Mullenweg and Pearson Square Off on Patents, GPL, and Trademarks

In a post titled “The Truth About,” Chris Pearson responded to the recent heated discussions about his legal battle with Automattic over the domain and related trademarks. His public response revives a five-year old licensing disagreement.

“I think the most important place to start is by asking: Why would Automattic—a website software company with over $300 million in funding—buy when I owned the trademark for Thesis in the website software space?” Pearson asked.

In February 2013, Pearson started negotiations with a domain broker named Larry of in an attempt to purchase He opened with an offer of $37,500 which he considered to be more than enough for an unused domain. After months of negotiating, the deal fell through.

Email shared by Pearson showing Mullenweg's interest in the domain
Email shared by Pearson showing Mullenweg’s interest in the domain

“I didn’t see how Matt could justify buying the domain for $100,000. Because of my trademark, there was no way he could legally use the domain for Automattic, and therefore, I didn’t believe there was a reason for him to spend that much money,” Pearson said.

Nine months after negotiations failed, Pearson received an email from Larry asking if he’d like to renegotiate since Mullenweg showed interest in the domain. Further negotiations went nowhere and Mullenweg won the domain for $100K.

News of Mullenweg’s purchase didn’t reach the public until he replied to a question about WordPress’ relationship with commercial theme providers at the 2014 State of the Word Q&A. In his response, he encouraged the audience to visit Notice Mullenweg’s delivery and how the crowd reacts to his announcement.

Pearson also accused Mullenweg of violating his trademark.

Principles? Matt spent $100,000 to buy—a domain in which he had no legitimate business interest—forwarded the domain to his property, and violated my trademark.

This is ironic considering how vigilant Matt has been about protecting the WordPress trademark—especially as it relates to domain names.

Pearson goes on to describe his duty to protect to his trademark and the details of the UDRP Case Ruling, as well as the fallout regarding the court’s decision in Automattic’s favor.

“It’s time for the community to ask itself if using $300 million in funding to purchase $100,000 domains, fund aggressive lawsuits, and fuel unending drama is properly representative of the WordPress project,” he said.

Pearson admitted to “being a jerk” both in the post and the comments. This admission is based on his attitude and the way he presented himself in 2010 in the interview with Andrew Warner on Mixergy. Mullenweg focused on the fact that Pearson changed the licensing structure of Thesis so that part of it is incompatible with the GPL:

“So why do the exact same thing you did before, change your license to violate the GPL and take rights away from your users? And then litigate against someone else?” Mullenweg asked.

He is referring to Thesis’ license agreement customers agree to when they purchase the theme. The agreement has terms that take user freedoms away that GPL licensed software provides. Here are a few of terms in the agreement:

  • You can’t sell, rent, or otherwise transfer the software to anyone else.
  • The license provides you, and only you, with the rights to use the software for its intended purpose.
  • Other than for educational purposes, any modification of the Thesis “core” is prohibited.

Mullenweg is well known as a zealous protector of the GPL and users’ rights. However, Pearson and many others perceived his comments on licensing to be a distraction from the main issue.

In responding to commenters on whether the issue is dead, he said:

The issue isn’t dead — Chris went back on his word and re-changed his license to be 100% proprietary and violate the GPL, sneakily sometime in the past 5 years since the last time he did that. He also patented how themes work, and color pickers.

The patent Mullenweg is referring to was published in September of 2012. The patent describes systems, servers, and methods for managing websites using the Thesis software. One of the fears is that the patent is vague and closely describes how WordPress themes work in general, although Pearson claims the patent has nothing to do with WordPress.

Pearson clarified Thesis’ new proprietary licensing, which Mullenweg believes to be in violation of their agreement in 2010:

In October 2012, I released an all-new version of Thesis that carried the same name as the original (which had a split-GPL license), but that’s where the similarities stopped.

The new Thesis is not a Theme—it is an operating system for templates and design. This system runs Skins and Boxes, which are similar to Themes and Plugins, but with a boatload of built-in efficiencies that Themes and Plugins cannot provide.

Skins and Boxes carry MIT licenses, which are not only open source, but also easy for anyone to understand and use.

There is nothing sneaky about the licensing structure that has been in place since October 2012. DIYthemes customers must agree to the proprietary licensing on the Thesis core before downloading and using the software.

After Mullenweg purchased the domain, he received no personal communication from Pearson on the issue until Automattic was hit with litigation. The litigation stems from Pearson trying to protect his trademark.

“I don’t know the last time I got an email from Chris directly (3+ years?), and myself and Automattic didn’t hear anything from him before we got the litigation notice he was trying to seize the domain,” Mullenweg commented. “No questions, no concerns, no offer to resolve, no discussion, we were just hit with legal action out of the blue.”

In a comment published on Pearson’s blog post, Mullenweg contends that Pearson is repeating the same mistake he made in 2010 by not licensing Thesis as GPL.

“It doesn’t matter if you admit what you did was wrong in the past if you go and do the exact same thing again: violate the GPL, and make it worse by patenting common theme practices,” he said.

Up until this point, Mullenweg has declined to comment directly on Automattic’s interest in purchasing in the first place. There are a lot of forces at play, including patents, GPL adherence, trademarks, and domain names. This is a developing and complicated story that we’ll continue to keep our eyes on.


  1. Good write up Jeff. Completely missed all of that when it happened.


    1. Agree Peter – a summary of the important points is what most of us need and Jeff has done a great job.

      Pity to see this thing going on and on…


  2. Yes good summary, seems that comment has been removed from Chris’ site.
    Would be nice to have clarity to know exactly why $100K was misspent on the domain from Automattic’s viewpoint.


    1. Misspent is objective. I am proud to use software as a service rather than a property. Things change quickly and for very good reason and purpose. I appreciate these monies beyond bounds. Mullenweg is $i++.


  3. The GPL license is said to be the ethical choice. Pearson’s choice seams to be constrained and I think Matt is likely choosing this “unethical” choice with the law not only to make a point but to judge the laws in which we abide.

    Awesomeness going on in this space if you ask me. Also, GPL gained an Oringinal Gangster win. Licensing product can tie you up very quickly. The GPL standard is one that should be able to free up the crap.

    I have never purchased or even seen “thesis”. But I have been using Genesis for many years. We use it as a SaS. Currently we are developing our own framework based some ideas we discovered from that software.

    We would never release those ideas as software outside of our service. That is a choice we made as a service company.

    Software companies MUST abide.


  4. Matt may have just used his “right to bear arms” which also implies the right to use them in protection of something that he cares very much about when it was endangared, as can be argued in this case. And use of excessive force to quell future ‘issues’ is not an uncommon thing.

    The only thing this changes for me is that the notion of “our WordPress” further shifts to the notion of “his WordPress”. And it does not need to be automatically a bad thing, as long as WordPress thrives and grows. Personally I lean towards community elected advisory board for leadership but also acknowledge that it was under one man’s vision (the very man in question here) that this project became as big as it did.

    Nobody’s freedom of choice is questioned here. It is for us, the community, to properly see and understand the situation and decide whether this shift and the direction it indicates will help improve the platform we are thankful for existing.


  5. Pearson’s attempt at redefining common theme processes into a concocted patent invention, along with his complete reversal on GPL split licensing into a proprietary one, are evidence, once again, that he can’t be trusted.

    I got sucked into sympathy for him over the domain issue at first. But what first appears like an unconnected David v. Goliath incident turned out to be interconnected with available legal countermeasures used to protect WordPress, GPL, and derivative works from being unnecessarily and, IMO, illegally usurped into the hands of a single entity.

    While the vast majority of us play by the rules, as imperfect as they are, we must be vigilant in protecting OS and the GPL against those who simply dismiss those rules as a business inconvenience and who would selfishly use legal subtrofuge to end run the entire process. The evidence of Pearson’s
    motives and purpose here are quite clear to me.

    In this case, with respect to Matt’s actions, they are a necessary means to a just ends. I am sorry that my initial reaction towards him was so strongly negative given what I have learned since.

    Mr. Pearson should withdraw the patent, and keep his word and publicly renounce his proprietary license scheme in favor of a split GPL license.


    1. It seems that some people in the community cant seem to have two thoughts at the same time. You can dislike how Matt behaved and dislike the patent filing.
      And the GPL thing is just for inclusion in the ideologicly correct WP community. Matts et als position is just an oppinion, its not based on any actual court rulings etc. So throwing a fits because Chris interprets the GPL differntly than Matt is just weird. Heck we are many that don’t agree with the WP leaderships stand on the GPL, it doesnt make us bad people etc.


      1. I would not say it’s about being “bad people”, it’s about being disrespectful to the wishes of those who strive to make WordPress. If WordPress contributors all agree on the GPL licensing, and the need to defend it as a WordPress tenet, no one should be using WordPress ignoring this principle and actually acting against it.

        I see this as something much more serious than “piracy” or “theft” of other people’s code. Not the business itself, which has every right to be limited, but to use WordPress as a means to do so. If he wants to keep this proprietary license and patent, his business should be pursuing other software. And there’s software which does not have the “limitations” that the GPL grants to those who use WordPress.


      2. I am an old WP core code contributor so whats your point? One cant disagree on license for plugins and themes but agree on the core code license? GPL fundamentalism is not about protecting WP but to force ideology on others. There are so much hypocracy regarding all this. In WP community its better to not release any code (SaaS etc) than releasing stuff under non-gpl. its so stupid.

        I see this as something much more serious than “piracy” or “theft” of other people’s code.

