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I developed an R package that I would have to license under GPL2 due a few of my dependencies having that license. If I do not distribute this package via CRAN, would it be possible to sell the source code to users if it's for commercial / for profit applications, but provide it for free to academics? If so, how should this be organised in practice? Would it be OK to email the code only to academics, and else ask for a fee? I know that GPL2 would allow any user that obtained the code would then be granted to further distribute the code to anyone else, but I just reasoned that an academic would probably not have much incentive to distribute it to a company, and conversely that a company that paid for it wouldn't like to distribute it further. Or what would the other options be in this case to allow a bit of money to be made from commercial usage of this package, to compensate for some of the development work? Putting the package behind a web interface I heard would also be possible, but that's difficult because of the large files the package works with, which are hard to send over internet. A commercial pretty Java interface to use the R package in a user friendly way I guess would also be possible? I.e. a commercial derivative product? Or would that too have to have a GPL-2 license?

  • Hey, you're asking about 8 different questions here, and some of those are individually too broad to be answered. Please stick to a single question that has a determinative answer. Then you can follow-up by posting additional questions. – Josh Berkus Jan 11 at 23:39
  • Well summarized as a single question it is "What are the options to make a small amount of money out of a GPL2 R package that I authored if it's going to be used for profit?" – Tom Wenseleers Jan 12 at 18:51
  • Asking "what business model should I have" would be off-topic as both "too broad" and "primarily a matter of opinion". Sorry. – Josh Berkus Jan 12 at 22:20
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Let me answer your core question here, since you're asking too many other questions for anyone to answer them all:

I developed an R package that I would have to license under GPL2 due a few of my dependencies having that license. If I do not distribute this package via CRAN, would it be possible to sell the source code to users if it's for commercial / for profit applications, but provide it for free to academics?

Short Answer: Probably not.

Long answer: the GPL does not prohibit you from charging whatever you want to distribute code; if you want to put up a website and ask people for money, you can certainly take anything they are willing to pay. It doesn't even have to be your code.

However, if you "have to" license the module under GPL2 because of its dependencies, then the commercial users (as well as the academics) are entitled to demand a full copy of the original source code, and also have the right to redistribute it however they wish. This means that any model you have for charging for the code would be short-lived.

Also, this assumes that you're even distributing the module in binary form to begin with. A lot of R modules are distributed as source, in which case the commercial user would already have the source.

References:

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    "the GPL does not prohibit you from charging whatever you want to distribute code" it doesn't prohibit you from charging for binaries. It's pretty clear, in both major versions, about what (if anything) you may charge for distributing source to those who have paid for the binaries. – MadHatter Jan 12 at 10:44
  • I guess the issue then is that whoever would have paid for the binaries would also be entitled to get the source code, and that say some academic (who would then get it for free) could then feel inclined and would be entitled to put the source code on github after minor modification... – Tom Wenseleers Jan 12 at 18:45
  • And what about the possibility of making a commercial JAVA interface that would drive the open source command-line only R package? Would that be OK, or would that too have to be released under a GPL2 license? – Tom Wenseleers Jan 12 at 18:46
  • Charging for commercial support would be another option I guess? Or make some more detailed tutorials / documentation / books commercial perhaps if it's going to be used for profit? – Tom Wenseleers Jan 12 at 18:49
  • MadHatter: yes, although if there is no binary form of the software -- if it's source-only, as many R modules are -- then you can charge whatever you want for the source. The limitation in the GPL is on what you can charge for the source to people who already got the binary. – Josh Berkus Jan 12 at 22:21

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