51 Comments


  1.  It takes a lot courage to support an opinion, 
    and even more to change it.
    It was a victory for WordPress and GPL, most of all.
    Great post, by the way.
    And a big thanks to Matt- good persistence and community support, always.
    Greetings from Brazil :-)


  2. Great day indeed! Leadership via slander and threat of lawsuit prevailed over yet another developer. He did everything we wanted, but he is still a bastard. He wins a bonus kick.

    Now let’s try to go for a week without another scandal!*

    *not happening

    Sigh.

  3. Melissa

    @Rarst I agree with your thoughts. I was actually partly disappointed in Matt’s leadership on the matter. I think this is a win for WordPress and Thesis, and am happy about that much.


  4. @Xcobar – From the sounds of it, he hasn’t actually changed his opinion. He just gave up I think.


  5. Leadership via slander and threat of lawsuit prevailed over yet another developer.

    If it were truly slander, I think Chris’ lawyers would have been the ones making the first call. As for threat of legal action, this is how the business world works, like it or not; if I slapped Google’s logo on my web site and claimed to be a subsidiary, they wouldn’t ask me nicely if I could please rethink my position. I would lose my home and the next four I wanted to their legal team, well before I even knew I was being sued.

    While there was a lot of mud slinging on both sides, and some folks took it to extremes, Chris very much showed his true colors, and I for one definitely think what you say, no matter how sarcastically you meant it, is true. He has earned no respect even with this latest action.

    It’s fine that he has supporters — even if we elected a president that did nothing but drive our country into the ground, there would still be the loyal few who thought everybody else was just spewing ‘slander’. But don’t make it sound like the whole community is being stood over with a big stick and every developer who wants to venture forth and cut his or her own path is going to eventually fall victim to a similar fate.


  6. @Mark.

    But don’t make it sound like the whole community is being stood over with a big stick and every developer who wants to venture forth and cut his or her own path is going to eventually fall victim to a similar fate.

    What does that mean?


  7. After listening to the interview with both Matt and Chris I am amazed he even did such a thing. Although a “split license” is kind of a joke..Doesn’t really change anything.


  8. @Mark. -

    Chris may have shown true colors. But somehow Matt’s colors in this situation are conveniently omitted. Gloating over Thesis security issues (compare to holy rage when someone points at WP security), openly calling Chris criminal, etc.

    For the record I am not “supporter” of Chris, I have no affiliation with him or Thesis.

    But don’t make it sound like the whole community is being stood over with a big stick and every developer who wants to venture forth and cut his or her own path is going to eventually fall victim to a similar fate.

    I am not even a developer (beside some snippets and answering simple questions here and there) and I get my share of name-calling and being labeled as “against GPL”, etc.

    I make it sound exactly how I feel – that having personal opinion is treated like grave offense in “WP community”.

    Anyway, I should go cool down. This post put me in very foul mood.


  9. @AJ – I’ll agree with anyone that says mudslinging happened from both sides in the interview, Matt did go low a few times but he did a good job keeping his composure.

    As for the split license, what it does is make thesis legal and until now, that has been the biggest contention of debate. This allows the community to move along to the next thing. What it doesn’t do is allow Thesis to be featured on the GPL commercial themes page because they are not “100%” GPL which means PHP plus the Images and CSS all fall under the GPL. Chris couldn’t give two shits about that and as evidenced by the tweet, he couldn’t give two shits about the split license either.


  10. @Rarst – Well, having an opinion should not be a grave offense. After all, everyone has one. So to be clear, I think you’re upset because I failed to indicate that Matt is just as bad as Chris when it comes to doing wrong in the WordPress community?


  11. @Jeffro -

    What does that mean?

    Based on the comments Rarst made it sounded like the implication was there that this is ‘the way of things’ in the WordPress community. I may have misinterpreted, but that’s the feeling I got.

    @Rarst -

    I haven’t been involved in the community for very long, I’ve only been working with WordPress for the past two years and for the better part of that as a very quiet third party, so I may be way off base in presuming that this isn’t the standard. For what it’s worth, it isn’t the standard I’ve seen; I’ve met a lot of very active people that love what they do and are reaping the rewards, and they don’t ever come across to me as ever having been oppressed by the authority figures.

    I think the thing that has attracted most of my attention in this issue is Chris’ sheer disregard and lack of respect for WordPress and the community at large. He is only concerned with himself and his ego and for that reason I’m willing to overlook actions taken by other parties, even if they weren’t the most well thought out.


  12. @Jeffro -

    I am upset because I think this post gives extremely one-sided coverage of the issue via wording, interpretation and suggested linked posts (Ben Cook used some nicely fitting and colorful words to describe one of those on Twitter).