        So its worse to write all code from scratch in your plugin, put a non GPL license on it, than reuse ton of GPL code and claim it as your own? You are kidding right?
        Also there cant be “piracy” of any kind with regards to WP. Heck not even theft really. Not that I really understand how “theft” applies to code you write your self.

        And there’s software which does not have the “limitations” that the GPL grants to those who use WordPress.

        Its not the GPL that limits its the WP leadership, different things.

        But all this is OT really. So wont write anything more.


      3. As for the number of thoughts remark, you’ll forgive me for not placing much confidence in your assertion as opinions vary an that score. Although, my wife might agree.

        I’m not throwing a “fit” because Chris has a different interpretation of the GPL than Matt. Chris doesn’t interpret GPL at all at this point. He simply denies GPL applies to him in the first place, and he gets there, in one path, by declaring that commonly used OSS processes are, in fact, his own invention. Really.

        Sorry, but but I can see the forest for the trees. You may disagree, but the danger of allowing Pearson to do this unchecked is real and worth the fight even if it ruffles a few sensibilities.


      4. People can’t have multiple thoughts in their head and use reason to decide which are the most valid? Perhaps you’re speaking from experience and are limited to two? In that case, sorry, I guess that wasn’t the most condescending comment in this thread.


      1. Thank you. It’s just too bad about the latest revelation.

        I meant learning about limited number of thoughts at a time potential. I thought I was good for at least 1.5


    2. I still don’t see why this is now “just” because Chris is violating the GPL again. If this was really about the GPL, why wouldn’t Matt, Automattic, or most likely the WP foundation take him to court over breaking the license?

      Why spend a relatively large sum on a domain name, claim it’s because “it’s cool”, then eventually talk about GPL in comments in a blog? Why do it all so under handedly? Does Matt not think the GPL is actually legally enforceable in this situation? Or did he just think this would be the quickest, cheapest and most backhanded way to kick Chris in the nuts?


  6. I’ve read the article Chris posted and the comments from Matt. Clearly Matt bought the domain out of spite and is in clear violation of Chris’ trademark. Then Matt tries to deflect the fact that he is being a complete ass by making comments about licensing. If this is truly about licensing then give Chris the domain and make a case for shutting down Thesis on those grounds. But it isn’t about licensing. It is about spite and that reveals Matt’s true character. And Matt’s whining about Chris never contacting him before litigation – that’s just idiotic. Matt is knowingly in violation of Chris’ trademark. Why would Chris trust Matt to have any sort of reasonable dialogue. Matt needs to shut up and demonstrate that he can do the right thing and put this whole issue to rest. His next move could very well define the future of WordPress. Matt, you are not too big to fail.


    1. Nicely said Chad. If GPL is the issue, then bring suit based on that. Deny the use of the Core based on that. But stealing a domain name that should by all accounts have been un-stealable is unjustifiable.


    2. I’m not going to give a domain worth several hundred thousand dollars to the worst actor in the entire WP ecosystem, someone who keeps repeatedly violating the GPL and now has gone beyond that into patents. Why reward that? I wouldn’t sell it if he offered a million dollars.

      There are so many people doing amazing things in the WP community, and 100% GPL! I can and have supported them almost every opportunity I can, and one of the things I’m most proud of in the world is how many fantastic open source businesses have been built on top of WordPress.

      And it’s just the beginning — if you remembered in 2010 Chris said that going GPL would destroy businesses and sticking to the principles of our license would destroy investment in WordPress — we all know how that’s worked out since then.


      1. Emotional and no doubt heartfelt, but it still stands as vindictive since depriving him of the domain doesn’t resolve the GPL issue in any way. Being the schoolyard bully doesn’t prove your point, it only reinforces his.


      2. I’m not going to give a domain worth several hundred thousand dollars to the worst actor in the entire WP ecosystem, someone who keeps repeatedly violating the GPL and now has gone beyond that into patents. Why reward that? I wouldn’t sell it if he offered a million dollars.

        Holy smokes Batman. The worst actor in the WP ecosystem? Some dude with a theme?

        There are so many people doing amazing things in the WP community, and 100% GPL! I can and have supported them almost every opportunity I can, and one of the things I’m most proud of in the world is how many fantastic open source businesses have been built on top of WordPress.

        Why didnt you spend all that cash on something that would benefit the WP community as a whole then?

        And it’s just the beginning — if you remembered in 2010 Chris said that going GPL would destroy businesses and sticking to the principles of our license would destroy investment in WordPress — we all know how that’s worked out since then.

        You like flogging that dead horse Matt.


      3. Holy smokes Batman. The worst actor in the WP ecosystem? Some dude with a theme?

        You’re right, the malware and spam people are probably worse. But at least they’re not violating WP’s license. (Funnily enough.)

        Why didnt you spend all that cash on something that would benefit the WP community as a whole then?

        I have personally donated millions to non-profits outside of the WPF, including six figures annually to the Apache Foundation; Automattic has invested tens of millions into WP core and the ecosystem around it, and supports the jQuery Foundation. And all that will continue! The domain and the subsequent legal work will not impact my or Automattic’s ability to contribute much more to WordPress for many decades to come.


      4. You’re right, the malware and spam people are probably worse. But at least they’re not violating WP’s license. (Funnily enough.)

        From my recollection there are quite a few ioncube non-GPL WP plugins also out there and have been for many years now. Thesis code is atleast not obfuscated.

        I have personally donated millions to non-profits outside of the WPF, including six figures annually to the Apache Foundation; Automattic has invested tens of millions into WP core and the ecosystem around it, and supports the jQuery Foundation. And all that will continue! The domain and the subsequent legal work will not impact my or Automattic’s ability to contribute much more to WordPress for many decades to come.

        I havent questioned that you donate money, I questioned whether the money couldnt be better used elsewhere. So there are non Automatic WP projects and people that have gotten money to improve or for their contributions to WP related service or plugins/themes outside of WordCamps? Great. Good thing to know that there is no projects in the WP community sphere that have a need for 100k. We seem to all be very financially well off.


      5. I’m sure there are projects with needs, some that we’ll directly support in the future and some we won’t. In terms of other GPL violators, after DIYThemes is finished I’m happy to take a look at other cases if you want to start compiling a list.

        In my experience almost everything can be resolved by reaching out, many folks aren’t aware of how the GPL works and aren’t consciously violating it. (Wish that was the case here.)


      6. @Matt, a long time ago- in Dayton Ohio, I made a symbolic protest and got arrested. I won in all the courts- but, people still remember the symbolic protest- and not the reason I did what I did- even though I was right- and acting in their best interests.
        There are some battles you win- but still lose the war.
        WordPress is amazing. It’s a tool that is democratizing the web. It enables and empowers the little guy to be heard- to have a voice.
        You’ve now wasted ungodly time over a stupid purchase of and a lot of money. For $180K you can buy the top level domain .thesis for heavens sake.
        The value in this domain is only to stick it to Chris Pearson- who may be all kinds of things- but- he’s receiving the PR of Donald Trump right now- on your dime. More people are hearing about Thesis because of your actions.
        As a PR Professional- I’d highly recommend- sell Chris the domain for what he claims he was willing to pay for it- $37K- and extract a few pounds of flesh.
        Take that money – and donate it to so they can build a better tool for organizing non-profits and political campaigns.
        And admit it- you made a stupid, little kid mistake. In the long run- you’ll come out ahead. No one wants you to look like a petulant child. Remember, the board of Apple fired Steve Jobs- it can happen to you.
        You’ve got much more important things to attend to-
        Even though you disagree over licensing- I’d suggest hiring Chris- and give him a challenge to prove he has better ideas for WP- and put him to work to give you a visual editor that makes squarespace, wix, weebly etc- look like the crayons they are- compared to your masterpiece.
        Money isn’t an issue for either of you anymore- although we’re all pretty sure your bank account has a few commas more than Chris’s’ does.
        I’m happy to provide either mediation services- or PR advice gratis- if you both can move on.


      7. You’re right. I was wrong.

        I had no idea that operating under the wrong license would bring me under the unblinking Eye of Sauron and force me to deal with repeated attempts to destroy my business and my credibility.

        The GPL does indeed provide at least one important freedom: The freedom not to be targeted by someone who wants everyone else to operate according to his rules.


      8. Chris, let me know if I’m following this correctly.

        In 2010, after a protracted public battle in which you tried to claim the GPL doesn’t apply to you, you changed your license to comply with the GPL.

        In 2011 you filed for trademarks.

        In September 2012 you filed a patent – .

        Sometime between 2010 and Dec 2012, you changed your license back to proprietary and started violating the GPL again.

        In Jan 2014 you knew I got the domain

        April 2014 your patent was published.

        All of 2014 there is no promotion of except a joking mention on stage during my State of the Word address (October 2014). There is no harm to your business.

        Over a year later (!) in April/May 2015 you initiated litigation against Automattic trying to seize, claiming infringement and bad faith.

        In June 2015 Automattic challenged the trademarks you were claiming that were infringed as part of its defense against your litigation.

        In July 2015 you lost that litigation, and have proceeded to publicize the issue of, which almost no one had heard of before the your UDRP filing became public.

        Is there anything factually inaccurate in that timeline?

        I’m guessing the primary harm to your business and credibility has come from you creating a ton of drama around this, not pointing to a site primarily about theme education, from the group who contributed _s and the last few Twenty themes to the WP world.

        I would also say your credibility was harmed by going back on your word on the GPL.


