and may or may not have given approval to the R Foundation to act on their behalf:


If you wanted to pursue that avenue, you should communicate with the current R Foundation Co-Presidents:

  Simon Urbanek (simon.urbanek at r-project.org)
  Martyn Plummer (plummerM at iarc.fr)

were they can elect to engage the Board of the R Foundation in further discussion.

To the broader issue of the "stance" of the community at large vis-a-vis closed source software, you will find, as in any community, a spectrum of positions. 

There are, as you may be aware, commercial versions of R, that have been built upon the standard open source R distribution, which offer sufficient additional value that their customers are willing to pay for them. In some cases, these may include closed source components. A parallel of sorts would be a community based, open source version of a Linux server distribution (e.g. CentOS) versus a commercial offering (e.g. RHEL), where the latter has paid support options and other value added components and services that are revenue generating. In these commercial cases, as I referenced in my prior reply, legal counsel with expertise in open source licensing and intellectual property rights, will have rendered formal legal opinions to provide guidance and comfort that these for-profit businesses remain in conformance with license requirements to stay clear of any liabilities. No ethical business, in their right mind, would move forward without that.

However, at the end of the day, the only position that is relevant to your issue is the formal position of the R Foundation itself, since it holds the copyright to R as officially distributed and would, if needed, take action in the case of license non-conformance.

Others in the community, myself included, can offer opinions, but they hold no relevance to your situation, since they are not legally binding. In other words, we are not in a position to say that you can or cannot proceed with your plan. You can gain some insights, as others have referenced, by using examples of what appear to be acceptable implementations. But each situation can have sufficient differences as to perhaps not be exactly applicable to yours. Thus, part of the potential challenge for you would be to provide sufficient detail on your exact implementation plans to allow an opinion to be rendered that narrowly covers those details, as opposed to a more generic model.


Marc Schwartz

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