[R] Making a new package: licence

Prof Brian Ripley ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Sat Jul 9 10:41:54 CEST 2011

Because the common FOSS licenses are installed with R, CRAN asks you 
to refer to those copies not distribute your own.  See 'Writing R 

I agree that most R packages are lacking copyright statements (which 
is a separate issue, and whose purpose varies by jurisdiction: 
provided ownership is clear, they are not needed in the UK according 
to an IP lawyer acquaintance of mine).  For any 'public' R package the 
authorship should be made clear: most often the Author: field in the 
DESCRIPTION file suffices.

There is one issue which this thread has missed and may affect the 
licence.  If your package is pure R code and R acts as the 
interpreter, the licence of R does not (according to most people) come 
into play.  If you start linking to R's internals via compiled code or 
via .Internal calls, you may well be making a derivative work.  See 
for example 
http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#IfInterpreterIsGPL (which is 
the GPL-3 FAQ, only one of the two licences available for R, and that 
interpretation is not the only one).

On Fri, 8 Jul 2011, Barry Rowlingson wrote:

> On Fri, Jul 8, 2011 at 4:16 PM, Federico Calboli
> <f.calboli at imperial.ac.uk> wrote:
>> The vast majority of CRAN libraries seem to be released under some sort of GPL version. I never seen a license though.
> You're right. The GNU people say "should":
> http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-howto.html
> ---
> You should also include a copy of the license itself somewhere in the
> distribution of your program. All programs, whether they are released
> under the GPL or LGPL, should include the text version of the GPL. In
> GNU programs the license is usually in a file called COPYING.
> ---
> But it seems you have to add a copyright and permission notice to every file:
> ---
> Whichever license you plan to use, the process involves adding two
> elements to each source file of your program: a copyright notice (such
> as “Copyright 1999 Terry Jones”), and a statement of copying
> permission, saying that the program is distributed under the terms of
> the GNU General Public License (or the Lesser GPL).
> ---
> I just picked one random R package from CRAN ("tgram") and it doesn't
> comply (no copyright mention, no LICENSE file, just License: GPL (>=2)
> in the DESCRIPTION). I suspect most of my own code doesn't comply
> either. Told you I wasn't a lawyer...
> Barry
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Brian D. Ripley,                  ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Professor of Applied Statistics,  http://www.stats.ox.ac.uk/~ripley/
University of Oxford,             Tel:  +44 1865 272861 (self)
1 South Parks Road,                     +44 1865 272866 (PA)
Oxford OX1 3TG, UK                Fax:  +44 1865 272595

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