      9. Matt,
        Yes I think we all know that you disagree on licensing.

        Please explain how buying a domain name that you know full and well that in doing so will violate someone’s trademark as well as being the act of someone who is lashing out with the sole purpose of hurting someone and using $100,000 in VC funds (I don’t know that for sure) to do so is ok.

        All of your answers so far have been that you disagree with him on licensing. That is a completely different matter than your case of cybersquatting. If Chris and/or Thesis is violating the GPL licensing then go after him over licensing, don’t attack him on something that is unrelated.

        If your cybersquatting tactic doesn’t work, what’s next?

        If I had one point, it would be that if you have a fight, fight *that* fight, don’t invent new ones because you look like a bully. Trying to hurt Chris with a domain name over a licensing disagreement is shameful.

        Challenge: I would really like to see “I bought because……” and not have you bring up your licensing disagreement.


      10. Darryl, cybersquatting is a serious acquisition: it is what Chris alleged in his UDRP, and that the panel found to not be true.


      11. You are correct, let’s swap out the word “cybersquatting” with “buying a domain name for no outwardly foreseeable purpose”

        Let’s separate the two distinct issues.

        Why did you buy that domain name, if not for some shameful purpose? I haven’t seen anywhere that you stated why, so please correct me if it wasn’t to hurt Chris.

        And it was a serious “acquisition” sorry :)


      12. Full reasoning is in our filing (not sure why people say there’s no reason, it’s all spelled out) and that’s all I can say on the matter given there’s pending legal action and could be more in the future, which I hope you understand limits me. In the future when it’s all resolved I will be able to comment publicly on the matter. But to repeat, there is pending legal action and may be more in the future.


      13. Fair enough. Time will tell, etc.

        As I’ve pretty much used up my daily allowance of polite, let me just say that I disagree with the both of you.
        Chris knew what sandbox he was playing in and made a conscious decision to ignore those rules.
        Matt bought a domain name rather than do what should have been done from the get go.

        It doesn’t automattically (heh) make you right if the other guy is wrong. You are both wrong.

        See Gary’s comment below:


      14. I have made many mistakes in the past, this might be one in hindsight, and I’m sure I’ll make many in the future. I appreciate your feedback, and all these comments really even the incredibly critical ones. They help me expand my thinking and often see other sides of an issue I may not have considered.


      15. And thank you for being polite! It can be a rare thing in online discussions.


      16. @Darryl Schmidt,

        “Fair enough. Time will tell, etc.

        As I’ve pretty much used up my daily allowance of polite, let me just say that I disagree with the both of you.
        Chris knew what sandbox he was playing in and made a conscious decision to ignore those rules.
        Matt bought a domain name rather than do what should have been done from the get go.

        It doesn’t automattically (heh) make you right if the other guy is wrong. You are both wrong.”

        +100 to all this — the best comment on here by far.


  7. I wonder how enforcable is the “any derivative products of WordPress MUST have GPL license”.

    Just because someone says something, doesn’t mean it is enforcable.


    1. I’m interested in the actual official repercussions (for lack of a better term) if you release a theme or plugin that doesn’t have the GPL license.

      My own plugins have it and I have absolutely no problems with it. The only thing I really know/understand about it, is that if they wouldn’t have that license, they can’t be in the public plugin repository.

      But what else? Is it actually breaking any laws if you release a GPL-less plugin/theme? won’t officially support/endorse it I guess, and I’ve read stories where theme creators were banned from speaking at WordCamps and such, but is there an official stance on it? Is it written anywhere?

      Something like “Any derivative products of WordPress MUST have GPL license, or else….” Well, or else what (besides not being eligible to be hosted on

      I’m not planning on releasing GPL-less software, and I do support GPL, but I’m just curious about what the official rules say about “or else”, aside from the hosting part, so how it applies to themes and plugins offered outside of


      1. But themes and plugins relate to the API is copyrightable claim. No actual GPL code needs to be used in those just API calls. You are siding with Oracle in your line of reasoning. Your position is opposite that of the EFF and many others.
        No one is arguing that using actual GPL code in your plugins and themes is ok with regards to the GPL but if calling functions named X or Y is enough to force it to be GPL.


      2. Several judges in US, Germany and France, for example, have ruled that that GPL is a valid license and it is legally enforceable.

        GPL cases to date have either resulted in settlement in favor of GPL or are pending. Some of the best legal minds on the subject advise not to violate it’s provisions.


      3. Couldnt resist.

        Several judges in US, Germany and France, for example, have ruled that that GPL is a valid license and it is legally enforceable.

        GPL cases to date have either resulted in settlement in favor of GPL or are pending. Some of the best legal minds on the subject advise not to violate it’s provisions.

        None of that is applicable unless the plugin or theme use actual GPLed code from the WP source or distribute WP together with the plugin and theme. All those cases relates to companies that distributed closed source forks or actual GPL software with the products such as routers and the like. None relate to addons or extensions of existing GPL software


      4. Shared functions and/or data structures. Is Pearson claiming neither occur between his software and WP core? Please.


      5. What I replied to was the missue of references of GPL cases that has no bearing on the GPL and APIs dilemma since they were about distribution of GPLed software or inclusion of GPL in propietary systems.
        There are no shared functions or datastructures until the enduser bring everything together. You can also in theory write a clone of WP that uses none of WP code and still run the themes and plugins. This is what the Oracle vs Google is about. If APIs is copyrightable or they fall under fair use.
        You can read more about this mess at


    2. Not at all as the assertion as matt puts it in regard to plugins and themes is most likely wrong. The matter will be decided in the oracle vs google case about the usage of java ap in androidi. If google wins then using WP api do not make your code a derivative work and therefor the license in not “inherited”.

      This is aside from matts other valid point about the sustainability of GPL based business in the wordpress context., When you release code in PHP there is no way to protect it and therefor no license will actually prevent “theft” of the plugins/themes so you might as well use a license which is more aligned with the actual reality.


  8. Matt spending $100,000 for a domain. Is it HIS money or the foundation’s money? Automattic’s money?

    I would get if he spent that money on a site that had WordPress (instead of WP) in it.

    Like (some hosting company), What about (Croatia, Italy, Peru) and so forth.

    I don’t feel comfortable one man (Matt Mullenweg) defining GPL, instead of the COMMUNITY.

    WordPress is supposed to democratize the internet…yet one person has “control”.

    I see both Matt’s and Chris’s points of view (or is it point of views?)…I don’t like either of them.

    We should head in a direction that the COMMUNITY wants, not just what Matt and a few want.


      1. Yes but that doesnt say the things that the Chris vs Matt GPL feud is about. The GPL feud basically is about wether you are allowed to call functions or not in your plugins and themes.


      2. Yes it is. A plugin or theme is basically just calling functions whether that is enough to force GPL is what the whole issue is about.


      3. That’s oversimplified. WordPress is derived from PHP and other open source licensed software/code.

        If your software is dependent on WordPress core than GPL applies to all but explicitly excluded items, as ruled upon by FSF. If PHP and WordPress is origin licensed under GPL you agree to abide by the GPL for downstream products.

        You do not get to decide on your own that the license doesn’t apply to you by convenience.

        Pearson now wants you actually believe that his software is not only entirely disconnected from WP, but to justify this fallacy he attempts to patent processes long used before he was around.

        He actually calls his software ‘an operating system’ for themes. It is subterfuge to avoid license requirements with potentially much farther reaching negative effects on WP and open source.


      4. It seems that you do not understand PHP, WP and the GPL so I think further exchanges on the subject is pointless.


      5. @jteague:

        If your software is dependent on WordPress core than GPL applies to all but explicitly excluded items, as ruled upon by FSF.

        Point of note, FSF is an advocacy group so their rulings have no basis in law. GPL has yet to be definitely addressed by a court ruling. Until that time any comments on the subject, even by the FSF, are just opinions.


      6. @jteague:
        A point for clarification — PHP isn’t GPL’d, it’s using the PHP License, which is a “BSD-style” license and does not carry the “viral” aspect of the GPL.


      7. Sorry if I was not clear. I meant to say PHP code that had been released as part of GPL’d software, etc.


  9. Open source and GPL is essential – core part of WordPress and thanks to these, it is used now by millions of people who don’t need to type one line of code.

    Anyhow this story can looks, from my view its more about defending WordPress than Automattic or Matt’s personal garden.

    What surprised me, that many people from community somehow forgot yesterday, last month or year and bc. one issue like this they are willing to put Matt/Automattic to dump.

    If you manage company you have to take decision every day, not all of them are perfect.
    I don’t think that Automattic is killing/fight with any company . They support whole ecosystem like no any other company.


    1. Thank you. I think a lot of people either have forgotten or are maybe too young to remember times when open source was under near constant assault by large and small companies who sought to usurp and patent OSS. If not for those willing to fight to protect open source licensing like GPL imagine the loss involved.

      Guys like Pearson don’t care about that. He is hoping nobody else will either. He relies on apathy, and divisiveness. We mustn’t let him play the victim here. A lot is at stake.


  10. I’m trying to understand the rationale of buying a domain that rightly belongs to a competing entity in order to defend the GPL license. It doesn’t smell good to me…


  11. I think what’s being suggested here is this:

    Matt and Automattic purchased—a domain in which he has no legitimate business interest—and participated in subsequent trademark infringement in an attempt to…prove a point about licensing?

    That sure would be a roundabout and unnecessarily expensive way to try and prove a point! What do domains, trademarks, or even patent applications have to do with licensing?

