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Licensing is the vehicle, our users are the environment

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July 5th, 2009
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Blogging Essays, WordPress

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.

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.

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11
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Comments

  1. Andreas Nurbo (9 comments.) says:

    GPL does not in itself “benefit” users only developers.
    I would argue that if WP (and its predecessor) had used the BSD license it would be much better =). Would probably be better competition then.
    The most common thing with most GPL software is that the usability and design is crap. Which doesn’t exactly benefit the community =). There is the same problem with WP.

    GPL hasn’t exactly benefited Linux on the desktop market and BSD based Mac OS X is both better usability wise and has a much larger market share and better software.

    But its good to know where the GPL stands in relation to themes.

    • Otto (215 comments.) says:

      The GPL absolutely benefits users. Users are the ones that have to live with these themes and plugins on their sites. What happens when a critical plugin stops being maintained, or a theme author refuses to support his work? With the GPL, the user has the option to go find somebody else to help him with that theme or fix that plugin. Without it, the user could be legally stuck, unable to modify that part of his own site, and required to switch to another theme or plugin, perhaps at significant effort/cost.

      Licensing has no impact on usability and/or design. Your argument there is just nonsense.

      • Andreas Nurbo (9 comments.) says:

        Yes you can go and pay someone to maintain code. As far as I can tell very few do this and if they do they don’t release it. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you do.
        When the author stops the code stales and dies in almost all cases.
        If it were a more permissive license perhaps a company would continue to work on the product and provide you with updates perhaps for a price. But the code would not die.

        Licensing has indeed an impact on usability and/or design. Design etc cannot be as easily shared/developed in a community as code. A lot of people can code(most badly) very few can even spell to usability.

      • Ali Hussain (12 comments.) says:

        A good discussion going around. I completely agree with Otto

  2. Christopher Price (1 comments.) says:

    I think the decision is fair, though the enforcability continues to relegate it to moot-point status. Someone who buys a theme can agree that it is licensed outside of GPL, and that they won’t take action.

    That said, the SFLC analysis of course emphasizes GPL, but (to my surprise) does give theme makers the wiggle room to continue to enterprise (by privatizing the CSS code, etc).

    This encourages core theme integration to spread, but allows for intricate designs and specializations to remain licensed how the theme creator chooses.

    It’s a win for both sides in the long run.

  3. Ahmad Wali (1 comments.) says:

    I think GPL always benefits users and now the Thesis theme agreed to provide GPL licensing. The decision is good and it is fair.


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  1. blognews (blognews) (104 comments.) says:

    [planet wordpress]: Weblog Tools Collection: Licensing is the vehicle, our users are the envi.. http://tinyurl.com/ptn9au

  2. WordPressYes (WordPress Yes!) (94 comments.) says:

    Licensing is the vehicle, our users are the environment: I have been following the WordPress Theme GPL discussio.. http://tinyurl.com/ptn9au


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  3. [...] it, some are not quite as excited. Matt wrote a response as well. If you want the whole roundup, this post gathers a lot of the opinions around the web. It’s a good issue to talk about and developers [...]

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