    I am upset by this post being a concentrated cocktail of what is (as for me) core problem of WordPress&GPL&derivatives situation – turning vague legal issue into mess of political bs and superseding facts with opinions.

    From where I stand the only fault of Chris I see in this situation is that Thesis had actual WP code included (which is something he did not do personally, but missed – it was done by one of past developers, as I understood from tweets and such).

    Which was resolved promptly and in line with Matt’s position on licenses.

    ( Still a bastard. Kiiiiick! )

    Naive userbase that doesn’t care about licenses as opposed to educated community of open source supporters? Absolutely most of WordPress userbase is probably naive and doesn’t care. As I said on forum recently – several geeks on dedicated site are not user base.

    PS Jeffro, personally do you consider ME menace and GPL-opposing force? I think you had some time and seen enough of my forum posts / tweets / whatever to determine where I stand.


  13. @Mark. -

    I had been using WordPress roughly as long as you.

    Two years into it I am torn between being aware with what’s going on in community department (which makes sense to have a good understanding of stuff) and feeling that I should just disregard that mess of repeated scandals in favor of just silently using WP for my needs.

    Doesn’t help at all that I have some opinions not in line with those of “WordPress core team”, including themes as mandatory derivative works.


  14. @Rarst – You keep mentioning the word scandals. What do you mean by scandals?


  15. @Jeffro -

    As first definition in wiktionary “scandal (plural scandals)
    An incident or event that disgraces or damages the reputation of the persons or organization involved.”

    Any answer to my PS question? I am honestly interested in it.


  16. @Rarst – Well, Chris reputation was damaged long before anything such as a scandal ever took place and I still don’t think Matt launched any scandals against Chris or any other individual.

    I don’t see you as a menace but as part of a contingent that represents the other side of the argument.


  17. @Jeffro -

    I still don’t think Matt launched any scandals against Chris or any other individual.

    As I saw this latest Thesis/GPL mess unraveling it was absolutely started by Matt that out of the blue shot multiple tweets dissing Thesis security (at first) and it being “scammy” (later). Offering to buy anyone other theme if they move from Thesis (even more later). Don’t remember if law breaking allegation where on Twitter or somewhere in comments.

    Obviously I am not aware of any private communication that might have taken place, but as I saw it this was what made Twitter explode that day.

    I do not know what exactly made Chris switch to split-license. But Matt said that they tried to influence him and it wasn’t working. Apparently turning situation in cluster**** did.

    I would be amazed if Matt managed to convince Chris and they came to agreement. I am not amazed with Matt being unable to convince Chris and degrading situation to dissing Thesis, “poaching” (not sure it is a good word, Chris used it) its clients and inflaming situation to the point some people started to get uncomfortable for using Thesis.


  18. @Rarst – Well, with all that Matt did or said, the question I have which you and I can’t answer is why didn’t Chris take this fight all the way to the courts to really stick by what he perceived to be the right course of action. If you believe that Matt is scandalous then for sure, Chris would have an easy case. Maybe he could have thrown libel, defamation of character, or any kind of other bullshit in as well.

    Personally, I think the entire situation boils down to Matt getting to the point of saying ‘Fuck It’ with trying to deal with Chris Pearson on a rational level because after 3 years, it simply was not working. Once you say fuck it, you pretty much go full bore and clean up the mess later. It only became REALLY interesting once it was discovered chunks of core WordPress code were discovered within the theme which turned it into a clear copyright violator. After three years of talking to a brick wall, I finally think Matt was compelled strongly enough to consider legal action despite doing just about everything else to avoid it.


  19. @Jeffro -

    It only became REALLY interesting once it was discovered chunks of core WordPress code were discovered within the theme which turned it into a clear copyright violator.

    Seventy bucks (or how much is it, don’t remember) for a copy of Thesis. Several hours for one of Automattic employees to do audit and find that code. At any point during those three years.

    Either they didn’t think/bother (which is lame). Or code didn’t matter at all and what mattered was to get Thesis in tight place with propaganda.

    Before I get asked I use propaganda as (again according to wiktionary) “A concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people.” And try to convince me this wasn’t what Matt did that day on Twitter.

    You know what impression about Automattic and community really stuck in my head? It’s when I had (repeatedly) issues with Akismet (that were later confirmed and fixed by Akismet support) and what reaction I got for sharing them on forum was Otto calling me a spammer.

    I feel echo of this again and again. It doesn’t matter if you are right, it matters if you say good things about WordPress and Automattic and Matt. And if you are not – you are meat to be righteously chewed.

    Anyway rehashing my (somewhat lame) gripes probably accomplishes nothing (except getting me through Friday morning). :)

    I hope I explained well enough my issue with this post. And that when I am being snide and ugly it is not because I get off it. It is in response to people that are being that way in my address.


