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WordPress Creator GPL Says WP Template Must Be GPL'd 571

Posted by timothy
from the several-sticky-wickets dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Matt Mullenweg (the creator of open source blog software WordPress), after review by various legal experts, is sticking to his guns that themes and plugins that 'extend' WordPress violate the GPL if they are not themselves distributed under the GPL. Matt has gone so far as to post this on Twitter. According to Matt, the premium template called Thesis should be under the GPL and the owner is not happy about it. WordPress is willing to sue the maker of Thesis theme for not following GPL licensing. The webmasters and Thesis owners are also confused with new development. Mark Jaquith wrote an excellent technical analysis of why WordPress themes inherit the GPL. This is why even if Thesis hadn't copy-and-pasted large swathes of code from WordPress (and GPL plugins) its PHP would still need to be under the GPL."
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WordPress Creator GPL Says WP Template Must Be GPL'd

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  • data vs code (Score:2, Interesting)

    by roguegramma (982660) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @02:56PM (#32994968) Journal

    Just goes to show that data vs code is a false dichotomy:
    The programming language and data description language used should not affect where the split is.

    This is even more obviously worse if you for example transfer your data as JSON, so that the data interchange language is the same as the programming language.

  • I don't buy it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PylonHead (61401) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:00PM (#32995030) Homepage Journal

    IANAL, but I don't buy it.

    The GPL is based on copyright.

    If I sell a product that doesn't contain *any* of your copyrighted code (and API calls certainly can't be copyrighted), you have no basis to sue me for copyright.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:03PM (#32995080)

    The idea of the GPL, at least the original idea, seemed to be that if you modified the code of a project and distributed that modified version, you also had to distribute the code. Ok, fair enough and easy enough to understand. So Linksys could go and use Linux on their routers, and they have to release the mods to Linux they make, but not any of the software they run on it.

    However then you get things like this. A theme for something they now say has to be GPL. Not a new version of the software, a theme that adds in to it. Ummm ok. What about plugins, do those also have to be opened up? This leads to other worries, will GPL authors try and say if you use a GPL'd software to create something (like a picture with GIMP) that too has to be opened up?

    That is some of the "viral" nature MS was bitching about. You GPL something and then you want to say everything it touches has to be GPL'd too.

    I think people get a little miffed when they find that using GPL software got them more than they bargained for.

  • Re:I don't buy it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by daid303 (843777) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:09PM (#32995158)

    GPL is much wider then just the code. GPL states that anything linked to it needs to be GPL. But in the case of PHP this is a bit fuzzy, when is it linked or not?

    GPL is made for C programs running on something you own. The cases of interpreted code, and code running on a webserver hosting services are not covered in it. So I can customize wordpress, run it on my own server, and nobody has any right to get the source then. Except for myself.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:12PM (#32995204) Journal

    The issue here is the way that PHP and Javascript, in particular, are being used by these open source projects. Where the dividing line between data and code is unclear, or possibly doesn't meaningfully exist at all (JSON for instance), it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that themes that are as much code as they are presentation are probably going to end up being swallowed into GPL.

    The solution is simple. Find a platform that isn't GPL, or write your own.

  • by improfane (855034) * on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:15PM (#32995234) Journal

    In Wordpress the templates are PHP calls to functions, so it is basically a contribution to the codebase in itself. It's not a templating language what you would expect.

    Not that I understand GPL or Wordpress but that sounds like the logic.

    I honestly don't see how CSS could become GPLed though.

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ehrichweiss (706417) * on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:20PM (#32995296)

    Even better, why don't Thesis just make a "templating engine" to handle the WP code that can then be released under GPL and then release the rest of the CSS, images, etc. under their own license? I can think of a couple of ways this could be accomplished and it would protect Thesis entirely.

    From the WP "analysis" on one of the links in the summary...

    ****
    "My JS/CSS/Images are 100% original. Do they have to be GPL?

    No, they don't. If they aren't based on GPL'd JavaScript, CSS, or images, you are not forced to make them GPL. What you could do is offer a theme under a split license. The PHP would be under the GPL, but other static resources could be under some other license."
    ****

    That said, I'm a bit concerned about how this "it's a part of WP" will be interpreted because doesn't that then mean that commercial apps like Zend Studio, etc. are ALSO required to comply with the GPL since they ostensibly hook into the various GPL'ed libraries, etc. ??

    I mean I'm all for GPL but if everything that so much as touches GPL'ed software falls under that license, we're going to find fewer and fewer people willing to create commercial apps for GPL OS'es, etc..and while I may not use it, we definitely don't need to go shooting ourselves in the foot at this stage of the game.

