[R] licensing of R packages

Berwin A Turlach berwin at maths.uwa.edu.au
Fri Nov 14 19:14:48 CET 2008

G'day Duncan,

On Fri, 14 Nov 2008 12:36:15 -0500
Duncan Murdoch <murdoch at stats.uwo.ca> wrote:

> On 11/14/2008 11:57 AM, Carlos Ungil wrote:
> > 
> > And the copyright owners have recourse to legal action if they
> > think there is a license violation. Again, I don't know what a
> > court would decide, but if you want to test the limits of the GPL
> > license I would avoid challenging a GNU project :-)
> Actually, I think that's an ideal situation.  There is a lot of fear
> and doubt about using GPL'd software, because of worries like yours.
> But the FSF has the resources to follow up in cases where there are
> actual violations, and they have won several.

What do you mean with "won several"?  As far as I remember from reading
an interview of Eben Moglen, in most cases the violator backed down and
it ddi not come to a law suit.  From what I read, I think the FSF was
only involved in one case that actually went to court, perhaps two; but
I could be wrong.

However, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harald_Welte attributes to Harald
Welte the creation of http://gpl-violations.org and with prosecuting
"violators of the GPL, which had been untested in court until then".

And as I mentioned early, the FSF does not seem to be the copyright
holder of the GSL, so it is not clear whether it can become active.
But perhaps it can, it is not clear to me whether Harald Welte was the
copyright holder in the cases that he pursued.
> The way to lose a GPL lawsuit is to incorporate GPL'd code into your
> own project, and then not follow the GPL when you redistribute.
> There's evidence of that.
> But I've never heard of anyone linking to but not distributing GPL'd 
> code and being sued for it, let alone losing lawsuits over it.
> That's evidence enough for me that it is a safe thing to do.

I rather think it is evidence that nobody who has done such a thing was
willing to let it come to a lawsuit but rather decided to settle the
matter before it reached court.  Probably because the advice that they
got from their own lawyers was that they were on a sure loser and
should settle instead, with the settlement being much cheaper.  As I
understand it, the FSF never went for punitive damages and was just
happy with the offender rectifying his/her way in the future and
adhering to her/his obligation under the GPL.

In my opinion, but IANAL, it is pretty obvious that if your binary has
to be linked against some GPL'd software to make it work and this is the
only way of making your binary work, then your binary is a derivative
work of that GPL'd software.  Hence, if you want to distribute your
binary, you are bound to the GPL.

Thus, on one hand I agree with you, I have never heard that "of anyone
linking to but not distributing GPL'd code and being sued for it, let
alone losing lawsuits over it".  On the other hand I do seem to remember
hearing about people who distributed binaries-only software, that needed
to be linked against software under GPL to work, being talked to by the
FSF and agreeing to stop their behaviour.  Anybody knows if there is an
archive for gnu.misc.discuss for the early to mid '90s so that I can
try to refresh my memory?



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