  20. @Rarst – Although a bit off topic:

    I feel echo of this again and again. It doesn’t matter if you are right, it matters if you say good things about WordPress and Automattic and Matt. And if you are not – you are meat to be righteously chewed.

    You can’t place me in that camp as evidence by my scathing posts of the P filter and the lack of UI for post revisions. I’ve criticized Matt and some of the decisions by the core team before, it’s not like on his side for everything he does. I will agree that mud slinging occurred from both sides during the events on Twitter and the Mixergy interview although I think Matt did a better job of taking the high road.

    Otto doesn’t represent the community, he only represents himself. But I think what you’re saying is his response is the one you normally get from others in the community which is not a good thing but maybe the issue is just with lack of emotion with the text provided. For instance, I bet if you and Otto had a drink together at a pub, it wouldn’t be so bad. (I think)

    I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but not everyone has the ability to do that.


  21. Jeffro this post is biased and uninformed. You have written excellent stuff in the past but this is a new low. It should never have been posted in the first place.
    Not on WPTavern anyway. The Tavern is too good for this. You have tainted your baby Jeff :(.

    It’s evident by this tweet that he simply doesn’t ‘get it‘ and most likely never will because ego or something else blinds the man from reality.

    Do you get it Jeff? Do you understand the difference between actually using GPL code and calling functions? If not read Chips excellent post on the subject. Heck you can do a comparison post between those for the GPL inheritance and Chips. I would venture to say that Chips will kick the other ones butts.

    What I don’t like is the simple fact that it’s just not right, to create a piece of work that ties into a free and open platform with millions of users and it’s licensed in a way that takes away the very freedoms users of that software have been granted thanks to the GPL license.

    It is a perfectly fine thing to do according to the license but it is faux pas. This obsession with the “spirit” of the GPL needs to stop. It has nothing to do with the license. The GPL has nothing to do with freedom either. And if you value freedom etc you should learn about the MIT and 2,3 clause BSD licenses. There you have freedom. Real freedom.

    It’s aggravating to me to think that going against the GPL within the WordPress community makes any kind of business sense at all but if you develop a decent product, have great marketing along with good support and a naive userbase who doesn’t know jack about licenses and the freedoms granted with the GPL, I guess you can get by for awhile.

    Not only are you showing a lack of understanding of the subject you are basically condescending to Thesis users. Jeff you don’t understand the license either are you naive and don’t know jack also? And you are using a GPL theme?


  22. @Andreas Nurbo – I get it. He should have licensed thesis under the GPL from the start, that would make everything else irrelevant.

    I didn’t say the word spirit. It’s my opinion that if a developer creates a theme or plugin that is not licensed under the GPL like the platform it works on and is used by millions of people, that is a slap in the face to everyone who has contributed to the project. It’s like piggy backing on the success while at the same time, putting shackles on end users. Developers that want to license their work under some other license because they don’t like the GPL should use a platform that conforms to their tastes. It’s pretty simple really. The four freedoms mentioned as part of the GPL software have been enough to help propel WordPress to the level of success it’s experiencing today. These freedoms have also enabled very successful business to be built around and on top of the software.

    The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

    The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

    The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    What I don’t understand is why you are for the idea of themes and plugins to have a proprietary license within an open and free environment. From my perspective, you’ve been fighting for the rights of developers to license their work however they please, regardless of the license the platform they are building on or around has. Why is that or am I missing the boat?

    I don’t care about all the mumbo jumbo and all the legal crap in every other post. If you just license your stuff under the GPL just like the platform your building on top of, then there are no problems. Why go against the grain when you can go with the flow where everyone is happy.


  23. I didn’t say the word spirit. It’s my opinion that if a developer creates a theme or plugin that is not licensed under the GPL like the platform it works on and is used by millions of people, that is a slap in the face to everyone who has contributed to the project.

    Say what!? I have a publicly available WP plugin, that is really plain PHP class, packaged as WP plugin for convenience alone and not derivative by any stretch of imagination.

    Telling me how to license work that is mine and mine alone is slap to my face.

    The platform argument is “spirit” argument.

    What I don’t understand is why you are for the idea of themes and plugins to have a proprietary license within an open and free environment. From my perspective, you’ve been fighting for the rights of developers to license their work however they please, regardless of the license the platform they are building on or around has. Why is that or am I missing the boat?

    Why only proprietary? What about GPL-incompatible open licenses? Are they evil as well? Should developer of theme I use at my blog be slandered and threatened to be sued because he released theme under Creative Commons?

    Supposedly he is just as guilty, just as bastard and just as “breaking law”.

    Why go against the grain when you can go with the flow where everyone is happy.

    Why are there different religions? Countries? It is easy to say “I am right, everyone agree with me”, it is hard to prove that. And clearly WordPress project has some issues in proving department, or we’d all be that happy content bunch in the flow.


