Matt Mullenweg Declares War on Thesis: A Summary

by Ben Cook on July 17, 2010

GPL War on Thesis theme

You’ll never guess, but the GPL has caused yet another controversy to erupt within the WordPress community. You’re surprised right? Yeah me neither.

So for those of you who haven’t been paying attention (read as: had something better to do) I’m going to try and summarize the events over the last few days as concisely as possible. I’m also going to strive to keep my opinion out of it as much as possible since there will be plenty of time for me to rant on that later.

So let’s get started…


It has long been Matt Mullenweg’s contention that all plugins and themes developed to work with WordPress should inherit the General Public License (GPL) which WordPress is licensed under. They are, in his estimation, derivative works, and as such should be released under the GPL or a GPL-compatible license.

Naturally, there are those who disagree. Chris Pearson, the creator of the Thesis theme, is one of those people. As a result, he licensed his theme under a different and non-GPL compatible license.

Note: The issue of debate is not for or against the GPL as a license. The issue is whether the GPL requires themes to inherit the same license, or not. While it’s much easier to classify the debate as pro or anti-GPL, that’s an oversimplification and skews the issue. Few if any people are arguing against the GPL as a whole.

The Spark

The initial spark for this latest explosion was Automattic CEO, Toni Schneider, kicking WordPress consultant Bill Erickson out of the CodePoet directory for supporting Thesis.

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Bill then posted the expulsion on Flickr. Mullenweg left a comment on the image accused Pearson of having “verbally abused a female community member at a conference yesterday” (even though that female member, Jane Wells denies being abused), accused Pearson’s company, DIYthemes, of “break[ing] the law” and recommended that Pearson leave the WordPress community.

Mullenweg then took the fight to twitter saying:

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Those tweets, along with the accusations left on Flickr were like a spark hitting a gasoline soaked pile of rags…

The Explosion

Matt quickly followed up his barbs with his first (of many) offers to buy a Thesis user any other premium theme as long as it was licensed under the GPL.

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As frequent readers of this blog know, I’m never one to shy away from sharing my opinion. However, I didn’t expect my tweet to illicit Mullenweg to state a lawsuit against DIYthemes was allegedly being planned.

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As anyone who knows Pearson will tell you, it was only a matter of time before he responded. That led to this exchange between he and Mullenweg.

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The Confrontation

After several more shots were volleyed back and forth, both Chris and Matt agreed to be interviewed on Mixergy. Andrew Warner did a great job of moderating what was obviously a very passionate discussion.

Note: I’ll embed the video as soon as I can get it to work.

It’s interested to note that it seems this interview has been many people’s starting point when trying to figure out what this whole argument has been about. If viewed in isolation I don’t think Chris comes off all that well. He’s obviously worked up, while Matt is for the most part calm and collected. However, when viewed in light of the interactions that led up to the interview, it becomes clear both sides are heavily and emotionally invested in the debate.

A Proxy War

When two personalities as large as Pearson & Mullenweg clash so publicly, there’s never a shortage of people eager to chime in. Almost immediately the #thesiswp Twitter hash tag stream became over-run with people voicing their opinions on the issue.

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Countless posts have been written on the topic in support of both sides of the issue, an incredible volume of tweets have gone back and forth, with Mullenweg and Pearson encouraging their supporters through liberal use of retweets.

In fact, Mullenweg has gone so retweet-crazy it prompted Lisa Barone to tweet the following:

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Copied Code?

The anti-Thesis horde was invigorated when developer Drew Blas ran a comparison of Thesis and WordPress’ code and found several snippets of WordPress’ code that were copied by Thesis.

Whether those snippets constitute plagiarism or simply fair use became the hot topic and the argument flared up with renewed vigor while the issue of GPL-inheritance seemed to take a back seat.

Pearson was quick to track down the code to former employee Rick Beckman who admitted to using copied code in this tweet:

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While Pearson has vowed to remove the code before releasing Thesis 1.8 from beta, there are those suggesting that the codes’ inclusion poisons all of Thesis as inheriting the GPL until the entire theme is re-written. Beckman, for his part doesn’t exactly appear shaken up by his role in the dispute.

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Editorial Note: I know I said I wouldn’t do many of these, but this seems like a scary situation for any software developers out there. Can one rogue employee effectively nullify your license by slipping in chunks of GPL code? Could a hacker break in and distribute a copy of your software including GPL code thus forcing an entire re-write or GPL adoption? Would Pearson have recourse to sue Beckman? It seems I’m full of questions but few answers.

