So — once again, WordPress GPL wars have erupted on the Twitter.
Today, it started with an independent WordPress consultant being removed from the CodePoet.com website.
The reason cited was that the consultant promoted the Thesis theme, a commercial theme written by Chris Pearson, which Automattic, Matt Mullenweg and several others claim to be in “blatant violation of the GPL”.
As these things go, members of the community immediately dug their trenches and started throwing verbal hand grenades around. Very few people had any real valid points to make; Understandable as I’m quite sure most people haven’t taken the time to read the GPL much less understand it enough to try to interpret it. I don’t know why, but this WP GPL fight always brings up humorous memories of 2 groups of high school aged girls arguing over which actor in the Twilight series is hotter: Edward or Jacob. Weird, hu? Anyway, I digress …
First of all, lets take a quick second to review my point of view on the GPL and how it applies to WordPress extensions. Mind you, this is my interpretation of it — not anyone else’s. Furthermore, if I were to start selling premium or commercial themes or plugins for WordPress, there is a very good chance I’d release under a GPL compliant license.
- WordPress code is release under the GPL, so obviously modifying it’s code and then reselling the code would be in violation of copyright law.
- WordPress provides an API – an interface that allows it to be extended to work with 3rd party code as well as allow 3rd party code to interface with it.
- Many 3rd party, commercial, plugins can and do work without WordPress.
So, those things said — I’m feeling a bit torn. I think it’s a fringe area of the license and it requires someone unbiased, with a lot more contract law experience, like a Judge, to make the legal distinctions. I do however feel like I sway towards non-gpl extensions being legal and not in violation of the GPL.
I’ll explain why with the following example:
WordPress, as well as countless other GPL licensed projects offer an interface for external applications. Does the GPL extend to commercial 3rd party projects, such as FTP Clients, software media players or email clients?
Lets use an email client as a comparison to a WordPress theme. Why? On it’s exterior, it may seem like an apples to oranges comparison, but if we dig deeper these two things are much more similar than they seem. You see, an email client doesn’t do much more than take information stored on a server, format it’s display and allow you to view and navigate it in a particular way. In that same fashion, a WordPress theme does the same thing. It takes an an authors content and formats how it’s displayed, and in most cases, gives you a method of navigating the content.
If we apply the logic that all extensions of WordPress are covered under the GPL, then we would have to apply that same logic to software like Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer, not to mention the countless other products that interface with and extend GPL licensed software.
In the Pearson vs. Mullenweg scenario, who has more to loose? Matt believes that the whole open source community would take a hit if it went to court and lost. It’s an exaggeration, but sure, this same battle has gone on within other GPL projects and they might have to concede that 3rd party extensions that don’t use actual GPL licensed code might be in the right to sell their wares. On the other hand, if the GPL side of the argument won, what would happen to all those commercial clients that interface with GPL code?