    And if this was the goal all along—and if Matt heard about Thesis’ proprietary license in December 2012—why wait two years to take any action?

    To me, this talk of licensing reads as conspiratorial (and thus unlikely as a viable explanation for Matt’s actions), and it just serves as a convenient diversion from aggressive, questionable tactics on the part of Automattic.

    Considering Matt’s vigilance about protecting the WordPress trademark, this case—regardless of what you think about licensing—is wildly hypocritical. If you support Matt’s defense of the WordPress trademark, then you must condemn his actions here.

    Personally, I think Matt should just admit he made a mistake. It was foolish to purchase and infringe upon my trademark, and in doing so, he poked an old hornet’s nest we all thought was dead. There is no reason for the community to go through this again.

    If he does this, the community will certainly forgive him because everyone wants to believe he stands for more than pettiness and frivolousness.


    1. What you have demonstrated, in both words and deeds, is that there are actually people who see no problem with acting dishonorably while expecting to be treated in an honorable fashion. That’s not the way it works. You could easily have avoided this. Karma can be a tough SOB. That’s the last I have say to you.


      1. There’s nothing dishonorable about disagreeing with the application of a license to software extensions.

        I am consistent with this in the Thesis ecosystem as well. Although we place the MIT license on our official Thesis Skins and Boxes, we do not require that users who develop their own Skins and Boxes do the same.

        If one of our users creates something they feel is truly innovative and could benefit from a proprietary license, then they are free to do this. There are fewer limits—and less confusion—when you operate an extensible system in this manner.

        I believe my approach is far more open, inclusive, and friendly to developers than the one employed by Matt.


      2. This is exactly why your viewpoint is ridiculous. GPL embodies developers to be in the open, if only you had developed your “proprietary” system without WP, you could have been the next wix or foursqaure, instead you trying to move a mountain with a spoon.

        What’s your end game in this, to sell more themes via publicity or do you expect to change the GPL?


      3. There’s nothing dishonorable about disagreeing with the application of a license to software extensions.

        You built your business and your living using WordPress and you claim not only that the license doesn’t apply to you but that your theme has no relation to WordPress.

        It’s ridiculous to me. The root of this entire issue centers around the licensing and the only thing one has to do is to listen to the debate from 2010 to understand that.

        The arguments that Matt Mullenweg puts forth are simple and succinct. Your arguments essentially boil down to “nuh uh” and “not me”.

        Seriously. Simple points. Can WordPress still operate without Thesis? Yes. Can Thesis operate without WordPress? No. Yet still you claim that Thesis is not dependent upon or in any way derivative of WordPress. It’s a WordPress theme.

        You could have chosen to build your business on any software.

        You wrote your apology post,which I also read – and I’ll tell you that I definitely have a soft spot for apologies – and you admitted that you behaved like an asshole in the debate I linked to above. At first I thought that was deserving of some merit, then you started doing the exact same thing again.

        Still, 5 years later Matt’s arguments are measured and you refer to Matt Mullenweg as “the eye of sauron“, as if to imply that you are somehow oppressed by the good living you’ve earned off of WordPress. FFS man, grow up.

        As for the domain issue, you should have bought it when you had the chance. Matt had as much right to buy it as did I or anyone else on this forum. At first I thought it was kind of a smack down as well, to be honest, but I also understand that there may be other reasons for that purchase, to which I’m not privy.

        donnachas speculation on this was excellent –

        Even if it was nothing more than a smack down by Matt Mullenweg I’m more than willing to give him a benefit of the doubt and a pass because, in my eye, he has done far more good than you have.

        I’m just a regular dude earning a living with WordPress. I didn’t want to speak up on this at all because it really pisses me off, and everything that I wanted to say has already been said by people far more articulate than I. But you and others seem to think that the entire community is somehow against Matt on this and you need to know that this isn’t the case.


      4. Seriously. Simple points. Can WordPress still operate without Thesis? Yes. Can Thesis operate without WordPress? No. Yet still you claim that Thesis is not dependent upon or in any way derivative of WordPress. It’s a WordPress theme.

        You could have chosen to build your business on any software.

        Couldn’t agree more with this statement.

        Putting all the drama aside, it’d be too naive to think that nobody would be interested in purchasing that domain considering just the search volume alone for “thesis”.

        donnacha nailed it down perfectly here

        if a brand is important to your business, if it is something you make a living from, and you are suddenly presented with the magical opportunity to acquire the .com, you grab it. You don’t dicker around trying to save a few thousand dollars, you get on the phone and find out what it will take to seal the deal.


      5. Seriously. Simple points. Can WordPress still operate without Thesis? Yes. Can Thesis operate without WordPress? No. Yet still you claim that Thesis is not dependent upon or in any way derivative of WordPress. It’s a WordPress theme.

        Simple points, can Thesis and all other themes and plugins be made to function without WordPress? Yes. If so can it be considered a derivative? I would argue no. Unless actual core code and not just function calls has been used.
        Your line of reasoning is that if a PHP file calls functions such as add_action, add_filter etc it is a derivative of WordPress. Does that sound right to you?


      6. Your line of reasoning is that if a PHP file calls functions such as add_action, add_filter etc it is a derivative of WordPress. Does that sound right to you?

        @Andreas – Honestly, it sounds fine to me.

        I’m not an expert in GPL or law, and I completely defer to the judgement of Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg, as they are far more knowledgeable than I am and they founded WordPress.

        FWIW, I’ve definitely appreciated reading your thoughts on this but, for example, when I read the exchange between you and Mike Little on Slack this morning, my inclination is to defer to Mike Little’s expertise.

        I know that might sound simplistic but I promise I’m capable of critical thought, I’m not following blindly, and it’s not a fanboy thing, or anything like that. If I didn’t see tons of small businesses and independent freelancers doing so well then I might be more inclined to look at things with a critical eye.


    2. if Matt heard about Thesis’ proprietary license in December 2012—why wait two years to take any action?

      Chris, I really, really didn’t want to be drawn into dealing with you again. I was busy with WordPress 3.5 and many aspects of Automattic, which was around 130 people at the time, and it seemed likely that this would turn into a big public thing as it has.

      It is not my preference to go to legal action, but in hindsight that was a mistake and I probably should have done something in 2012, which was apparently the same time you were doing your patents. Busyness is no excuse.

      There is no reason for the community to go through this again.

      The community is going through this again because you picked a fight that shone light on your license and patents. We’re going through this again because the GPL is at the core of everything we do in WordPress, and it touches a much wider community of open source around the world. Even Envato themes follow the GPL, you’re the only one out there repeatedly and flagrantly violating WordPress’ license.

      You can’t just initiate a legal battle and then say the whole thing should be called off as soon as things start to not go your way — there are important and crucial issues outstanding. Whoever told you that you had to litigate Automattic to protect your trademark, to change your license to violate the GPL again, and to patent common templating, was incredibly poor legal counsel. I’m sure you thought you would win when you started this, and maybe you still do now.

      Given how much you’ve benefited from GPL software the past 8 years, I don’t understand why you fight it so much. You can’t claim ignorance on the issue any more as we talked about it extensively in 2010. If the GPL really bothers you that much, there are hundreds of other non-GPL and proprietary platforms you could build and market software for and I’m sure make a fine living from.


      1. The UDRP case was a response to actions you took in bad faith. The only way you can claim otherwise is to try and say this issue was actually about something else.

        To now make the convenient claim that this was all really just a defense of the GPL—years later, and in a VERY indirect way by virtue of an expensive domain and indefensible, hypocritical disrespect of a trademark—is just one way you can avoid answering the uncomfortable questions your behavior raises.

        As I stated in my post on this issue, I would have done nothing had you not forwarded to and gloated about it in the process. You have exhibited capriciousness in your role as the de facto leader of the WordPress community, and since you decided to make a public example of Thesis with, I had no choice but to respond and defend my brand.


  12. Matt only recently became aware of Chris’s license and patent application. Buying thesis wasn’t a reaction to that.

    Matt bought thesis because he could, and probably didn’t think much about it at the time. He bought it in the way that you or I would buy a new t-shirt to show off to our friends.

    I really think the backlash is baffling to him, that he is incapable of seeing what might be morally reprehensible about his actions. A more conscious CEO would have at least taken down the redirect in the face of the near universal criticism from the community. Matt has not.

    Perhaps this whole thing is a cautionary tale in how power, money, and fame can warp one’s world view. Matt is fond of saying that WordPress powers 23% of the Internet. Surely not too far from that thought is this one: “and I created it.”

    I’ve listened to several interviews with Matt (the Tim Ferriss one is very good), as well as follow his blog. He seems like a smart, pleasant human being in person. Someone that, in many ways, I’d like to emulate. But this issue threatens that reputation, and its repair becomes harder with each additional comment he leaves.


    1. I wish I could buy $100,000 t-shirts with other peoples’ money and forward the t-shirt traffic to my t-shirt company.


  13. Chris, you don’t get it, Matt is after you. He has already won one battle, and started another one, and he won’t stop until you’re done. For all those who say they prefer to pay for a free candy, I will say that is OK, but that does not mean is the right thing to do. Go mat, go Mat.


  14. TLDR: The Automattic purchase of was legit and ethically okay. Pearson dropped the ball, badly, and Mullenweg would have to have zero sense of humor, and no business sense at all, not to pick it up.

    I am certainly not part of the Automattic clique but a lot of people are getting the domain purchase aspect of this story wrong – not surprising, as .com domains are a deeply emotional issue for anyone who did not start registering them early enough.

