GPL3 or GPL2… or why Automattic won’t release plugins

GPL3 or GPL2… or why Automattic won’t release plugins

While we’re waiting for a response from Matt with either his (voice of the community) or Automattic (voice of the leader) hat on to fill us in on what’s going to be the future of WordPress MU and perhaps answer a few of my questions, I figured I’d jot down some possible answers to a topic that came up quite a bit in the discussions related to that post.

Namely, a fair few people asked – Well, Automattic doesn’t release their code (or themes) for plugins they use of, or VIP sites like GigaOm – and yet they kick up a stink about our themes and plugins being behind a paywall.

What’s up with that?

Well it’s simple really, whether by design or coincidence, WordPress chose a really great GPL license, namely GPL2 rather than GPL3.

Now, IANAL, but I believe that the fundamental difference between GPL2 and GPL3 is that GPL2 allows you to develop and use integrated code (plugins, themes etc.) as a service with no obligation to share it publicly *unless you distribute it in some way* whereas GPL3 forces you to supply that code to anyone who asks for it.

So, were WordPress GPL3 I could rock up to Automattic’s VIP clients (and Automattic themselves) and demand they provide me with the source code, whereas with GPL2 I can’t because the code hasn’t been released yet.

I’d be more than happy to be proved wrong (and I’m sure there are more erudite readers of this blog than I am – especially in this area) – but I’m pretty sure that’s the answer to the question.

So do let me know if I’ve got it completely wrong!

However, whether that’s ‘ok’ or not is another thing entirely :)

Personally, I’m fine with it, as it seems to make sense that if a WP user develops their own theme they shouldn’t have to hand it over to anyone who wants it.

Also, I wouldn’t stress too much about things like BuddyPress membership site plugins not being released, as we’ll be making a great one for you down the line at WPMU DEV Premium (we’ll be doing this because the generous members of the site allow us to dedicate time, employ developers and generally make it).

But whether everyone thinks it’s A ok I’m not sure?

It does strike me that some of the more ‘strident’ (ahem) open sourcers out there would much prefer a GPL3 license., and apparently there are good reasons to upgrade, but I for one ‘aint clamouring for it.