The Fallout?

As is so often the case with online flame wars, very little has actually been accomplished. Matt Mullenweg has re-issued his threat to sue DIYthemes several different times, although as of yet, nothing has been filed. He’s also continued to be very vocal about his offer to give any Thesis prospect or user a GPL premium theme of their choice at no cost. I’ve not been able to confirm whether any of those themes have actually been purchased, or what the users are required to do in exchange for the theme.

Chris Pearson has vowed to remove the copied snippets of WordPress code from Thesis before releasing version 1.8. While the anti-Thesis mob seems to be having some success inspiring uncertainty amongst Thesis users, even if a lawsuit were filed, it would have little to no impact on Thesis users. The Thesis theme remains, in my opinion, the most flexible WordPress theme on the market and until a better option emerges, I plan on continuing to use it as my primary theme on all my WordPress projects.

One interesting development of note is that Headway has made the decision to dual split license their theme to adhere to the Software Freedom Law Center’s interpretation of the GPL requirements. While Headway’s creators had been vocal GPL-inheritance opponents in the past, the attacks Thesis is sustaining as well as the possibility of having Mullenweg purchase and then give away copies of your theme has to be a powerful incentive from a business perspective.

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Note: Sorry for any confusion. The appropriate term is split licensed, not dual licensed as previously stated. Mark and Andreas explain the difference in the comments below.

What Next?

Personally I expect the issue to slowly burn out over the weekend. Even given the strong rhetoric from both sides I would be surprised to see a lawsuit actually happen. I would also be shocked to see Thesis adopt the GPL or even dual license it’s theme. But no matter what happens from here on out, I’ll try to keep things summarized here so be sure to check back often.

Other Relevant Reading:

image source: theparasiteguru

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Beard July 17, 2010 at 5:20 am

I was under the impression that Thesis went through a number of rewrites since the employee in question contaminated the code, thus obvious things like this should have been picked up.

* This function is mostly copy pasta from WP (wp-includes/media.php),
* but with minor alteration to play more nicely with our styling.

If I could easily search my Twitter history I could also pull out an exchange I had with Chris who was at the time working on WP comment code.
That is the same code Drew Blas pointed out… how could Chris not know it’s origin?

To be honest you should start this story at B2… because that is where WordPress inherited the license. Because of the viral nature of GPL contaminating the code through generations, even though the current code base probably doesn’t contain more than a few lines of the original B2 (I haven’t checked), WP3.0 is bound by the original license which unlike current GPL licenses doesn’t allow them to adopt a newer cleaner license that is easier to understand.

That is unless someone is foolish enough to take WordPress to court, as a judge can rule that part of the license is invalid, or doesn’t apply, or is superceded by other things such as statements of intent.

I think intent is important for a number of reasons.

I have a comment form on my blog that people spam – lots of people argue that even if I have a comments policy that tell them not to spam me, I take measure to prevent spam, that somehow it still isn’t illegal to spam me, either with automated tools or humans.

Generally people openly despise comment spammers. Danny refers to it as craphat SEO. I know blackhats that obey the REP, don’t hide their bot name, allow it to be blocked, but most don’t. That is blackhats conforming more than SEOmoz.

A large chunk of the WP community, especially among core developers follow Matt Mullenweg’s line of how the GPL applies. Not all of them, lots left WordPress some time ago and created Habari, or work on other platforms.
Habari is different in that the Apache license used doesn’t contaminate the code, and you can create themes and plugins with a different license.

But it isn’t just WP that uses the “evil” GPL, but Drupal & Joomla, and somehow premium theme publishers for those platforms are quite happy to use a dual license for their work to make it compatible.

GPL isn’t the only license that isn’t 100% clear and is generally augmented with additional instruction of intent by an author. As an example JW Player is CC BY NC – by no commercial use they mean you can’t use it on any site that has any kind of monetization whatsoever.

Then in your previous post you have an image that you would love other people to use because it will give you a link.

Please feel free to use this image for non-commercial purposes as long as you include a link of attribution (such as the one below).

You have basically limited the use to
1. Totally non-commercial blogs of which there are probably very few you would be interested in gaining a link from
2. People who don’t understand licensing, who you could then sue for copyright infringement

Maybe I could claim fair use in the US, but it is an image thus a complete work. If I took such an image from a cartoonist site without paying their license for commercial use, they might sue me for breach of copyright .. IANAL but that is like $150,000 for registered copyright.