    The rightful owner of (his 1999 registration predated the Pearson’s naming decision by 9 years, and his trademark by 12 years) approached both Pearson and Automattic. Under current ICANN rules, a domain owner is allowed to sell a domain. In years past, attempts to sell could be considered proof of “bad faith” but the rules have evolved, clarifying the legitimacy of domain sales and conferring that legitimacy onto buyers too.

    Pearson failed to do his homework and believed that his established use of the name, along his recent trademark, would make him the only serious buyer. As such, his final offer was $37,500, a truly laughable amount for a six-letter, single-word, widely-applicable .com. Very simply: if a brand is important to your business, if it is something you make a living from, and you are suddenly presented with the magical opportunity to acquire the .com, you grab it. You don’t dicker around trying to save a few thousand dollars, you get on the phone and find out what it will take to seal the deal. Pearson had the same opportunity but Mullenweg was more in tune with reality.

    Mullenweg, already a domain investor, swooped in with a nice, clear, psychologically compelling offer of $100k. Even without the history of personal animosity, it was a terrific buy and there was never any chance of a successful UDRP – Pearson, who has a forceful personality and a history of misinterpreting rules to his own benefit, wasted several thousand dollars trying to bend reality after he had already blown his opportunity to buy.

    At the moment, is forwarding to, so, it is easy to write it off as a purely vindictive move. If you think that is all they bought the domain for, however, you have not been paying attention to Automattic as a company. They move slowly but deliberately and, almost 3 years ago, acknowledged the importance of serving specific niches by launching verticals for restaurants, people who need portfolios, accommodation providers and weddings.

    Perhaps the biggest vertical that a major website provider could possibly target is tertiary education, universities and academia generally. It is one of the richest seams, as we saw when James Farmer of WPMUdev got his start by repackaging the free plugins from the repository as expensive subscriptions for third-level institutions.

    Education is a massive, multi-faceted market in which WordPress already has a substantial foothold. Given their existing verticals strategy, I am confident that at some point, as slowly and as non-spectacularly as ever, Automattic will launch a major new vertical for academics and third-level students, and the name of that vertical will be … Thesis. Seriously, can you think of a better, more credible, more memorable .com for that particular vertical? This is the equivalent of launching their restaurant vertical with the domain

    Pissing in Pearson’s cappuccino was, no doubt, an entertaining side-benefit for Automattic but securing that name, at such a knock-down price, was what really mattered. Now, armed with the perfect name, the real fun will be in using their most important new vertical to fuck with another long-standing persona-non-grata, James Farmer.

    The peanut gallery here and on Twitter will soon forget all this and move on to the next WordPress scandal that they are ill-equipped to comprehend. Meanwhile, Mullenweg, now the actual CEO of his company, has to think strategically and make sound business decisions that, hopefully, will keep the whole show on the road.


    1. I’m surprised by few things:
      • why Matt didn’t find a legal way to attack Chris non-compliance in all this years. Having a resolution on this will save a lot of discussions and will shut down Chris’s speech much quicker.
      I think that Matt was very soft on this matter. He should have taken actions right away back in 2010 in order to shut down Chris and clear out the problem.

      • why Chris themes are still not GPL and Chris’s point of view when the issue is very simple at the moment. We’ll see later after Google vs Oracle but for now Chris is not respecting the license.

      • a lot of people don’t get the trademark definition, coverage and infringement very well. Using a trademarked word is not automatically a trademark infringement like many people think. Is how you use it, context, country, domain etc. Looking forward to see Chris winning a process for trademark infringement – I would personally buy in an eye blink.
      To any persons (including Chris) who asked why he would buy the domain I would just say “because I could”. No further discussions :). We should keep the discussions regarding this domain and the GPL subject separately. And just to underline – Matt’s action was completely legal so maybe we should speak only about GPL :)

      * People shouldn’t criticize Matt for this action even if it wasn’t a very clean one. After all we should see who he’s fighting. A person who’s not reasoning at all. At least he did something. In order to solve a problem the first condition is to do a first step. Maybe they couldn’t find another way to tackle this.

      As a conclusion, I think that we need a way to legally impose GPL compliance on companies who ignore the licence that they use. That’s kind of the bottom line. By having that many unresolved problems it makes me think that we don’t have this legal way yet. Maybe I’m wrong.

      I’m sure that after this we will have a much cleaner environment and things will be more clear for everybody which is very good. So I’m glad that all this happen.


    2. So I can go register & .org right now and another US Citizen can register (I, as a non-us citizen, Canadian citizen can’t register .us domains).

      My main issue is where did the $100,000 came from? WP Foundation? Automattic? Audrey Capital? Matt’s personal account? This is why I will not donate any time soon to the foundation, donate via that amazon smile thing and so forth. As much as I would love to do it or even sponsor a WordCamp.


      1. * Of course you can. I don’t see the reason not to. It there is a trademark on those names, read the trademark application, see how you comply or not.
        In there was no trademark infrigement.
        * Until we don’t know where the money come from, this should not be an issue but a curiosity don’t you think so?
        I know that we all have the tendency to resonate with the victim but we also have to care about the future.


      2. * US Patent/trademark/copyright Office doesn’t apply to me as I live in Canada
        * I never met Chris, and until today I didn’t know who he was. I met Matt in Toronto once. I think I boguht him a coke, whiskey or a beer (Can’t remember)
        * Wouldn’t you do some research before you give money to a charity or anyone? I don’t want my money used in this whole GARBAGE. I want my money to be used on the COMMUNITY.

        Both Matt and Christ are correct and wrong. My life will continue no matter what occurs between them.

        I would find it funny if Chris buys, .org, .net & .us and forwards it to Chris’s site.


      3. Miroslav, why is the $100k your main issue?

        Automattic are repeatedly mentioned in this story as being the owners of the domain, no-one has attempted to hide that, they are even listed in the WHOIS.

        As a private, profit-making company valued at well above $1bn, they invested $100k in a name that has direct and obvious potential within their business. It was a heck of a good deal and has nothing whatsoever to do with the foundation or the community. Go ahead and make that donation, sponsor that WordCamp :)

        Yes, you can register mattmullenweg as a domain. Nothing will happen.


      4. What is wrong with questioning things? just like I question your defensive position on this whole topic Mr. software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer.

        100k for a domain seems way too much. the only domain I make exception: 1) 2) (I am Canadian).

        If WordPress is supposed to be democratizing the internet…part of democracy is freespeech. Which I believe USA, Canada and Ireland (your website on WP profile being .IE) all have free speech laws

        If I am being my usual blunt honest self. this whole thing seems childish to me. Matt can easily ignore just like I ignored the 12 “free vacation” scammers that called me this past 3 weeks.

        Replace childish with bullshit.

        If I was in charge of the universe, I would go to Texas and California (Chris / Matt) and put them over my shoulders, fly back to Toronto, go to my house. go to my basement, put them both down, go back up. lock the door. go to the kitchen to get some chips and pepsi, unlock door, open door dump snacks and drinks down to basement and lock the door again and not unlock it until they both settle their bs.

        None of my own sites (and clients’s sites) ever used Thesis, not will they ever.

        The community deserves better than this bitching between them.
        The community deserves better than see #wpdrama on their RSS feeds.
        The community deserves better than see #wpdrama on their twitter feeds
        The community deserves better than see #wpdrama on everything else feeds.

        I should be talking about if I apply for speaker at a WordCamp (my first one) instead of replying to you, nothing personal, you seem like a totally awesome person.

        It is also 5:30am for me. Good night. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz


      5. Miroslav, asking questions is vital, but attention to detail is important too. Some questions can be answered by simply paying attention to the information right in front of us.

        This story has always been about Automattic’s purchase of a domain, so, obviously, the money came from that private company, not the community. Suggesting otherwise, and saying this is why you won’t donate to the foundation or sponsor Wordcamps, only adds to the hysteria and unfairly insinuates dishonesty.

        You also state that I am being defensive and claim that I work for Automattic. You are thinking of Donncha, a whole different person with a different name – again, attention to detail is important before we leap to conclusions.

        I do understand that you are motivated by good intentions and did not mean to single you out, I just hate to see these dramas spin out of control on the basis of unfounded allegations. Have a good night, it is still afternoon here on the other side of the world (Thailand) :D


      6. Hi Miroslav,

        Yes, it will be good for both of them to clear the things up and Chris is speaking a lot but he’s not speaking with the right person. He should speak with Matt. Clear the problem and who knows? But what he’s doing is exactly the opposite. You can’t complain that somebody treat you bad when you’re in a wrong doing.

        I think that we should get over the 100K because it’s extremely subjective. This amount for some persons means a 5 minutes thought, nothing more. If you bother them more than 5mn for this you’re loosing their time. I personally meet those kind of persons every day. I should do a drama that I can’t afford to spent like they do??
        Also, why somebody should give explanations about their money and how they spend them? Not fair.
        I also spend good money on domains and people around me think that is waaay too much. For sure we have different values and different budgets.
        Also, for sure we’re spending on vacations 100 times more than others people budget for a year. Should we feel bad? Yes :) But we’re still doing it because we can and because it’s in our budget.


    3. WTF have we done to get embroiled in this? Donnacha you’re such a hateful knob.


      1. Like it or not, James, you are the canonical example of someone building their business on a flagrant disregard for the work of others. That’s not hateful, just a part of WordPress history now.


    4. Thanks Donnacha for those comments; very clear and instructing.
      They re-position the debate on the right ground.