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:26PM (#32995366) Homepage
    The GPL is as clear as mud. Do you want an example? It says "derivative works" must be GPL as well. Well, what is a derivative work? Guess what? The GPL itself doesn't define that term. So there's huge debate as to if a block of code that uses nothing from the parent but fully documented and exposed APIs is derivative or not.

    Obviously Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian; that much is clear... But is Internet Explorer a drivative of Windows (Taking aside the license for a minute)? It hooks into deep APIs (So deep in fact, that it cannot run on any other OS than Windows)... Parts of the core of Windows (Windows Update) depend upon it... It's a very difficult question to answer.

    And this is why I hate the GPL. It promotes the "If you want to comply, you can do no wrong by licensing GPL" attitude. It's trivially easy to comply with, but it's VERY hard to make a clear determination if the restrictions extend to you or not. So most people "just take the easy way out" and license GPL. Not out of belief, not out of fear, not out of requirement, but out of confusion and misunderstanding...
  • Re:I don't buy it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guruevi (827432) <eviNO@SPAMsmokingcube.be> on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:29PM (#32995412) Homepage

    Yes you can, the GPL only talks about distribution. The thing is the moron copied and pasted WP source code and then went ahead and charged for it. Besides that, PHP include and require makes the files part of it's own program and then compiles it - it becomes a single program. If you don't like that, use exec or system. It would be the same as releasing a GPL program written in C++ but then not releasing the header files under the GPL.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:32PM (#32995452)

    Themes don't inherit the GPL. See the following article:

    WordPress Themes, GPL, and Copyright Case Law
    http://www.chipbennett.net/2010/07/wordpress-themes-gpl-and-copyright-case-law/

  • by Lando (9348) <lando2+slash@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:38PM (#32995550) Homepage Journal

    Using misappropriated proprietary code means that you have to turn over all income from said product plus since you knew it was proprietary damages are tripled so you still owe more. Most people will forgive past violations with GPL as long as you come into compliance or stop distributing said item. How is it easier if they use proprietary code?

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:39PM (#32995582) Journal

    It's worse than that. If you RTFA, they make the claim that there are "external APIs" and "internal APIs", and using the former is perfectly fine and dandy, while using the latter makes your code a derived work. Since the classification is, effectively, arbitrary and subject to change at the whim of the author, this puts any software relying on any WordPress API at risk.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:46PM (#32995690)

    From TFA, this isn't about plugins using a documented API.

    Wordpress themes apparently hook directly into the core Wordpress code (like LKMs).

    Their distinction is pretty simple:
    * if you use a documented API, then your work is separate, and you can license it however you want
    * if you're hooking directly into the executable, then your work isn't "stand alone" anymore, & must be GPL

    If you boil it down to the basics, it's really not that complicated. What becomes complicated is when you have profitable companies taking a stance on one side or the other (usually on the "our code doesn't need to be GPL" side...). Because, at that point, people stop using reasonable arguments and start using ANY arguments they can think of.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 22, 2010 @03:49PM (#32995744)

    The "It's infectious" part makes him a troll or a moron.

    In other words, a person who is telling the truth is a "troll or a moron"? You couldn't seriously believe that.

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @04:17PM (#32996202) Journal

    Under GPLv2, you would have been correct, as the term "distribute" has specific meaning in copyright law, a definition that would generally exclude moving copies of copyrighted material around within a company (so long as you do not give it to contractors or other companies working with you, IIRC, but my memory of those aspects of copyright law are kind of vague, so take that with a grain of salt).

    The problem is that the term "distribution" isn't the term used by the GPLv3. The GPLv3 uses the term "propagate", and defines it as follows:

    To "propagate" a work means to do anything with it that, without permission, would make you directly or secondarily liable for infringement under applicable copyright law, except executing it on a computer or modifying a private copy. Propagation includes copying, distribution (with or without modification), making available to the public, and in some countries other activities as well.

    Clearly, putting it on multiple computers does constitute propagating, but as it is done by the IT person, only that IT person would retain the right to distribute further copies. Offering it for internal download, again, clearly qualifies. Why? Because without permission to copy something, making additional copies for additional machines would be a copyright violation.

    The GPL is actually remarkably clear on this point; making something available to the general public is not required for the license to kick in, and internal distribution does count. The concern over internal distribution is legitimate, at least under GPLv3. Don't like that? Pick software with a better license next time, like GPL version 2.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 22, 2010 @04:20PM (#32996248)

    Couldn't have said it better.

    Everyone wants to build on top of working systems like WP, Joomla, etc, and show no respect in matters like this.

    I realize you needed to use someone elses pre-existing product as a base because it saved you massive amounts of development time, but by taking the time to create your own product, you're stuck with the rules of the product you're using.

