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

Chris Brien Chris.Brien at unisa.edu.au
Fri Jan 19 11:19:21 CET 2018

Hi Stefan,

Here are the answers:

A) No, I am simply calling routines.
B) By proprietary I mean that it is a commercial package.
C) No, it seemed better to use short, distinctive names for the two packages and to focus on the essential issues, namely that `bar' is a commercial package and that `foo' is not.

Thanks for your interest.



From: stefan.mckinnon.edwards at gmail.com [mailto:stefan.mckinnon.edwards at gmail.com] On Behalf Of Stefan McKinnon Høj-Edwards
Sent: Friday, 19 January 2018 7:58 PM
To: Chris Brien
Cc: r-package-devel at r-project.org
Subject: Re: [R-pkg-devel] Licensing of an R package

Hi Chris,

Just for clarification, there are at least two aspects that affect how you can license your package. 

A) Do you distribute `bar` with your package, or are you simply calling routines in `bar`? 
B) What is the exact license of `bar`?
C) Is there a reason for this secrecy of `bar`? If we knew what it was, somebody on this list might have experience with it or similar.

If `bar` is not freely available, it doesn't seem your package would be accepted to CRAN (do correct me if I am wrong).

Stefan McKinnon Hoj-Edwards

Stefan McKinnon Høj-Edwards
ph.d. Genetics
+44 (0)776 231 2464
+45 2888 6598
Skype: stefan_edwards

2018-01-19 8:31 GMT+00:00 Chris Brien <Chris.Brien at unisa.edu.au>:
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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