  15. If Thesis isn’t using a GPL compatible license, just take them to court and finally get it over with.

    At least then we’d have closure on the GPL debate, instead of using tactics like offering to buy Thesis users GPL themes, or buying a domain name and challenge trademarks.


  16. “Darryl, cybersquatting is a serious acquisition: it is what Chris alleged in his UDRP, and that the panel found to not be true.”

    Ah, clearly then, the glove doesn’t fit. Case closed.


    1. “The Panel notes that Complainant did not include an exhibit showing that redirects to a webpage owned by Respondent. The Panel suggests that the submissions might point toward use by Respondent that would support findings of bad faith, pursuant to Policy §4(b)(iv) if evidence had been adduced to that effect. However, Complainant failed to bring that proof to the Panel.”

      Hey UDRP how much “proof” does one need? Lift your lazy fingers type in, hit return and see where it goes?

      Tracerroute schmacerroute! Case closed.


      1. The decision must be made based purely upon the submissions and not on any personal detective work by the adjudicators, no matter how minor.

        As it happens, Automattic omitted a similarly small, easy-to-query piece of information that would have immediately decided the case in their favor, without any other issues needing to be considered by the panel:

        “Allegedly, Respondent and Complainant were both approached by a third-party for the possible purchase of the domain name, and Respondent was the higher bidder, paying $100,000.00 for the domain name.

        Such a purchase has been considered a bona fide offering of goods under Policy ¶ 4(c)(i) by past panels.

        Therefore, this Panel considers that Respondent’s purchase of the domain name for $100,000.00 could confer rights sufficient for Policy ¶ 4(c)(i) rights and legitimate interests, had adequate evidence to that effect been adduced.

        The Panel notes, however, that Respondent did not provide documentary evidence establishing this purchase of the disputed domain name for $100,000.00 and therefore the Panel declines to give that claim full credibility without such proof, which would have been easy for Respondent to provide and which should be Respondent’s burden to provide if the Panel were to rely on that claim as proof of rights.”

        … meaning that simple proof of payment would have rendered the later “bad faith” considerations irrelevant. Even if the panel had decided that Automattic’s use of the domain constituted bad faith on the basis of forwarding it, they would have had to make the same finding of “bad faith” in both of the other regards too, which they didn’t.

        So, Pearson failed to include some information that would have given him only ONE of the 3 points he needed to prove, while Automattic failed to include some information that would have won them the case immediately.

        On the basis of the evidence that both sides did manage to present, Pearson’s attempt to seize ownership of the domain could never have succeeded, it wasn’t even close. My guess is that he did not get advice from anyone familiar with the UDRP process.


      2. Thank you donnacha. It’s a shame things can’t be resolved in a court of common sense instead winning or losing on technicalities.

        Bottom line is Matt has lost face to many. And his unwillingness to comprehend and accept how wrong he is is more troubling to me than the cybersquatting.


      3. Mark, I am bewildered that you were able to interpret my comment as agreeing with you.

        Matt did not cybersquat, he did not win on a technicality, the panel’s decision was that the case brought against Automattic was without any merit. The whole point of the UDRP process is to apply common sense arbitration to disputes like this: Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy.

        Automattic’s actions in defending their property were not wrong, they were the only sane response open to them once Pearson paid money to open the dispute.

        As far as I can see, the only people to whom Matt has lost face are the usual gang who will leap upon any opportunity to criticize him, even if it means saying that night is day. There is absolutely no way he can ever win over folks who are that determined to view everything he does as suspect, so, obviously, he is not going to waste time worrying about them.

        Again, I am not part of the Automattic clique, and I’m not looking to get into an online argument with anyone, but it seems insane to repeatedly attack someone with what are provably wrong interpretations of the facts. In any public forum, if your objective is to gain support for your position, surely you actually work against that goal if you keep stating the opposite of what the facts show.


  17. Jeff, its curious as to why you’ve written this post which muddies the waters with the patent and licensing issues – those issues are separate and distinct from the domain litigation.

    Matt has certainly mingled in his arguments that they are somehow related and, whether or not it has merit, it is his right to do so.

    Rebroadcasting one side’s argument alone, though, leaves a bad taste of bias in the mouth of this reader. Its all the more so disappointing with the visibility of this site. Given the funding source of this site, I guess its not all that surprising.


    1. How do you figure that the content in this post represents bias to one side’s story?


      1. Jeff, I think both WP Tavern articles on this topic have been very well-reported. In heated situations like this, allegations of bias are almost inevitable; I wouldn’t take complaints too seriously unless they’re frequent and very specific.

        At any rate, the real story here is in the comments. What a fascinating and weird collision of two personalities.


    2. Anonymous, Jeff has been pretty stellar in his coverage of all topics Automattic and otherwise – especially when it stirs controversy and leads to criticism. Given his source of funding it’s amazing that he doesn’t shy away from these topics – the safe thing to do – instead he takes them head on. WP Tavern should be commended for that and it’s cheap and unfair to make it look like Jeff has been overly biased because of $. And Pearson’s side of the story has been given a platform here, you’re one-sided comment doesn’t even stack up.


    3. I think the re-opening dialog in the way Jeff has done it is great. He was criticized for closing comments on the previous post and now has presented us with even more information to mull over. I think it’s great and a great way to shut up the criticism regarding closing the previous comments. That’s my take on that.

      Controversy is wonderful for advertizing. Strong opinions on both sides and a few sidelines get thrown into the mix. People love to hate the guy on top (the money guy usually), me included. But when it is all said and done (should that ever happen) there are going to be some solid interpretations of what is and what isn’t acceptable, legal and allowable.

      It is my belief that regardless which side anyone prefers, the WordPress community will benefit. Software developers (especially web related) will benefit and setting aside ego, Matt and Chris will both benefit. Matt will take some hits (money is a great comforter in those cases) and Chris will continue to take hits. Especially since proprietary claims to something which began GPL isn’t really popular with the majority of users.

      Having said all that, there is one thing for sure, some of the comments from both of the central players here are enough to keep the blood pumping. Too bad it is only on a web page, I used to love boxing and would love to see them duke it out. ;-)

      IMO, they would both probably say a lot more with their fists and a couple pair of gloves than what they have actually said here.


  18. I think a better use of would be to point it to a site dedicated to educating the public about GPL and how it relates to WordPress. I think what bothers some people is how it’s being used to redirect to another site, a site that has nothing to do with Thesis.

    If it pointed to an education site about GPL and the problems with non-GPL compliant WordPress themes, especially Thesis, a theme that originally didn’t comply with GPL, then it did, now it doesn’t, would make more sense.


    1. I don’t disagree, but ThemeShaper is about theming and it has possibly the best tutorial available on building themes (thank you Ian Stewart and & co). It’s a celebration of themes. Most people would agree that introducing proprietary and restrictive elements to the theming space (patents, restrictive licenses) would be a step back. This is what Thesis represents to Matt, I think. Sending people over to a theme resource instead does have some logic to it.


    1. I don’t agree Marcus. I believe this battle will eventually be a big win for the “Community” regardless which way it goes. WordPress will still be licensed the way Matt wants to license it and even if Chris should win something, he won’t impact the overall picture regarding WordPress. And only a few really can’t stomach a good knockdown drag-out. Even amongst the old timers.. (me being one of them)


  19. At this moment, the licensing issue is nothing more than a red herring. The issue at hand is the domain purchase which calls into question the actions of Matt and Automattic. Essentially, this is an ethical issue. Will Automattic bury you if you do something they don’t agree with? If Chris is continuing to be a jerk, does that justify Automattic to respond in kind? Matt and Automattic should be held to a higher standard. They not only represent WordPress as a whole but also the individuals that make up the community. If they disagree with what a member of that community is doing, deal with them graciously not tyrannically.


  20. I will give this one more time, my connection is crappy right now…

    I will give Matt credit for allowing this post on WPTavern (he owns the site).
    Other leaders/CEOs/Chairmen/etc…would sue any and all criticism.


  21. I’m surprised how ignorant people are about the importance of licensing. Go learn the history of your craft before trashing Matt.


  22. Trademark the everyday, common word, “thesis” ???! …Seriously, enough is enough. Everybody go to their rooms and take a time out. You can come again when you’re civil, kind, and can move on… then go write some great code. Or, fix something that drives us DIY, non-WP-dev-n00bs crazy. Cheers!


    1. Generic expressions cannot be trademarked if the term describes the good it sells. It becomes interesting when trademarks eventually become common words, e.g. hoover, heroine or google (the verb). have you wordpressed something lately?


    2. Yes, seriously. But it’s not as nefarious or crazy as you make it sound.

      Take for instance Apple. They have trademarks for their name. Which is the name of a common fruit. But their trademarks are specific to their business use. It’s why Apple Vacations hasn’t been sued out of existence by Apple Computers.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with trademarks. Even with more common words. Because when you trademark something you don’t do so in a blanket way. You don’t own all rights to the word. You define, in your trademark application, what usage you are trademarking.


      1. To add to Carl’s point, to win approval for a Trademark, the “mark” must not be related to your business. If Apple had sold apples, they would not have been granted the Apple trademark, but since selling computers, and devices, has nothing to do with an apple, they were granted the use of the Apple trademark. Anyone who uses the “Apple” trademark, in a domain name, or other promotional way, to sell computers and anything else described in the Apple trademark filing, can be sued for infringing on that trademark. This is how ordinary, and words from the dictionary, can be trademarked.

