[R] R Licensing Question

Marc Schwartz marc_schwartz at me.com
Tue Jan 26 16:14:36 CET 2016

> On Jan 26, 2016, at 8:28 AM, Jonathan Gellar <JGellar at mathematica-mpr.com> wrote:
> Hello,
> I have found a list of all software licenses supported by CRAN at the following site:
> https://svn.r-project.org/R/trunk/share/licenses/license.db
> There is also the list of commonly used licenses here:
> https://cran.r-project.org/web/licenses/
> I have tried to read through some of these licenses, but I am not a lawyer and some of the legal jargon is difficult to get through. I have a simple question:
> Are there any packages available on CRAN that have a license that requires that every use of a particular package (e.g. in an analysis) be made open source as well? I have never heard of this being the case, and it does not appear to be true for any of the most commonly used licenses, but from what I understand it would be possible for someone to create a license that has this requirement.
> I apologize for the mass email if this is not the best forum for this question, but I could not find an answer elsewhere.
> Thank you,
> Jonathan


With the caveat that IANAL:

There are a few packages on CRAN that would preclude commercial use. You would need to review the license status of any packages that you intend to use to check for that. These would not be, for example, GPL licensed packages, since the GPL specifically prohibits such restrictions.

That being said, to the best of my knowledge, with the exception above regarding commercial use, most common open source licenses are not relevant to use, by to copying and distribution.

Thus, if you only plan to use the package in the course of analyses (e.g. simply calling functions within the package in your code), there is no requirement that your code behind the analyses be made openly available.

However, it would be reasonable and recommended to cite said package in any relevant publications.

See this FAQ, for example:


On the other hand, if you plan to copy and distribute any CRAN packages or R itself within the context of a larger product offering (e.g. bundling, etc.), then you need to evaluate the details of the licenses for those packages. That is where you will want an IP lawyer to get involved as the nature of such bundling (e.g are you actually interfacing with the package via compiled code that is linked to a binary?) will be relevant to determining if your code would need to be licensed with a compatible open source license.


Marc Schwartz

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