  24. I supposed I’ve reached the point where I need to sleep and wake up to some interesting comments.


  25. @Jeffro -
    So using a LGPL library is actually piggybacking also?

    What I don’t understand is why you are for the idea of themes and plugins to have a proprietary license within an open and free environment.

    Why shouldn’t I be? It seems to be the most correct interpretation if you disregard ideological arguments. And its the devs choice. If devs want release as GPL it is their right as is the propriety way.

    From my perspective, you’ve been fighting for the rights of developers to license their work however they please, regardless of the license the platform they are building on or around has. Why is that or am I missing the boat?

    If you lock back in history I argued with Chip and thought JS, CSS etc needed to be GPL also. Have also refused to develop stuff for clients that wouldn’t comply with the GPL because I wanted to be on the same level as the WP community.
    I have changed my opinion after reading more on the subject of copyright law and what other people involved with open source think and also law departments.
    And its license their original work. If they use GPL sourcecode their stuff become GPL.
    I came to my conclusion since it seems to be the most logical course. None of the proponents of themes are GPL have actually precented any sources for their case except the SFLC statement.

    I don’t care about all the mumbo jumbo and all the legal crap in every other post. If you just license your stuff under the GPL just like the platform your building on top of, then there are no problems.

    Do as we say or else. There is no problem seen from a law perspective only from a “spirit” perspective.

    Why go against the grain when you can go with the flow where everyone is happy.

    Because if you don’t we will bully you until you do? I’m perfectly happy with the numerous of plugins that ain’t GPL.


  26. At the end of the day, I just don’t care one bit about licensing or any other legal mumbo jumbo. It doesn’t matter to me. I want a CMS that works. WordPress does. Thesis makes it work even better. Thus, I owe a debt of gratitude to both Matt and Chris.

    In this case, both have publicly acted like 5 year olds. There are no angels here. I’m just happy we’re all getting along, and we can all get back to banging out kickass websites.

    Also, this whole notion that this is going to have a lasting negative effect on either side’s business is just looney. 99% of WP users have no idea what the GPL is. If they did know they wouldn’t care unless they thought it had some legal implication for them as a website owner which it doesn’t. Does it make both parties look like douches? Yes. Horrible for business? Not really.


  27. It’s my opinion that if a developer creates a theme or plugin that is not licensed under the GPL like the platform it works on and is used by millions of people, that is a slap in the face to everyone who has contributed to the project

    As much as GPL is about “freedom”, it’s also about copyrights. IANAL, but no matter how the WordPress system absorbs theme code at runtime, I don’t see how that changes who owns the written code. If I write a theme, it is my original work. I own the copyright to that work, and so long as I have not used any original code that was written under a different license (legally speaking, calling functions would not count as using original code), then I should have the right to license and distribute my work however I wish.

    That is not a slap in the face to anyone in the community, and to use one’s position in the community to openly bash someone who dares to have a view that isn’t in line with what they feel the community should be doing is low. Chris did himself no favors throughout this whole mess, and he knows that. Matt, to me, did worse by himself. His actions sent a chilling message to the community that if you don’t tow the WordPress line, be prepared to get dragged through the mud.

    naive userbase who doesn’t know jack about licenses

    How much do you want to bet that most WordPress theme devs fit that description perfectly when this whole GPL thing got started?


  28. Jeffro

    the question I have which you and I can’t answer is why didn’t Chris take this fight all the way to the courts to really stick by what he perceived to be the right course of action

    OK, let me try and answer this. Who do you think is going to be able to afford better lawyers and be more able to bear the costs of a potentially long-running lawsuit; Matt, with the assets of Automattic and the WordPress Foundation behind him, not to mention the support of the SFLC; or Chris Pearson? I don’t recall Thesis taking millions in VC funding, do you?

    You have to be insanely dedicated to your principles to be willing to bankrupt yourself over them. I don’t think Chris is that stupid. I also don’t think he cares that much. Plus he would have needed to eliminate any code copy/pasted from WP core files to have a serious chance of prevailing in court; more time and money that would be better spent on his actual business. Looked at from a business perspective, he didn’t really have a choice. Nobody likes giving in to bullying and threats, but in the real world the guy with the most money gets to call the shots.


  29. @that girl again – That’s too bad. I was hoping he would go bankrupt so I could show him the door out of the community. Maybe then, he’d give two shits about something other than himself.


  30. @Jeffro

    That’s too bad. I was hoping he would go bankrupt so I could show him the door out of the community. Maybe then, he’d [care] about something other than himself.

    Why the vitriol, Jeff? Have you been harmed in some way by Chris, his DIY Themes business model, or Thesis?

