[R-pkg-devel] Licensing of an R package

Chris Brien Chris.Brien at unisa.edu.au
Fri Jan 19 09:31:00 CET 2018

Dear list members,

I have come to realize that my understanding of free software licensing was somewhat naïve. The problem is that I now find that, in spite of spending quite a bit of time reading about various licenses on the web, I have been unable to identify a suitable license for the situation that I have with one of my packages.

I am solely responsible for the development of my package, `foo' say. However, most functions in `foo' call functions from a proprietary package, `bar' say , the latter not being available from an online software repository and consisting of R functions that call routines in a library. That is, `foo' enhances `bar'.

I had thought that a GPL licence was appropriate because (1) `foo' is free software and (ii) I do not distribute `bar' with `foo'. That is, I am distributing only free software.  However, I have come to understand that this is not the case because a free software package linked with a proprietary package does not satisfy the requirements to be GPL.

I have found it difficult to work out a license that might cover my package because much of the discussion online covers cases that are the opposite of mine i.e. cases where `foo' is proprietary and `bar' is freeware. I can appreciate why this needs to be avoided.

I can also understand that a disadvantage of what I am doing is that it tends to entrench the use of such software. While I agree that it is desirable that `bar' be replaced with free software, unfortunately `bar' has functionality that is currently infeasible to replace with free software. At least I am not profiting from the enhancements that I have made.

I am hoping that someone more experienced in software development and licensing issues can suggest a license type that might be suitable for `foo' such that at least the enhancements that it incorporates remain `free'?


  Chris Brien

Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Statistics
Phenomics and Bioinformatics Research Centre
University of South Australia
GPO Box 2471
ADELAIDE  5001  South Australia
Phone:  +61 8 8302 5535   Fax:  +61 8 8302 5785
Email:   Chris.Brien at unisa.edu.au 
WEB page:  <http://people.unisa.edu.au/Chris.Brien> 
CRICOS No 00121B 

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