When using an R package, for example in a commercial application, it seems to me that it is not sufficient to check the licenses of the package's imports, but also the licenses of the imports' imports (and so on). For example, dplyr imports assertthat. dplyr has an MIT license, whereas assertthat is GPL-3. If I understand correctly, this means that I cannot use dplyr without following the requirements of GPL-3. Is that correct?

And does this also apply to dependencies (Depends) and suggestions (Suggests)?


On the contrary.

The theory is that you should only have to check the licenses of your own direct imports and dependencies. By checking the licenses of the entire dependency tree, you've uncovered a GPL violation.

The GPL requires that any program using the covered software also be conveyed under the terms of the GPL*. So, if assertthat is GPL, then dplyr must also be licensed under the terms of the GPL - and given that, so must your application.

I'd suggest you get in contact with the developers of dplyr and point this out to them. They must change their license to the GPL, or be liable for copyright violation charges in court.

* The LGPL has an exception which allows for packages that only dynamically link an LGPL package to be licensed differently. That does not apply in this case, as the software is GPL not LGPL.

  • Thanks a lot for your input. Frankly, I find it more likely that I misunderstood something here than Hadley Wickham having made a mistake. Perhaps it has to do with how R packages are distributed? Or with the fact that the author and maintainer of both packages is the same person? – sebastianmm Apr 5 '16 at 21:14
  • @SebastianM.Müller If the author of both packages is the same person, then it's fine - they have the full copyright to both, and can do what they like. – ArtOfCode Apr 5 '16 at 21:18
  • I see. However, I found some more occurrences from different authors, which makes be believe this dependency is treated differently. – sebastianmm Apr 5 '16 at 21:32
  • 1
    @SebastianM.Müller Legally, it can't be. If you're not the author and you want to use GPL software, you must release your own software under GPL. – ArtOfCode Apr 5 '16 at 21:33
  • Isn't it okay to publish one's derivative work using a "GPL compatible" license? – sebastianmm Apr 12 '16 at 15:25

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