    Hypothetically speaking, would it even matter to you if, had the case gone to court, Chris would have won – that you’re actually hoping for the bankruptcy of someone who (aside from the clearly plagiarized copy pasta from WP core) was in no way infringing upon WordPress’ copyright?

    Do you hold all other commercial Theme developers in such equally low regard? After all, every single one of them only switched to GPL or split-GPL after coercion from Matt – just like Chris.

    This animosity greatly concerns me.


  31. @Chip Bennett

    someone who (aside from the clearly plagiarized copy pasta from WP core) was in no way infringing upon WordPress’ copyright

    So, someone who was in no way infringing upon WordPress copyright apart from when they were?

    Why the vitriol, Jeff?

    WordPress is built upon a principle of sharing and giving back. People who cynically steal code licensed on that understanding are no better than all the other parasites who make life harder for everyone: the spammers who waste so many billions of man-hours every year, shop-lifters who increase the cost of food and goods for families all over the world, mafia hoods who squeeze small businesses until they go bankrupt. Parasites are everywhere and can only be beaten back when honest, hard-working people unite together. The GPL, designed to fight the parasitic coders who want to take and not give back, is a perfect example of that.

    Chris Pearson was a blatant parasite, he deserves vitriol; he has, finally, come into compliance with the license, probably only because he was caught red-handed with chunks of stolen code and would have been destroyed in court, but he has now undertaken to stop feeding off the community and that is to be welcomed.

    It is just a damn shame that Chris had to drag everyone through this first and we are lucky that, when it came to the crunch, we had someone determined and well-resourced enough to face him down. I completely disagree with Matt on some issues such as the P filter (content should be sacrosanct, a CMS has no business secretly interfering with the words the user writes, I am perplexed that anyone could fail to see that) but, in this instance, he has performed a great service to all of us who rely upon the continued health and evolution of WordPress.


  32. @donnacha | WordSkill -

    So, someone who was in no way infringing upon WordPress copyright apart from when they were?

    The scolding started way before the code inclusion was discovered. And there are others doing the same as Chris but without the code copying. Are they next?

    WordPress is built upon a principle of sharing and giving back.

    Eh no. 4 people contributed more than 50% of the patches for WP 3.0.

    The GPL, designed to fight the parasitic coders who want to take and not give back, is a perfect example of that.

    No its not.

    he has performed a great service to all of us who rely upon the continued health and evolution of WordPress.

    No he hasn’t. He has released a bottle of vile and fearmongering. The behavior exhibit by the WP community these past weeks is despicable. Whos the next target? The very popular plugins that are not GPL and have no reason to be?


  33. @donnacha

    The GPL, designed to fight the parasitic coders who want to take and not give back, is a perfect example of that.

    The GPL is an extension of copyright, and is not designed to “fight the parasitic coders”. It’s designed to promote and advance community improvement of software. It only requires that if you modify and redistribute the software, that you do so under the same terms that allowed you to do what you did. Chris and many others feel that a theme does not modify core WordPress code, and as such, his theme would not need to be distributed under the GPL. There is a very legitimate argument to be made for such a stance, and neither Chris, nor anyone else, should be penalized or deemed a parasite for taking that stance.

    he has, finally, come into compliance with the license, probably only because he was caught red-handed with chunks of stolen code and would have been destroyed in court

    People can steal GPL’d code? WordPress could still sue DIYThemes for the previous violations as I’d bet the GPL’d code was present in versions prior to 1.7, but I be surprised if that happened. Chris certainly didn’t change his license to make things go away. By changing the license, he limits his potential liability.

    If you want to hate on Chris because he acted immature at times, then fine, but don’t forget Matt and his behavior. And don’t hate on him simply because he would not cave to the heavy pressure exerted on the dev community by WordPress and for deciding to do what he thought was legal and in his best interest.


  34. People who cynically steal code licensed on that understanding are no better than all the other parasites who make life harder for everyone

    You can’t ‘steal’ something that’s already been given to you. Misuse and exploit, yes. Steal, no. Apart from that, your comment is the best illustration of the Marxist nature of the GPL I’ve seen so far.


  35. @Andreas Nurbo

    Eh no. 4 people contributed more than 50% of the patches for WP 3.0.

    Yeah, and they did so on the basis that anyone who want to build upon their code and distribute the results would be subject to the same license. The vast majority of users do not build upon or re-distribute WordPress code but, when they do, they are subject to the license.

    As for your “no its not” response on the nature of the GPL, seriously, I am not going to take lessons on Open Source licenses from a self-confessed affiliate marketer; please note my reference, above, to parasites of all types and all levels of scumminess.

    I have noticed your vicious little stabs against WordPress in comments elsewhere online, you probably feel that this crusade is a smart way to market yourself. Before you completely sell your soul, however, you might rethink the road you have taken and consider some gentle advice from of the much-missed Bill Hicks.