        Some might argue that the WordPress trademark is a weak trademark, because both Word and Press are directly related to how a blogging platform, or Content Management System, works. The weakness comes from the fact that both words describe what the software does. On the other hand, Apple’s trademark is stronger because Apple does not describe, and is not related, to the actual product or service.

        At one time Apple Computers was the name used by that company, now it is just Apple. There is a reason to think hard about the trademark your company uses. For example, and I quote from the source:

        Apple computer’s earliest court action dates to 1978 when Apple Records, The Beatles-founded record label, filed a suit against Apple Computer for trademark infringement.

        The suit settled in 1981, with an amount of US$80,000 being paid by Apple computer to The Beatles´ Apple Corps. As a condition of the settlement, Apple Computer agreed to stay out of the music business. The case arose in 1989, again when Apple Corps sued many other over the Apple IIGS, which included a professional synthesizer chip, claiming violation of the 1981 settlement agreement.

        In 1991, another settlement of around US$26.5 million was reached. In September 2003, Apple Computer was sued by Apple Corps again, this time for introducing the iTunes Music Store and the iPod, which Apple Corps believed was a violation of the previous agreement by Apple Computer not to distribute music.

        The trial began on March 27, 2006 in the UK and ended on May 8, 2006 with victory for Apple Computer. The judge ruled the company’s iTunes Music Store did not infringe on the trademark of Apple Corps.

        As of November 16th, 2010, The Beatles music has been available for download on iTunes. Paul McCartney was quoted saying “We’re really excited to bring the Beatles’ music to iTunes. It’s fantastic to see the songs we originally released on vinyl receive as much love in the digital world as they did the first time around.”


  23. Sorry for any confusion donnacha I didn’t intend to imply you agreed with me. I was simply saying thank you for your post.

    I’m not a part of the “usual gang” you mention and I’m not interested in Chris, Matt and their past, present, future GPL licensing spat. But I do call a spade a spade. Thesis is commonly known in the WordPress community and Matt buying it is a huge red flag. Forwarding it to another WordPress entity is beyond the pale and indefensible.

    Let’s swap out the names and imagine how Brian Gardner reacts if Matt buys

    Defend what you wish but personally I find Matt’s action and inaction in making things right indefensible. No I don’t expect Matt to hand to Chris but he can certainly sell it or use it for non-WP related ventures.


  24. I suspect that the attempt to patent the general way that themes work for many content management systems is the larger threat. If approved, that patent could be given to any troll litigators who go asking for a nickle for every website that uses a theme.

    The claim that Thesis is an operating system is just marketing speak:

    “The new Thesis is not a Theme—it is an operating system for templates and design.”

    It is clear that Thesis is a WordPress theme. Take this quote from the diythemes home page:

    “Here’s why Thesis 2 is the perfect theme for ranking higher in search engines”


  25. And what about all the themes that are built without GPL licenses? There are thousands. I build themes all the time and put NO license on them, none at all. I just use WP as the engine because it is better (faster) than building my own MVC CMS. Once I have a client that needs a CMS I build a theme and never have it approved by WP TRT but I do run Theme Check and sometimes hard code into themes some better security than WP has.

    So for all those widgets, plugins, themes, and hack-mods built on top of WP, where do you spill the beans on these legal arguments. Heck I even use WP to build the “theme” and then port it to an HTML DOM… just use the engine to parse a good theme into HTML5.

    Poor Matt, he needs to get over spilled milk and start drinking the elixir of “GPL is not a license exclusively for WordPress.” He has obviously stuck his foot in his mouth several times during this discourse. [one comment above I just have to comment on the word “funnily” that he uses… is this a word?] Peace, Love and keep the Internet Free.


    1. You can’t be a theft just because there are other thefs too. I’m sure a clean up wil l begin. And at least people will be more educated after this.


  26. The reason why Matt hasn’t taken legal action on the GPL issue is clear – a judgement that’s not in his favor would “harm” WordPress.


    1. Well its quite possible he would win due to the Oracle vs Google case. But Oracle winning the API is copyrightable claim is very bad. Its now goona be tried on fair use instead from the looks of it. Essentially the WP leaderships stand on GPL interpretation in how they view APIs goes against many prominent orgs. Such as the EFF and others. Its a little funny that how WP folks view GPL is essentially how Oracle views APIs and most devs dont like Oracles view. Heck we wouldnt even have other PCs than IBMs if this API interpretation was used back in the 80s from what I understand. :)


  27. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But they do make for a nice blog post. Thanks for the summary!


  28. Matt, what did you mean by this… “after DIYThemes is finished”


    1. after the case with DIYThemes is finished… not the company. (Although, you never know!)


  29. I’ve built websites using WordPress for close to 5 years love the platform and the community can’t imagine building a website without it.

    With that said We should encourage innovation not try to stifle it. Chris has a built an amazing platform the original og of frameworks. That many people enjoy using. I personally don’t use Thesis but I know people who do and are delighted with it.

    I hope all this gets resolved in a civil manner so the WordPress ecosystem can continue evolving and become greater then it is today. Now lets all have a nice cold one :)


  30. My opinion of Matt has never been lower. I really thought of this guy as the exemplar of business 2.0 and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Regardless of what Chris does and doesn’t do, the behavior that Automattic is allowing is unbelievable. That smirk after infringing a trademark says it all. And the only reason he won was because Chris didn’t provide the documented trace route info, that’s not winning on merit. That was luck. I will personally give a grand for a TM case on gofundme.

    So just remember all that are piling on Chris, they’ll eventually pile on you next. I can’t reveal my identity because I work for a studio that buys all this community BS hook line and sinker.

    Let’s just remember in the end, Matt and Auto want all of this GPL’d, because it gets leveraged on in some way or another. Where in the hell do you people think Woo is going? Do you think that was for the community? Really? Wake up. Woo is not for us it’s for Matt’s wallet.

    Oh by the way, last year I listened to a talk by a very high profile agency owner in WP space. What was the subject? WordPress E-O-L. Now I know why, losing intellectual property to the likes of Matt is ironically not principled and a bad business decision.

    This isn’t about “principles” as Matt said. It’s about Automattic leveraging our good will for THEIR financial gain – period the end. I have had it. Ghost it is. Or fork the heck out WP.

    Can you imagine if Apple said to its devs hey charge for support, but all that code you did and intellectual property is ours because of our principles… App Store would look much different.

    Fork it and end this.


    1. It’s always surprising to read a comment posted by a person who is just looking from his ‘own’ little perspective.


      1. Matt defends the WordPress TM like Darth Vader on a bender and rightfully so! Matt has some cojones. I will give him that.

        Matt then turns around and infringes someones TM and gets away with it on a technicality. By the way this wasn’t a TM case. That’s irony and not just my perspective, but actual fact. It literally can be can called historical record now.

        What Matt is doing is far more damaging than anything Chris could ever do. Matt is the leader of WordPress for goodness sake. I have no idea how VCs or the board or any sane persons in leadership positions are just standing by letting this circus continue day after day.

        I have already made my decision to never support Matt. I am just one guy less. Matt is alienating a large portion of the community single handedly and if history serves that never pans out well. Just recently ask Chairman Pao. Just wait until the market and media pick up this BS.

        From the outside Matt looks like a bully.


      2. You can do what ever you want. Matt or Automattic has never infringes someones’ TM. is a generic name, anyone could buy it (if you have enough cash).

        Just because some has a trademark for the name ‘Thesis’ for a WordPress theme doesn’t mean they automatically own the domain. As for the reason why they bought it, of course, not only to bully the guy who has bullied and infringed GPL license in the face of thousands of WordPress developers but also to take a necessary step in order to stop this GPL abuse which I believe is a good for community in a larger picture (not only from the outside looks).

        For the past years, Matt has been actively devoted in protecting the GPL license which is one of the reason why WordPress is so successful, you have also benefit from the license which gave you the freedom to do whatever you want with it as long you the product you develop is also licensed as GPL.

        This move is so far the most aggressive but I cannot blame Matt for doing this. Go Matt show them the wrath. This guy didn’t infringe the GPL license once but twice. Time for some lesson.


      3. No one said Chris has the right to own the domain, where Matt is breaking all rules is by forwarding traffic to another WordPress entity. You can’t do that plan and simple.

        Go register anything with WordPress in a domain and you’ll be contacted by Automattic lawyers to cease and desist. That is what their counsel is supposed to do.

        Thesis (whether you like Chris or not) has been a long established theme/software brand and no other company or individual can use Thesis within the same or similar industry. Themeshaper definitely is in a shared industry.

        Matt is welcome to use to start selling term papers, dryer lent or broken Christmas ornaments and Chris can’t do squat about it.

        I’m sure Matt’s VCs have deep enough pockets to buy (another generic word) but Brian and StudioPress are not in their sites.


      4. Go register anything with WordPress in a domain and you’ll be contacted by Automattic lawyers to cease and desist.

        That’s not true, but seems to keep popping up in this thread. Here is some info that might clarify what actually happens here, and the thinking behind it.

        First, if you hear from anyone it will probably be the Foundation lawyers, not Automattic ones.

        Second, you would get a letter first, not a legal action. Many people who use “wordpress” in the domain are just not aware of our domain policy, which actually goes beyond pure trademark law, and the vast majority of people just update their domain when they find out about it. Many want to be be able to be linked from, participate in WordCamps, and many of the other benefits that come from following the community guidelines.

