[Rd] commercial software selling a R module - question about GPL license rights

Peter Dalgaard p.dalgaard at biostat.ku.dk
Wed Apr 19 20:28:53 CEST 2006

Philippe Grosjean <phgrosjean at sciviews.org> writes:

> Hello all,
> Sorry for this email not directly related to R developement. I just come 
> from a nice demonstration session from Scitegic about their Pipeline 
> Pilot (PP) software, and especially their 'R collection' which brings R 
> calculations into the software 
> (http://www.scitegic.com/documents/RStats_Collection.pdf).
> I looked carefully on the way they do it: they pass data from PP to R 
> using text files, they call R.exe using a R script and input - output 
> files, like:
> R.exe --nosave --no-environ --no-resore-data < script.R > output.txt
> And in the script, you have:
> read.table(...)
> which imports the data just exported from PP in an CVS file by the 
> component. I don't want to discuss here the ugly and extremely 
> inefficient solution they use to call R on their data, but anyway...
> So far, so good, they respect the GPL license since R is not embedded 
> into PP, and you have to download and install it separately.
> But they also provide a series of "R component" ready to use like 'R 
> ANOVA', 'R PCA', R Neural Net', etc... which are basically R scripts 
> with replaceable variables (replacement is done by PP before feeding the 
> script to the R engine). For instance, you will have:
> parameter <- $(PPvariable)
> in the R script. In the PP component, you have an option to specify the 
> value of 'PPvariable', let's say: PPvariable = 10, and the replacement 
> done in the R script is:
> parameter <- 10
> before to feed this script to R. So, everything appears transparent to 
> the end-user who parameterizes the scripts from within the PP GUI. That 
> is what they call "each component generates an R script on-the-fly"... 
> (sic!)
> However, I was suprised to learn that the Pipeline Pilot R Collection is 
> not GPL and is not free (in term of money, i.e., you have to pay 
> 3500$/year to use it). I am not sure, but I think they break the GPL 
> license here since they use a commercial license for, basically, a 
> collection of R scripts embedded in their 'PP components'.
> Anyone with better expertise than me could look at this, please?

Offhand, I don't think this is a problem.

We've discussed a few similar cases. Things are sometimes slightly
murky due to the FSF's unclear (or undecided) definition of the
relation between "linking" and "derived work". However, it was never
the intention that GPL code could not be _used_ by non-free software.
That point might get clearer if you substitute mySql or a similar
database instead of R.

There are some limitations though. In particular if the connection is
so tight that R has become an integrated part of the application, then
the rules for derived works may apply.

   O__  ---- Peter Dalgaard             Øster Farimagsgade 5, Entr.B
  c/ /'_ --- Dept. of Biostatistics     PO Box 2099, 1014 Cph. K
 (*) \(*) -- University of Copenhagen   Denmark          Ph:  (+45) 35327918
~~~~~~~~~~ - (p.dalgaard at biostat.ku.dk)                  FAX: (+45) 35327907

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