    @that girl again -

    You can’t ‘steal’ something that’s already been given to you. Misuse and exploit, yes. Steal, no. Apart from that, your comment is the best illustration of the Marxist nature of the GPL I’ve seen so far.

    Actually, you’re wrong: under current U.S. law, it is theft to use software or various other media outside the terms of the license under which it is distributed – I would link to the Wikipedia article on the DMCA but using 2 links in a comment kicks it into the moderation queue.

    Beyond deeply flawed American legislation, however, there is the simple principle that if someone offers you their work on the clear condition that you do something and you take their work but you fail to do that thing, that is theft. Caveman A says to Caveman B, I will lend you my arrows for the hunt as long as you share your catch with the rest of the tribe, Caveman B uses the arrows but later refuses to share his catch = theft.

    You don’t have to like the GPL but it does have the virtue of being extremely clear: if you don’t want to share the deer you catch, don’t use those arrows.

    @John -

    Chris and many others feel that a theme does not modify core WordPress code

    You need to catch up – this particular incident has moved beyond the old arguments about whether a theme makes sufficient use of WordPress code for the GPL to apply, that all became moot when it became clear that actual code had been copied and pasted into Chris’ product. That is the basis on which Matt was going to sue, he said as much in Jeff’s “Where is Matt” interview, nothing to do with the far vaguer , more general argument you allude to.

  36. Simon

    Thought I’d pitch in…

    I remember having a discussion on someone’s blog a couple of years ago on the same topic (although centered around plugins more than themes). Matt left a comment in which he indicated his interpretation (everything that interacts with / uses WordPress code should be GPL) and it was as a result of that that I changed the way my own product was structured to ensure it would be compatible with GPL.

    I therefore have a “plugin” layer (licensed under GPL) acting as a bridge between my product and WordPress. I could therefore license the code for my product (which functions as a standalone app as well) as I wished, without infringing upon GPL.

    The situation from that point on has always seemed relatively straight-forward to me (I won’t say anything definitive, because this whole area is a minefield), for both plugins and themes – license anything that interacts with WordPress code directly as GPL; anything that doesn’t, can be whatever you want.

    For themes, that means images / css / custom javascript (as happened with thesis), and for plugins it means code with standalone functionality that does not interact directly with WordPress code.

    It does mean having to structure things in a certain way (for plugins, at least), but for any project where it’s worth a separate license, it’s probably best practice to do so anyway (eg. so you can bridge it with other software too).

    PS. I do understand the viewpoint of those who say “it all should be GPL regardless”, but you also need to consider that not all projects are WordPress specific. Whilst such projects should be GPL-compatible (eg. via split licensing), they should not be GPL simply because WordPress is.


  37. I am a Thesis developer and I am ECSTATIC that Thesis is now split-GPL licensed.

    @AJ who said “Although a “split license” is kind of a joke..Doesn’t really change anything”

    Quite the contrary it changes a lot. See the thing is if I customize Thesis as part of a project for a client I was in violation of their license. If I wrote a plug-in for thesis that called thesis functions I was in violation of their license.

    I subscribe to the untested legal opinion that calling functions from GPL code (WP) makes a work derivative. I know plenty of people disagree with that, however I think that for a work not to be derivative (of WP) it needs to stand on it’s own. Stand on it’s own, as in it could run from the command line or along side Drupal or along side whatever. In other words the plug-in (or theme) would get an input, do it’s thing and then return an output without calling any functions from GPL code (WP).

    It’s almost funny but it reminds me a lot of Apple and the iPhone. It’s not the same, just similar.

    No one has to develop something based on a GPL project and more than they have to develop for iOS, it’s a choice. No one who chooses to develop based on a GPL project is obligated to distribute their work. If, however, they do choose to distribute it they are legally bound by copyright of the original work to the terms of the license that derivative work be distributed with the GPL.

    Chris has stated many times that started by building Thesis for himself, at which point he wasn’t obligated to distribute it, however when he chose to start distributing he was obligated to do it with the GPL.


  38. @Jon Brown -

    Quite the contrary it changes a lot. See the thing is if I customize Thesis as part of a project for a client I was in violation of their license. If I wrote a plug-in for thesis that called thesis functions I was in violation of their license.

    Thats just a bad ToS for a theme that is meant to be extended and alteread. Not really an argument to go the GPL route (not that you suggest it).


  39. @Jon Brown -

    I subscribe to the untested legal opinion that calling functions from GPL code (WP) makes a work derivative. I know plenty of people disagree with that, however I think that for a work not to be derivative (of WP) it needs to stand on it’s own. Stand on it’s own, as in it could run from the command line or along side Drupal or along side whatever. In other words the plug-in (or theme) would get an input, do it’s thing and then return an output without calling any functions from GPL code (WP).

