Does WordPress Want to Shove a GPL Shaped Stick up My…

Does WordPress Want to Shove a GPL Shaped Stick up My…

Update January 21, 2017: This post is part of the WPMU DEV Blog archive and contains information that is out-of-date, but we’re keeping it on the blog for posterity. For all the latest WordPress news and resources, check out our latest posts.

Don’t get me wrong, I love WordPress. I really, really do. I literally own the T-shirt… and the hoodie.. and the badges… and even organized the first AU WordCamp back in 2007. I want to own more merchandise, and do more good things, seriously!

In fact WordPress is also my full time job; me and my partners own and run one of the largest WordPress MU hosts on the web  at Edublogs, make big media / corporate blogging sites at Incsub, and provide the free WordPress MU plugins hub WPMU DEV.

But there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet, you see, we have a dirty little secret, namely that the free WPMU plugins site also has a ‘Premium’ version where people pay to download custom plugins, themes, videos and other stuff that we’ve made  (as well as get support, upgrades and all that jazz).

What’s so dirty about that? Well, you see, we don’t give our plugins a GPL license even though, as Ma.tt said on my previous post about making money with WPMU:

“Long story short, it’s fine to sell things, including exactly what you’re doing on the site today, but insofar as the code links or uses any core WP functions it should also be GPL licensed.”

Which brings up a very very big issue, critical not only to WPMU DEV Premium but also to anyone who works with WordPress – namely that if you build a theme, plugin or anything else that “links [to] or users any core WP functions” then you must:

“Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code…” [3.b. GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE Version 2, June 1991 – the one that ships with WP.]

Now, I expected you’re a bit surprised that I brought that up – surely, you’re thinking, he’d be more upset about the bit that allows anyone to distribute his code, wouldn’t he? I mean, if we were to release our plugins under GPL then someone would be able to just download them, put them up on another site (for free) and raise a one fingered salute in our direction!

Whereas actually I don’t care about that bit much, I mean we have market (and search engine) position enough to hopefully avoid that being a big issue, I can’t see members of the WPMU community giving a site like that many links or credence, they could well be stuffed with malware etc. and also we offer more than code – you get upgrades, bugs fixes, support, community and to request stuff (which often gets made!).

Sure it’d royally piss me off, but I’d get over it.

Naw, what I really care about is that this means that someone should, according to Matt’s reasoning (and his reasoning does matter, a great deal), be able to come up to Edublogs and demand that we hand over all our custom code to them.

Or, and which is even more terrifying, they should be able to go up to our high profile clients at Incsub… and do just exactly that… I mean, holy shit, way to piss someone off and trash my business.

[Oh, incidentally though, don’t try that please ;) Thankfully nothing we’ve done for them is GPL licensed]

Or – more pertinently – and this is to all you people out there who design themes for clients, make custom WP functionality or run your own businesses on WP or WPMU – apparently if you are approached by someone who asks you for that theme/plugin/functionality, you’d better hand it over. Or be in violation of the WP license. Feeling nervous yet?

Or, more to the point, doesn’t that make Automattic feel a bit nervous?

I mean, those guys are generous to a  fault, I’m their biggest fan – they’ve got the best CEO, the smartest founder, the creator of WordPress MU and developers that would make any company jealous. And when I brought up the fact that there was stuff in WordPress.com that wasn’t released, like CSS editing, Matt offered to sort it out and release it – I mean, OMG, how cool is that.

In fact I’m sure they’d release their grannies diaries if they were asked (and they linked to WP anywhere), without hesitation, but that’s not what I’m concerned about.,

It’s your VIP clients guys… blogs.nfl.com, WSJ magazine, TIME magazine, Discover magazine, All things D etc. etc. – I mean, I bet there are some nifty themes and plugins in play there guys – but you wouldn’t want me walking up to them and demanding they be delivered to me… would you?

But as I was saying, all of this is by-the-by if you don’t agree with Matt when he says: “insofar as the code links or uses any core WP functions it should also be GPL licensed”.

Now, I’m not a lawyer (what, you hadn’t noticed!) or even a developer, so I have turned for advice to smarter sorts than me – but they are busy at the moment, so with luck they’ll have the chance to chime in on this post in the comments :)

But naturally I can’t help myself in terms of having a stab at it… I mean, in purely simple terms, can it be conceived of as fair or reasonable that something you have written 100% yourself, from scratch, because it *links* to WP components – yet alone uses WP hooks – should then be subject automatically to a GPL license???

And is it 100% said and done that simply linking to a WordPress element or using a template tag or hook constitutes being a “work based on the Program… that is to say, a work containing the Program or a portion of it” [taken from the same license]? Throw me a bone here… is there a precedent?

And, more to the point, is it possible to create ANYTHING that plays alongside WP that doesn’t link to or use WP hooks? So doesn’t that mean by default anything that even touches it MUST be covered by the GPL? Do you think that’s really in the spirit of things?

[Not to mention, for example, a corporate intranet that links to a WP install… but I’ll ignore that as it’s a bit tenuous.]

And aren’t there plentiful example of propitiatory software (like Oracle) that extensively hooks into / links to /uses GNU/GPL licensed code (Unix)?

Sure, you could say Unix is a standard… but isn’t WP becoming just that in the blogging world?

Plus, you’d be surprised at the number of corporate objections made to WP based upon some corporate lawyers fears about the GPL – I’ve experienced it, in person, at the two largest media operators in Australia… and guess what, neither of them use WP :(

But finally, and at the end of the day, regardless of the whatever technicalities are involved in the license, don’t we have each others best interests at heart? Is it fair to enforce on anyone, just because they happen to use WP as a base CMS / blogging platform etc. that everything the do should be available on demand to anyone who fancies it? Is it really sustainable for you (or anyone for that matter) to police that? And do you think that is honestly in the best interests of the software?

Because I really do <3 you WordPress – and really don’t want you stiff me and everyone else that promotes, works with, gives back to and earns a decent days work out of your goodness.  Come along now, surely we can work something out…