Thoughts on the Wordpress & Thesis GPL hoo-haa
Published Mon, 19 Jul 2010
The blogosphere has been railing back and forth the past week about the assertion made by Matt Mullenweg that themes are covered by the GPL, as is Wordpress.
This post is a pretty good jumping off point if you need to get up to speed.
It appears in the context of the for-pay Thesis theme which is the primary issue in the discussion, there are a few points worth pointing out -
- The issue of whether it's a derivative work is moot since it has been clearly noted that it contains code from the original Wordpress base theme, ergo even by the legal definition (as compared with the GPL's), it is a derivative work.
- The GPL only covers code that is executed. This means that the Thesis developer is obligated to only distribute the .php source under the GPL, while the other theme assets may be proprietary.
So with that in mind, the real question is - does the GPL apply to a non derivative work (in the legal, copyright sense) that is executed in the same process as the core GPL Wordpress code?
Yes it does.
At least, the GPL says it does - it's yet to be tested in a meaningful way. So whether that's a legally enforceable statement, remains to be seen, but the license is pretty clear on that matter.
My feelings about this issue in general are -
- The key issue here is that Wordpress is mostly an end-user product, and a very popular one. This means there are a lot of people in the Wordpress community with no understanding of GPL or licensing in general. The GPL enforces Freedom, and that's with a capital 'F' - but the community around Wordpress isn't necessarily unanimously aware of this goal. Actually, that's precisely why Stallman wrote the GPL as such. To ensure that his vision of community (and its efforts) were maintained despite any community that latched on to it down the road.
- People have a choice when they choose GPL licensed code. When you pick something that's GPL'ed, you accept that other people have put a lot of effort into building it. You reciprocate that effort by providing any effort that you choose to add, to others. It's a one good turn obliges another type philosophy. You may disagree with it - it goes too far! Well that's no problem - just don't use or modify GPL'ed software. There are plenty of other more permissive licenses.
I actually think this debate is a good thing for the Wordpress's community. A bunch of people who previously didn't care about licensing and software freedom have now been pulled kicking and screaming into the debate.
And that can only be a good thing, if only a small step.
(For my general position on open-source licensing, have a read of my open-source page)
About the Author
Richard Nichols is an Australian software engineer with a passion for making things.
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