    That opinion is just simply not supported by extant copyright case law. There is no legal basis whatsoever for claiming that dependent equals derivative.

    The legal standard for a derivative work is incorporation, in some concrete form, of copyrightable content of a protected work.

    WordPress could sue Thesis for making WP function calls. Thesis could sue you for making Thesis function calls. In both cases, the use of function calls would be ruled non-copyrightable, and therefore non-infringing. And in both cases, even if we go with the legally unprecedented assumption that the use of function calls was copyrightable, in both cases the rules would unquestionably be ruled fair use, and therefore non-infringing.

    So, I agree with your original statement regarding being ecstatic that Thesis has gone split-license GPL – but this turn of events doesn’t really impact the underlying question regarding Themes being inherently derivative of WordPress.


  40. There’s a couple of points I wanted to respond to.

    For those of you saying Jeff shouldn’t give a one-sided opinion of this or just flat out say what he feels, you guys are in the wrong. This is his blog, and he can write whatever he pleases. As far as I know, Jeff has never said that he’s an unbiased reporter of events.

    Speaking out against the core team’s decisions doesn’t make you an outcast or anything like that in the community. I openly speak out against some decisions when I feel strongly enough about them and am still friends with some of these guys. Heck, I’ve had at least four nice, civil chats with members of the core team since I wrote an article bashing the capital P filter.


  41. @Justin Tadlock -

    WPTavern doesn’t define itself as personal blog, it defines itself as community portal. By giving such one-sided coverage it contributes to increasing tension on subject, not mitigating it.

    Of course it’s Jeffro’s editorial choice. But it also hard to take such post as on behalf of “warm and inviting community”.

    Speaking out against the core team’s decisions doesn’t make you an outcast or anything like that in the community.

    Tell that to Chris Pearson. :) He must be feeling verrry welcomed in community these days.


  42. @Justin Tadlock -
    He should strive to be unbiased and impartial and report events etc. If he wants to be one sided he should write something on a about page that he most of the time goes the official party line. In Sweden newspapers declares themselves liberal, socialist etc so you can interpret the editorials accordingly.
    Especially now that hes gone commercial really. To increase the brand WPTaverns value and his own reputation I think it would be beneficial to remain impartial when reporting events and then have editorial pieces where he speaks his mind. He might not get as much freebies from Matt but his own value will increase?
    The WPTavern is popular and I’d like it to become even better and better since it really is a great resource most of the time.

    Speaking out against the core team’s decisions doesn’t make you an outcast or anything like that in the community.

    Probably depends on the decisions in question as with the whole GPL debacle =). And if you have any popularity to begin with.


  43. @Chris Bennett – you make a point, and I I’ve rethought it some, but I was NOT trying to equate dependent with derivative. I agree they are different cases. I spoke to strongly to suggest calling a single function made always made a work derivative. Here’s the thing though, when you choose to make a function call of GPL code you agree to the terms of using that body of work, not just that function. I’m not saying you couldn’t duplicate that function into your own code and claim fair use of it, just that calling it directly from a GPL body of work means you are agreeing to the terms of that whole work.

    Further while I agree there is a difference between dependent and derivative, I still feel all themes are derivative, however some plug-ins could certainly claim to be dependent without being derivative however. A dependent work would be original from the start and could make a few calls to another work but not make wholesale use of the framework defined in the original GPL work. A theme is fundamentally interwoven with wordpress code throughout, witness Drew Blas’ analysis of Thesis a theme which Pearson regularly claimed was 99% his original work. Extending the discussion, a plugin that modified WP’s sidebar widgets for example I would argue is likely derivative, whereas something like pretty link or something that added 100% new functionality might only be dependent and not need to carry the GPL (even if it utilized some fundamental WP functions).


  44. This isn’t public space. There no 1st amendment here. There is no Fairness Doctrine here. We are all here voluntarily and are graciously allowed by Jeff to express our varied opinions. alongside his.

    Further, I think Jeff is right to voice whatever opinions he feels are in the best interest of the community and I think that is exactly what he does. The whole idea that somehow he needs to be an impartial moderator is ridiculous. Anyone that has paid attention to Jeff for any length of time know what a evangelist for WordPress, I fully expect him in that role to express himself.


  45. @Jon Brown -

    @Chris Bennett – you make a point, and I I’ve rethought it some, but I was NOT trying to equate dependent with derivative. I agree they are different cases. I spoke to strongly to suggest calling a single function made always made a work derivative. Here’s the thing though, when you choose to make a function call of GPL code you agree to the terms of using that body of work, not just that function.