But in Europe (well certainly the UK) it would be fair dealing, not fair use – there are tons of WordPress developers in the UK, in fact all over the world.
I am sure Chris is thinking that he will be defending in the US if it comes to that, but there is no guarantee. He has international affiliates, his hosting company is in the UK etc.

How will his code hold up when compared to every single SEO plugin and every single theme ever released, not just WordPress core?

Note: I am staying away from all the technical arguements of how the code is included into the PHP source before runtime as that is beyond my technical ability to discuss, and as I have noted in my own posting on this I am not an Automattic fanboy.
I even have compliance issues myself in some ways as I still fully intend to use at least 1 plugin that is not GPL, though that is coded in such a way that only some of the code could be potentially classed as GPL anyway…
However there are differences in the way plugins and themes interact with WP code, part of the reason why that battle hasn’t been fought yet.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

Andy, while I think you’re correct in almost every single statement you made, I don’t see what point you’re making. Maybe I’m up too early on a Saturday morning (in which case sorry), or maybe you’re just providing more info (in which case thank you), but I’m not really sure how it all pertains to the discussion at hand.

Although, having re-read your comment, I will agree even if it’s an employee that put the code in, I’m guessing legally the buck stops with Chris. Should he have seen it? In an ideal world yes. Would I have seen it in his shoes? I have no idea.

It does open up more interesting questions about the GPL though, although I suspect as with other questions on the topic, there will be a million opinions and no legal precedence.

Chip Bennett July 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

So here’s my initial take on implication of GPL inheritance due to core WordPress code being in versions of Thesis:

Assume for the sake of argument (and it’s an awfully strong argument) that the existence of GPL core WordPress code in Version X.Y of Thesis causes that version of Thesis to be a derivative of WordPress. Assume Matt/WPF sue Chris to prevent distribution of Thesis version X.Y under a non-GPL-compatible license, and win the lawsuit.

All that would really mean, likely, is that the judgement would enjoin Chris from distributing Thesis version X.Y under a non-GPL-compatible license. Thus, Chris could either:
a) modify the license for Thesis version X.Y to be GPL-compatible, and continue distributing it, or
b) cease distributing Thesis version X.Y

Any earlier/later version of Thesis not containing the GPL core WordPress code would not be covered by such a judgement. So, if Thesis X.Y+1 removed all of the infringing code, Chris would be free to continue distributing it under the license of his choice.

I have no idea what it would mean for copies of Thesis version X.Y already out in the wild. Perhaps the ruling would require Chris to provide those users with a non-WordPress-GPL-infringing version of Thesis?

Note that this would be the easiest lawsuit for Matt/WPF to win, due to the obvious infringement of GPL by virtue of copy/pasted, modified/unmodified core WordPress code.

The question is: would Matt/WPF likewise try to argue the more general derivative-due-to-dependence claim, as applicable to all WordPress extensions? I believe this claim would be much harder to win, and the outcome much less certain.

And quite honestly: it is this latter argument that I want to see decided, since it would impact all plugin/theme developers.

As far as the current infringement claim against Thesis is concerned: as long as there are versions of Thesis out in the wild that contain core WordPress code, Chris has essentially hung himself. If I were him (and I’m not), I would preemptively offer to upgrade every Thesis user to a version free of WordPress core code, and discontinue distribution of any infringing version.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 11:48 am

Chip, so far all Thesis users receive free upgrades to new versions. Chris has stated he’s removing said code for the 1.8 release and since all users can download it, I’m guessing that’s essentially doing what you suggested.

I’m way out of my depth on what that means for a legal case, thought I would tend to agree with you, this instance may no longer be representative of the entire “do themes automatically inherit the GPL” debate that’s been raging for so long.

I’m highly skeptical that a suit will be filed by Matt/WPF on the larger issue because a loss would be too damaging.

Gary Barrett July 17, 2010 at 11:52 am

IMO, Thesis goes GPL or it goes to court. Regardless of whether all themes are derivatives, it copied GPL code and redistributed it under a proprietary license. Due to the viral nature of the GPL, all of Thesis’ php then falls under the GPL – removing snippets won’t change that.

I’d expect Matt to initiate legal proceedings, both to nip this in the bud and to set a precedent for companies which might act in a similar manner at some future point. Whether it reaches a court room, or Pearsons lawyers advise him to settle, I’m not sure.

End result – diythemes distribute Thesis’ php under the GPL, reluctantly.

