I have been following the WordPress Theme GPL discussion very closely for as long as I have been involved with WordPress and I am glad that Matt, with the help of the Software Freedom Law Center, has cleared the air. There has been a lot of valuable discussion surrounding this blog post and the issue, here is a small list of what I have read.
- Lloyd’s analysis on GPL and themes
- Daniel’s view from the other side of the fence (be sure to read through the comments, there is a lot of wisdom there)
- WPTavern’s forum post on the blog dev blog post and the forum post(s) leading up to it
- Brian Gardner wants the community to move on
- Other miscellaneous posts on the issue
I am a huge proponent of the GPL and consider it to be one of the primary pillars of WordPress, both as a piece of software, and as a community. This debate has, from time to time, devolved into whether the GPL is a valuable licensing schema for software such as WordPress. I have seen/read quite persuasive arguments on why a more liberal IP licensing could be beneficial for the community and for the software. But in all of this debate and conjecture, I could not help thinking about how it would affect one group of people. Our users.
I help make “business happen with software” at my day job. My team supports a couple of hundred thousand users in helping them perform mundane (to them) tasks. We also try to help our small company cope with the technology needs of a cutting edge industry and compete on that edge with corporations that have IT budgets that parallel our company’s entire revenue. We are so small and so busy that as long as we are complying with the licensing of a particular piece of software, we are good to roll. We use GPL software, we use proprietary software, we use CC licensed software, we use Apache licensed software and everything in between. The funny thing is that our users could care less what we use, as long as they can do what they want to do without having to call the help desk or spend too much time doing it. That is exactly where WordPress proudly shines like the Sun.
Matt’s vision for WordPress is to make it invisible, to help its users do what they do best without having a single thought about the tool they are using. To that goal, the GPL has no effect except for circumstantial reasons. The creators would also like the software to be freely available to anyone, for any purpose. The software should be open to modifications and freely distributable at no cost and without permission from the creators. The software should be extensible in so much that the core code does not have to be modified for cursory changes. The GPL as linked with WordPress, has unequivocally helped WordPress and its community get where it is today. It is not the only thing WordPress has going for it (thankfully), but it certainly is here to stay and has proven itself over and over again for us. It is just a licensing schema that bolsters the core philosophies of the people behind the code and helps them accomplish their goals with the software, get “business to happen” so to speak.
In all of our vacillations, are we getting away from our core philosophies? The freedoms that the GPL and WordPress have offered to the folks who choose to make money from WordPress, are also designed to help another, larger group of people. The people who use the software.
If in our exuberance to make everyone happy, we trip up and let our millions of users down, it would then truly be a catastrophe.