They first came for the Theme Developers,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Theme Developer.
Then they came for the Plugin Developers,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Plugin Developer.
Then they came for the Sponsors,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Sponsor.
Then they came for the Speakers,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Speaker.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
While the original version of this statement is about a much more serious and heinous situation, the principle behind it is often applicable to situations much less drastic and detestable.
Today, for example, yet another volley was fired by Jane Wells in WordPress’ ongoing war against many members of its own community. While it might not yet impact you, it should absolutely concern you.
As of today, any person or company that is in “violation of the WordPress license [read as not GPL compliant] cannot be accepted as event organizers or sponsors” of any WordCamp conference.
It should be noted that many reasonable people, disagree with Matt’s assertion that themes automatically inherit the GPL license. And if Matt’s wrong, most premium themes actually ARE GPL compliant.
Now, the WordCamp trademark is owned by the WordPress Foundation which is run by WordPress creator and Automattic founder, Matt Mullenweg. That means they can pretty much do whatever they want and set any kind of requirements they’d like.
While this might not seem like an issue that’s important to you, it becomes much more troubling when viewed in the context of past decisions and remarks.
A Declaration of Grievances
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s run down the list of grievances. In as close to chronological order as I can remember, they are:
- Sponsored themes are removed from WordPress.org. Many were perfectly GPL compliant but included links to sponsors which Matt deemed unacceptable despite plenty of community feedback to the contrary.
- Over 200 GPL licensed themes are removed from the WordPress repository. Why? Because they supported sites that promoted non-GPL content. The themes were licensed under the GPL, but the sites that created them offered (or in some cases just had ads for) products that weren’t licensed under the GPL.
- Matt calls non-GPL licensed themes “evil.” For all you Automattic supporters out there that have criticized the way I make my arguments (ZOMG you’re too mean!) calling things evil is pretty harsh language that draws a “good vs. evil” line in the sand.
- A GPL licensed theme is rejected by the repository simply because the creator’s site mentioned the Thesis theme (not GPL licensed) and ThemeForest (whose themes are all dual licensed to be perfectly compatible with the GPL but does not meet the new “everything must be GPL” rule Matt instated).
- Matt got a lawyer from the Software Freedom Law Center to weigh in on the theme GPL issue. Now, I know this might come as a shock to you, but the lawyer says PHP portions of themes inherit the GPL while the CSS and images do not.
- WordPress.org begins actively promoting premium theme companies that license themes under 100% GPL while excluding other GPL compatible (according to the Software Freedom Law Center lawyer) and non-GPL competitors.
- Announcement made that WordCamps can no longer accept “non-GPL-compliant people” as speakers, sponsors, or organizers. Jane apparently means people or companies that don’t comply with Matt Mullenweg’s interpretation of the GPL but doesn’t feel the need to clarify that since Matt’s word is law when it comes to anything WordPress related.
Now I don’t know about you, but I find this progression fairly disturbing. Matt Mullenweg decides themes inherit the GPL and despite valid legal opinions to the contrary, begins demonizing anyone that dares disagree with him.
If you dare have the audacity to license your theme the way you see fit, you’re not only banned from having any of your work in WordPress’ repository, but anyone who supports your product is banned as well!
Want to sponsor or speak at a WordCamp? Sorry, you’ve been banned from that as well.
While there’s no official criteria that I know of, I’d imagine you’re not eligible to become a member of the core development team unless you buy into Matt’s interpretation of the GPL.
Who Will They “Come For” Next?
Phrases like “in spirit” or “supporting the philosophy” are being thrown around and guilt by association is a reality when it comes to the theme repository. What’s the next step in this fanatical, quasi-religious crusade against those who dare oppose Matt’s interpretation of the license?
Will we be banned from submitting tickets or reporting bugs? Will our accounts be banned in the WordPress.org forum? Will linking to a non-GPL licensed theme on Twitter prevent your theme from being accepted in the repository?
If you’ve licensed your code under the GPL but are a vocal opponent of the license, are you banned as well?
Aaron Brazell (a WordPress core contributor), recently said writing code for WordPress’ core or creating GPL plugins is the only way to contribute to the WordPress community.
Given the progression of decisions covered in this post it seems clear Matt Mullenweg doesn’t want any dissenters participating in the community.
Then again, dictators rarely do.