    Plus, it's a fucking theme. Seriously, a fucking theme. This theme wouldn't exist without the initial wordpress installation.

    All this nonsense about a fucking theme? good god, man.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 22, 2010 @04:54PM (#32996726)

    It's a fair point, that people license their own code GPL just because it's the only way to be sure they aren't violating the GPL of some other code they are using.

    Baloney! Most people using the GPL use it because they understand it very well indeed. Most of us want our code passed on to the next user so they can change it, rather than have a company steal it and pretend it was their creation. We don't want fame (BSD), we just want the users of our code to have access to it, to be able to study it, and to be able change it as they see fit.

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 22, 2010 @07:11PM (#32998210)

    What FUD? The Thesis theme author copied and pasted code directly from default WordPress themes, made some changes and additions, sold it, and is technically in violation of the GPL.

    This is a fairly easy case.

    Some parts of his theme he doesn't need to release under the GPL (as stated in multiple places), but large chunks of the underlying code have to be.

    I hope the FSF and EFF get with the Wordpress folks and sue the Thesis vendor for GPL violations, get some cash out of it, and force him to release it under the GPL.

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @08:28PM (#32998776)

    Take it or leave it, the choice is yours.

    Apparently not, or we wouldn't be having this discussion.

    If this sort of idiocy stands up, then all the people who warned about the viral nature of the GPL and all the corporate legal departments who banned any use of GPL'd software were right all along.

    That said, having actually read the arguments made in the various links in TFS, pretty much all of the claims that themes are derived works and therefore must fall under the GPL appear to be legally and/or technically baseless, just wishful thinking from some pro-GPL people who would like everyone else to be forced to follow the GPL as well.

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by butlerm (3112) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:55AM (#33000518)

    On the other hand, you can hardly argue that your module would be of much use to anyone without a Linux kernel to run it in, and you must have referenced the kernel source, or documentation derived from it, during the implementation, since the APIs don't exist anywhere else.

    A derivative work must be _substantially similar_ to a pre-existing work to be considered derivative. Interface compatibility, no matter how obscure the interface, no matter how much access, no matter how much documentation, does not in and of itself make your work substantially similar to another work.

    If you were making a clone of an existing module, or an entire application, source code access and substantial internal similarity would be prima facie evidence that you have created a derivative work. Interface compatibility without substantial internal similarity isn't even _relevant_.

    17 USC 102(b) seems relevant here: "In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Compaqt (1758360) on Friday July 23, 2010 @03:36AM (#33000650) Homepage

    Matt M. claims that large portions of the Thesis theme includes cut-and-pastes of PHP code from WordPress GPL code.

    I don't know exactly how much that is, but it's probably more than none whatsoever.

    (Take it for what it's worth.)

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @03:38AM (#33000660)

    No, you're not. Linking with a GPL binary creates a derivative work. However, the module you link is not a derivative work, only the final completed work. In the case of a module delivered seperately, it is the user, not the publisher, who creates the derivative work and only he has liability under the GPL.

    This whole "plugins are derivative works" lie needs putting to bed once and for all. They are not. The final system including plugins is a derivative work but its one created by an end-user. If GPL people want to push this they'll need to go all RIAA on the asses of end-users.

    Really we need less rabidity here. People have been publishing closed-source plugins for closed-source products for decades without there ever being a claim that the plugin is a "derivative work" of the original product - indeed, sections of European copyright law explicitly permit this by permitting reverse-engineering for the purposes of interoperability without there being a copyright violation. But suddenly this is different if the product is GPL? Please. GPL people need to calm down and stop being such dicks.

    But of course let's face it this is less about rabid GPL purists and more about companies who rely on the GPL to maintain a monopoly on paid aftermarket addons. If a useful addon must be GPL, the original company can just roll it into their own code. But the original company can sell addons themselves, without putting them into the original code. This is the GPL used as a tool to create a monopoly, and its worse than Microsoft's behavior in many ways. Digium are the prototype for this kind of business model.

  • Re:And this folks... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:22AM (#33000880)

    I find your anti-GPL bias repugnant, but ignoring that.. holy cow, this is the first informative, reasoned, and insightful post of this entire story. Yes! It's about re-distribution! If he does not re-distribute WordPress, there can be no copyright violation! ... This would make sense if not for the wholesale cut&paste copyright infringement aspect of this particular case (d'oh!).

    A problem with selling proprietary plugins though is that your customers are at the whim of the original program not to change their API. If that happens they are locked to the old version. Not good to base your business model on a 3rd party sole supplier which you have no control over, you'll just be thrashed around at the end of the whip. Actually if you business model involves selling upgrade packs, maybe it's not so dumb after all- forces to customer to keep coming back for more over and over.

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