Otto July 17, 2010 at 11:54 am

Quite honestly, I don’t see why some users of Thesis are backing Chris on this one. Making the theme GPL can only benefit Thesis’s users, by giving them the rights that they should have anyway but which Chris wants to take away from them.

Proprietary licensing is bad for users. It’s that simple.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Gary, your comment gets to the scary questions I posed in the editorial comment. If I write a non-GPL CMS, and a hacker somehow manages to slip some GPL snippet in without my knowing and I distribute it does it all become GPL?

I have no idea on the legal argument for or against your statement that ALL of Thesis’ php falls under the GPL because of the copied code. To me that seems a bit unfair but laws often do. It will be interesting to see if it does actually make it to court, but as I said earlier, I suspect it won’t go that far. I think Matt’s using popular opinion as his hammer in hopes of avoiding having to sue. Lawsuits are unpredictable at best and that’s dangerous ground to tread.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Otto, as per usual your comment states your opinions on the issue as fact. You’re free to have your opinion but please realize that they aren’t facts and reasonable people can disagree with you.

Also, I’m not going to allow this thread to turn into an overall “GPL is Good vs GPL is Evil” debate. That’s not what this post is about.

Ken Jones July 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Great round-up of the debate so far Ben. I followed along with much of the war of words as it unfolded and while I to must play the IANAL card and thus can’t comment on the validity of the legal claims being made. Nevertheless, what I’ve seen of Matt Mullenweg’s handling of this whole situation makes him appear like a petulant child who has taken such a personal dislike to Chris Pearson that he’s now trying to buy users away from Thesis.

Matt went on record to suggest that Chis should release Thesis for free and charge users for support instead. The fact is that Thesis is sold with a lifetime licence, entitling users to access to DIY Theme’s support forums and downloads of Thesis updates as soon as they are released. As I tweeter to Chris during the height of the debated, as far as I’m concerned it’s the support and updates that I paid my money for when I purchased the Thesis Dev option nearly two years ago.

Chip, this actually brings me around to your point about the need for Chris to distribute an updated version of Thesis free from any copied code as soon as possible. As I mentioned above, Thesis is provided with a lifetime licence so anyone who has already purchased Thesis will be able to upgrade to Thesis 1.8 as soon as it’s released from beta. In fact Thesis, much like most other WP themes and olivine these days will automatically notify users that the new version is available for download. The idea that Chris would even need to go to any extra effort to distribute a WP Code-less version of Thesis is negated, all he needs to do I ensure that version 1.8, which is currently available in beta to Developer’s option owners, has any and all offending WP code completely removed before it goes out to full release.

Gary Barrett July 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Ben – I’m definitely not an expert, but I doubt that proprietary software, illegally modifed by a hacker, would qualify as a derivative work of another piece of software in court.

There was an interesting case with Microsoft recently – an outsourced developer used GPL’d code which ended up in the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. The product was released and Microsoft ended up releasing the code under the GPL.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Gary – That is an interesting case.

Was there a lawsuit tied to it or did MS simply bow to pressure?

That seems to be one of the main problems with this topic, there really isn’t much if any precedence or case law that even play-one-on-the-internet lawyers like myself can apply.

If nothing else this whole episode drives home the requirement to tediously check your code to avoid GPL if you don’t intend to release it as such.

dwcourse July 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Great discussion!

I don’t see how Headway’s dual license will somehow make them GPL compliant in Matt’s eyes. According to Wikipedia (not a lawyer):

“Since in most cases, only the copyright holder can change the licensing terms of a software, multi licensing is mostly used by companies that wholly own the software which they are licensing. [if] the company with the official code is not the copyright holder of the additional code, they may not legally include this new work in their more restrictively licensed version. ”

Which I take to mean that they can’t include any GPL code in their non-GPL (I assume) commercial version.

Realistically, the whole thing hinges on a few words in the GPL that, to my non-legal eyes, seem to have been written without anticipating the current situation. I don’t think there will be a real answer outside of a court of law and it would be nice if somebody would take it there and get a definitive decision rather than settling along the way.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm

@DWcourse – I think you’re misunderstanding what is meant by dual license. It’s not two versions of the same code. Headway is going to release their PHP under the GPL while licensing their images and CSS under whatever license they want. This was deemed acceptable by the SFLC feedback Matt Mullenweg got when asking about this issue.