        Third, not every use of “wordpress” in a domain is going to be a trademark violation, as Jeff sometimes uses the example, if you pack swords together and call it SwordPress dot com that’s not going to be

        Fourth, you don’t have to attack everyone who might be violating your trademark to maintain it. If your legal counsel told you that, they’re not the best. In fact it creates a lot more risk as you’re opening yourself up to defensive legal action.

        Fifth, there are some domains we haven’t been able to get that people pointed out earlier in the thread, but just because you have a US trademark doesn’t mean it applies in other countries.

        Finally, battles have to be picked. If the foundation tried to go after everyone who had “wordpress” in the domain it would cost many millions of dollars We focus on sites that actually get traffic, and people who combine several things, like our logo or site design alongside the domain, in ways that will confuse users into thinking they’re on an official/actual WordPress resource. (I don’t think anyone can visit Themeshaper and think they’re on DIYThemes, FWIW.) We also target people who are using confusion (even without “wordpress” in the domain) to distribute spam or malware, something we often do in concert with Google. If I were Chris, I would have gone after one of these sites first:

        I hope that helps clarify a bit about domains, trademark law, and what the Foundation actually does around it.


      5. Thank for the clarifications most of which were obvious. Of course you don’t have to fight every fight but sending out C&D form letter doesn’t cost millions and brands need to be protected.

        Funny coincidence the one guy safe from attack is a swordmaker :-)

        Matt if you haven’t gotten the point yet simply redirect to a non-WordPress entity and the vast majority of us will shut up and move on with life.


    2. Have you read his actual trademarks (“thesis” and “thesis theme”)?

      If anything Automattic were doing with the domain were an infringement, Pearson would take and win an action against them.

      You should also read the UDRP Panel’s decision. Pearson’s action did not fail because “he didn’t provide the documented trace route info”, that was relevant to only one of the three types of bad faith, all of which would have to be proved to transfer ownership of a domain. In fact, if Automattic had not failed to submit proof that they had purchased the domain, the case would have been instantly decided in their favor, the trace route stuff was really just a minor note explaining why that particular part of Pearson’s submission was denied.


  31. I believe that the level of rancour directed at Automattic stems from early confusion, when people first get involved with WordPress and are at their most enthusiastic. They see everything as wonderful and buy into Automattic’s clever PR positioning (and, let’s face it, these days every online company is expected to weave a good myth).

    Later, when they realize that things are not so black and white, that Matt is not Jesus and that Automattic is engaged in the same frantic land-grab as every other Web giant, disillusion kicks in and, for some, that love turns to blind rage. From that point on, anything Matt does is suspect and otherwise thoughtful people will leap upon any “scandal” that happens to pass by, even when it requires turning a blind eye to the actual facts.

    There is plenty to worry about when a billion dollar, VC-funded corporation so thoroughly dominates an Open Source project, but we should not surrender our intellectual integrity. Focus on the issues that matter, don’t make stuff up for emotional effect and, if you hope to sway the opinions of people with real influence, consistent credibility is far more important than fleeting hype.


    1. I think your belief is faulty.

      The question that occupies my mind is where did the $100,000 come from that was used to buy a domain that simply redirects to another website? Did it come from a foundation that accepts “donations”?


    2. I have never thought Matt was Jesus. I think he is Elvis’s new personality after the FBI put him in the witness protection program.


  32. I think both Matt and Chris are justified in part and still wrong to some extent as well, depending on how you look at the circumstances. Set aside what the courts had to say in the matter. This whole situation ultimately looks bad for both of them (and all of us). The publicity it’s getting is unanimously negative, regardless of whose side you are on. And the perception its casting on the WordPress community as being full of drama and infighting is frankly embarrassing. There’s egg on everyone’s face in this situation, whether they want to admit it or not.

    It seems to me like some big egos felt it beneath them to reach out over the aisle in private to address their grievances. Now we all have to hear about this nonsense played out on venues that should be publishing material about the WordPress software itself. Instead of insightful WordPress articles, we’re getting this BS. Wonderful! Congratulations Matt and Chris for this monumental waste of time, energy and money! Whatever you hoped to achieve with your quarrel; I hope it was worth it. As a WordPress user, I fail to see any value in all this mess.


      1. As a WordPress user, I fail to see any value in all this mess.

        I second that.


    1. I agree with you Nathan Mckay: the whole thing looks bad for all of us and certainly even more for both actors of this drama.

      To some extent, it reminds the current EU-Greece drama, where both parties will have a lot to lose and the biggest one has already lost the most. As it is true for the EU, WP has now a blurred public image and this will take some time to be restored.

      WP Tavern has done, and still doing, a great reporting job and, at least, this allowed some ignorant people such as myself to better understand the stakes and also have a better insight on how GPL works and what all this means. It reminds me of most cultural events that rely on volunteering and replicates of “happiness engineers”, while entrepreneurs fill their pockets with benefits. @donnacha brought some very clever inputs in this regard and all of us should open our eyes wider.

      I don’t think we should much focus on why and how Matt/Automattic bought this domain as this is their own business and they are free to have their own reasons, neither judge whether Chris has done the right choices. It’s also his own business and he certainly had good reasons to do so.

      The real question that now emerges from this whole drama is who, at the end, is gaining profit from this whole “free/open” ecosystem. The same happened with the EU-Greece crisis: the final question was not how and if Greece cheated and put the country in such situation but rather how the EU contributed and permitted this to happen and how it will take financial profit from that. While, at the end, their public image’s restoration will cost much more.

      As a EU citizen, I also fail to see any value in all this EU mess.


  33. As far as I can see this Matt was pushed pretty bad by Chris since 2009 and he just pushed back. Hard I admit, but how do you stop someone who simply does not want to stop pushing? If this was a street fight and everyone commenting here would see Chris pushing Matt on the street and than Matt blowing back, we all would say “great job Matt”.

    Chris you did not invent anything and there is nothing you should patent or own TM on when it comes to themes or WP. You built your biz on top of WP and on the back of GPL. The second your code starts communicating with WP it should be GPL. I mean you are trying to patent a color picker. What else should be said about they way you see “patents”.

    Come up with a smart algo that does something without relying on GPL than we will all applaud to you. But using derivatives from GPL, BSD and all other licenses and langs that are there to help your biz grow, in order to “patent” the way those same langs communicate with each other is simply wrong.

    Who does not like GPL, he/she should make own CMS. I am WP and Joomla dev and I have survived the templates war in Joomla with GPL. When we GPL licensed all our products nothing has changed. Customers kept on coming, the team and I provided support and new products.

    GPL does not hurt your biz, it makes it easier for you. Keeping your supporters is what Chris and Matt should concentrate on. This is hurting both of you and it is splitting the community.


  34. I’ve been developing with WordPress for a long time now and I’m embarrassed to say today is the first time I’ve clicked a link in the dashboard which brought me here.

    The biggest problem I see is the patent of methods that existed prior to the patents. Because the patent system is pretty ignorant when it comes to software, they grant stuff that should never be granted.

    It won’t be long before some patent trolls start targeting businesses for using the patent and wanting to be paid off. I’m glad someone with some muscle and of course the financial backing is standing up to this. It will be fairly easy to show prior art and get the patents reversed, but that takes lawyers and money so I say great job Matt!


  35. Relevant facts:

    1) Is it a violation of the GPL or copyright law to release a WordPress theme that is not licensed GPL?

    Highly unlikely. Here are two great writeups by a lawyer which make the issue very clear:

    If Matt was so sure this was the case he could sue Envato. He’s not, so he’s banned the mention of Envato by WordCamp speakers and sponsors.

    2) Pearson probably DID violate the GPL.

    Pearson’s theme, at the time of the original dispute, used GPL code copied and pasted verbatim from GPL WordPress theme(s)/the WordPress core package itself.


    1. Just a clarification: Matt accepted the FSFL opinion, which Envato complied with pretty early on after the opinion was issued.


  36. Neither of them come out of this looking any good.

    Neither are fighting a clean fight.

    I fear for WordPress. I know it will go on, but with all the bickering going on now, the WP community, it’s greatest asset, the thing that made it a success in the first place is being split apart by stubborn egos and pedantic idealism. The greatest threat to WP (as many empires have found) is not from outside, but from within. When the community bleeds, WP bleeds.


  37. Look, you’re all riding on the back of Rasmus Lerdorf and Zend Engine, and he is riding the back of Dennis Ritchie and the C programming language, and he’s… ~. Perhaps they should be sharing in the profits (and legal woes) too, no? This is the problem with open-sourced tech. — there is merely the existence of derivative work from (in this case) a base set of bits and parts that now power billions of things, and things-of-things, etc. Just like Roman letterforms carved into slabs of stone eventually used to write To Kill a Mockingbird. We all owe our success to the past discovery, invention, creation and labor of others that have “donated” their output to society, so it can be derived and formed into something else of value to said society. Even just the smallest amount of humility to this fact would be appropriate here. Sadly, I see none, from either side.

    WordPress. Drupal. Mike’s Super-Awesome Home-grown PHP CMS and Coffee Maker ++.

    Thesis. Headway. Genesis. Mike’s Super-Awesome Home-grown WordPress Theme Framework and Coffee Maker ++.

    It’s all the business of product creation, built on a lack of full ownership of everything, and partial ownership of nearly nothing.

    This latest Matt v. Chris p!ssing match is proof that neither gets it, at all. But when we’re talking about big money, livelihood and opinions regarding the possession of X, Y or Z, fog can set in quickly.

    Someone needs to blow the friggin’ foghorn.


Comments are closed.