[Rd] R-base licensing question

Duncan Murdoch murdoch at stats.uwo.ca
Sun Sep 17 07:53:04 CEST 2006

On 9/16/2006 10:42 PM, Logan Lewis wrote:
> It is my understanding that R is licensed under the GPL with the 
> exception of a few header files for the purposes of linking binary code 
> with R under non-GPL licenses.
> However, the R-base package itself is licensed under the GPL, as are 
> many (but not all) packages in CRAN.  Furthermore, basically any R 
> script will use functionality from R-base.  As I understand it, the 
> situation isn't clear as to the licensing restrictions on R scripts 
> which use R-base (or any other GPL package).  The FSF's FAQ on the 
> issue says the following (of course, this is just their 
> interpretation):
> (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#IfInterpreterIsGPL)
> "[...]Another similar and very common case is to provide libraries with 
> the interpreter which are themselves interpreted. For instance, Perl 
> comes with many Perl modules, and a Java implementation comes with many 
> Java classes. These libraries and the programs that call them are 
> always dynamically linked together. A consequence is that if you choose 
> to use GPL'd Perl modules or Java classes in your program, you must 
> release the program in a GPL-compatible way, regardless of the license 
> used in the Perl or Java interpreter that the combined Perl or Java 
> program will run on."
> Clearly, having R scripts (and basically all R add-on packages) be 
> required to have GPL-compatible licenses is not the intent (especially 
> considering the LGPLed header files mentioned above).  R's position is 
> somewhat unique in having much of the base functionality interpreted.  
> In practice, this legal interpretation (IANAL, etc) would require 
> essentially all R packages and other R scripts to be licensed in a 
> GPL-compatible way.  Is a legal exception in order here?
> My apologies if this question is more appropriate for r-users or has 
> been answered elsewhere.

I'm not sure what you are asking, but in general R's GPL license is 
completely irrelevant unless you are distributing R.  If you're writing 
a package and distributing only your own work, you can license it as you 

If you want to distribute R (or GPL'd parts of it, or a GPL'd package) 
as part of another project, then that project will need to be GPL'd.

The header files are LGPL'd because you would need to incorporate them 
into your package to distribute a binary.  The LGPL allows you to do 
that, without GPL'ing your package.

IANAL, etc.

Duncan Murdoch

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