    In a legal sense, that statement just isn’t true. There is absolutely nothing legally binding to the GPL anyone creating a WordPress Theme, because a Theme is not inherently derivative. The only thing that would cause a Theme developer to “agree to the terms of using [WordPress]” would be to incorporate actual, copyrightable WordPress core code into the Theme. Other than that instance, the developer is in no way bound or encumbered by WordPress’ GPL.

    I’m not saying you couldn’t duplicate that function into your own code and claim fair use of it, just that calling it directly from a GPL body of work means you are agreeing to the terms of that whole work.

    Simply put: no. The courts have been quite clear: mere linking does not render a work derivative. See Sega, Sony, and Galoob.

    Further while I agree there is a difference between dependent and derivative, I still feel all themes are derivative, however some plug-ins could certainly claim to be dependent without being derivative however. A dependent work would be original from the start and could make a few calls to another work but not make wholesale use of the framework defined in the original GPL work.

    Again, this interpretation is at odds with precedent case law. Function calls are “methods of operation” and the means of interoperability, which the courts have clearly established are non-copyrightable content.

    A theme is fundamentally interwoven with wordpress code throughout…

    No, a Theme exists of its own files. Even when a Theme is aggregated with WordPress core by being placed in the wp-content/themes directory by the end user (not by the developer – a key point), no physical interweaving of WordPress core and WordPress Theme files takes place. A Theme does not physically modify any core WordPress code, and vice versa.

    …witness Drew Blas’ analysis of Thesis a theme which Pearson regularly claimed was 99% his original work.

    What I’m talking about excludes the Thesis issue – about which I cannot speak with any certainty, since I’ve not seen Thesis’ source code. I’m only talking about Themes in general, under the assumption that core-code copy-pasting is not taking place.

    Extending the discussion, a plugin that modified WP’s sidebar widgets for example I would argue is likely derivative, whereas something like pretty link or something that added 100% new functionality might only be dependent and not need to carry the GPL (even if it utilized some fundamental WP functions).

    I would contend that merely extending WP_Widgets is not derivative. Modifying a default WordPress Widget would be derivative, because such modification would require incorporation of that Widget’s code into the Theme. But merely extending WP_Widgets to add an original, new Widget is not derivative. In this case, the Theme developer has merely followed the functional specification for adding Widgets.


  46. @Jon Brown -

    This isn’t public space. There no 1st amendment here. There is no Fairness Doctrine here. We are all here voluntarily and are graciously allowed by Jeff to express our varied opinions. alongside his.

    We are here because we like WPTavern and Jeff. We want to see it get better. We will express concern when it takes a turn for the worst. Better to voice concern the first time than not say anything and leave x posts later.

    Further, I think Jeff is right to voice whatever opinions he feels are in the best interest of the community and I think that is exactly what he does.

    And don’t think this has anything to with making the community better.

    The whole idea that somehow he needs to be an impartial moderator is ridiculous.

    No need to a moderator. Try to be impartial in the relaying and commenting of news. Yes. Be impartial in a weekly editorial on what he thinks about stuff? No =). Its a great place and I want it to get better and Jeff to make more money.

    Anyone that has paid attention to Jeff for any length of time know what a evangelist for WordPress, I fully expect him in that role to express himself.

    No one has said otherwise. But sometime it gets a little more of evangelizing Matt than WordPress =). Compare this post with “Automatically Correcting The WordPress Mistake”. That one was really good in relaying the history, the issue etc and have well mannered editorial comment. Thats the way to do it =).


  47. *munches popcorn*

    So anyways, given his stubbornness, you have to wonder why Pearson finally decided to go GPL – was it fear of litigation, or damage to the brand & sales caused by the flak (and Matts theme offer). All of the above?


  48. @donnacha | WordSkill

    You need to catch up – this particular incident has moved beyond the old arguments about whether a theme makes sufficient use of WordPress code for the GPL to apply, that all became moot when it became clear that actual code had been copied and pasted into Chris’ product. That is the basis on which Matt was going to sue,

    Just because this particular incident has moved beyond derivative doesn’t negate the argument as a whole. You are calling those who would dare release a theme under a non-GPL license parasites. I was simply explaining how you’re wrong as they have solid legal footing for such a stance.


  49. @John – I agree, I was speaking about this specific incident, I don’t understand why people are blurring it with the more general argument of derivative or dependent code. I try not to argue about that anymore, waste of time, the most productive people in the community have made their feelings clear, we should respect their wishes, there is something parasitical and scavenger-like in the attitude of the people who invest so much of their time in campaigning against WordPress but I would rather spend my time coding than arguing the point, nobody is going to talk them out of their sense of entitlement, it would be like trying to explain ethics to George W. Bush.

    Anyway, I think this thread is cooked, my last comment only appeared recently because it contained a link and was, therefore, held in the moderation queue for a couple of days, I didn’t mean to resurrect this zombie. Peace and love, everyone.

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