[Rd] Closed-source non-free ParallelR ?

Ian Fellows ifellows at ucsd.edu
Fri Apr 24 00:21:45 CEST 2009

Assuming that the foundation does not want to deviate from the FSF
interpretation, there would still be value in clarifying its position
vis-à-vis how the license applies to R specifically. 

For example the FSF foundation claims that linking to a library (even in an
interpreted environment) makes your software derivative, and therefore must
be distributed Freely. They also claim that simply executing a program in an
interpreted (GPL'ed) environment is okay even though the program could not
be run without it. So one question might be, where does the language end and
the libraries begin? Are any/all of the default packages considered part of
the language? It seems hard to imagine doing anything at all without at
least 'base.' If I install R in the usual way with no other
packages/libraries can I release whatever I write under any license, or does
it have to be GPL compatible?

While I wouldn't expect R core to formulate formal legal opinions regarding
questions like these, it would be nice if there were some kind of "community


-----Original Message-----
From: r-devel-bounces at r-project.org [mailto:r-devel-bounces at r-project.org]
On Behalf Of Marc Schwartz
Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 2:34 PM
To: Stavros Macrakis
Cc: Matthew Dowle; r-devel at r-project.org
Subject: Re: [Rd] Closed-source non-free ParallelR ?

On Apr 23, 2009, at 3:22 PM, Stavros Macrakis wrote:

> On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 1:25 PM, Marc Schwartz  
> <marc_schwartz at me.com> wrote:
>> On Apr 23, 2009, at 11:47 AM, Stavros Macrakis wrote:
>>> All that being said, the entity that must enforce these conditions  
>>> is
>>> not the FSF, but the copyright owner, in this case the R  
>>> Foundation...
>>> bundler. So it would be useful to know what the R Foundation's
>>> position is....
>> Actually, the R Foundation has done what it is obligated to do,  
>> which is to
>> describe the license under which R is made available.
> I did not say that the R Foundation was obligated to give advice.  I
> said that it is up to the R Foundation to decide what cases it cares
> about, and it would be "useful to know" what that position is.
>> To ask the R Foundation for anything further is to ask them to  
>> render a legal
>> opinion, which is not in their expertise to offer.
> No, it is asking them what their *policy* is.  Their policy may or may
> not be enforceable....
>> It is up to the prospective third party developer of an application  
>> that is
>> to use R to consult with lawyers to determine what *THEIR*  
>> obligations are
>> if they should elect to proceed.
> Yes, this is true.  But it is also true that if (for example) the R
> Foundation says officially that it interprets GPL to allow
> distributing proprietary packages along with R, then that is the
> interpretation that matters, since the R Foundation (not the FSF) is
> the copyright holder.
>> At this level, it is really pretty simple and a lot of these things  
>> are
>> covered in the GPL FAQs, including the reporting of violations.
> The GPL FAQs are the FSF's interpretation.  The R Foundation is not
> obliged to have the same interpretation, and of course the FSF cannot
> enforce licenses given by the R Foundation.

Underlying all of your comments seems to be a presumption that the R  
Foundation can disentangle themselves from the FSF vis-a-vis the GPL.

Keep in mind that it is the FSF that is the copyright holder of the GPL.

The R Foundation may be the copyright holder to R, but they are  
distributing it under a license which they did not write.

Thus, I cannot envision any reasonable circumstances under which the R  
Foundation would place themselves in a position of legal risk in  
deviating from the interpretations of the GPL by the FSF. It would be  
insane legally to do so.

The key issue is the lack of case law relative to the GPL and that  
leaves room for interpretation. One MUST therefore give significant  
weight to the interpretations of the FSF as it will likely be the FSF  
that will be involved in any legal disputes over the GPL and its  
application. You would want them on your side, not be fighting them.

A parallel here is why most large U.S. public corporations legally  
incorporate in the state of Delaware, even though they may not have  
any material physical presence in that state. It is because the  
overwhelming majority of corporate case law in the U.S. has been  
decided under the laws of Delaware and the interpretations of said  
laws. If I were to start a company (which I have done in the past) and  
feared that I should find myself facing litigation at some future  
date, I would want that huge database of case law behind me. A small  
company (such as I had) may be less concerned about this and be  
comfortable with the laws of their own state, which I was. But if I  
were to be looking to build a big company with investors, etc. and  
perhaps look to go public at a future date, you bet I would look to  
incorporate in Delaware. It would be the right fiduciary decision to  
make in the interest of all parties.

Unfortunately, we have no such archive of case law yet of the GPL.  
Thus at least from a legally enforceable perspective, all is grey and  
the FSF has to be the presumptive leader here.


Marc Schwartz

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