DWcourse July 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm

So Matt has accepted that? I thought I’d heard comment from him that made it seem like he hadn’t.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Matt has accepted that it is GPL compliant but they won’t promote themes that go this route as far as I’ve heard. Things may have changed due to the recent dust up.

I know in the past split-license has been seen as a mark against places like ThemeForest etc.

Andreas Nurbo July 17, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Ben its split licensed. Not dual. Dual licensed means the same code is licensed under two different licenses. Like MySQL which is both GPL and has a commercial license also.

Mark Jaquith July 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I posted my thoughts here so I won’t rehash. Just want to note that Headway and Theme Forrest use a split license, not a dual license. That is, PHP code is GPL, static resources under another license. Dual license would mean the whole thing available under two licenses (like jQuery).

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Ah, didn’t realize there was a different in terminology. Thanks for the heads up, I’ll edit accordingly.

Paul Merr. July 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Great discussion.

Isn’t this all about money?

Matt, gave his product (WP) to the world, benefiting all of us. Others come along and “profit” from what he has freely shared with all of us. In the course of these actions, would it be fair to say if DIYThesis, earned any monies from the sales of their product over the years, is tainted funds? Wouldn’t WP be entitled to redress or purchasers entitled to refunds?

This could be a game changer for any company profiting from the gifts of others. Maybe, it would have been better, if all software that would be licensed under the GPL, be licensed under another agreement, and charged a nominal fee thus inheriting copyrights.

Ben Cook July 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm


Matt, gave his product (WP) to the world, benefiting all of us

Excuse my while I puke for a moment…

Ok, I’m back. Matt did indeed license WordPress under the GPL because it’s predecessor, b2, was licensed under the GPL and WordPress was a fork of that platform.

And again, I really don’t want to go wading through the same old tired arguments that crop up when the GPL is discussed. People, Matt and many others, earn money from WordPress. Some do so under the GPL, other do so outside of the GPL.

I have no idea whether a lawsuit would result in DIYthemes (not DIYThesis) having to forfeit earnings or not. I would think Matt or whoever files suit would have a hard time showing any damages, however, I believe copyright infringement can carry heavy penalties if it were decided DIYthemes were guilty of that.

I still maintain that despite the countless threats made by Matt, he’s not going to file a suit.

DWcourse July 17, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Penalties for infringement of copyright raises an interesting point. Since the GPL is a license, the original author retains the copyright for his code. So, it appears to me, to go that route someone who wrote a particular bit of code that Thesis improperly used would have to be the party suing. Considering the various permutations of WordPress, who that party is might be hard to figure out. It would be interesting…

Otherwise the worst case scenario I see for Pearson is the Thesis license is ruled invalid. I don’t think he promised that would never happen so I doubt purchasers of Thesis could claim damages.

But I don’t see this ever ending up in court:

1. Too expensive and time consuming for Pearson.

2. Matt/WordPress/Automattic have too much to lose if they get shot down. It’s really easier to try to get the community to shun Pearson and the risks are minimal.

Trond Sorvoja July 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I got the feeling that licence issues are taken much more seriously in traditional software development than in the web development / web design.
My guess is that the web disciplines just need to get more mature.

Since software that is using licences like GPL get “poisoned” by a single line of code or by being built around GPL software, software companies are typically really careful not to use or interface with code under GPL or similar licences.

The way forward for WP theme developers should be to either build their business around GPL, something that can be done. Or to start developing themes for another CMS with a more suitable licence.

hakre July 17, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Dual: One Work – Two Licenses
Split: Two Works – One License each

IMHO Split License is a bad chosen term because it’s not really clear what’s in split. Technically nothing – not a copyright work nor the license.

Danny Brown July 18, 2010 at 10:54 am

I know the Headway guys had been thinking of making their theme GPL-compliant for a while, before this blew up. It was going to be in the last version, but Grant and Matt needed to sort specifics out (which turns out to be the split license).

As many others have said, you can make Thesis GPL-compliant and still retain copyright over your files, which allows you to sue should folks steal or go against that copyright.

Matt was also happy to share the news re. Headway:

* Disclaimer – I use Headway myself and have done since it was released summer 2009.

DWcourse July 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm

@Danny Brown, Matt may be happy to share the news but that’s a bit disingenuous since Headway still won’t qualify to be listed on (specifically at, which specifically requires that listed themes by distributed as “100% GPL themes, including artwork and CSS.”

Unless this means Matt plans to embrace the concept of GPL-compliant themes. (I”m guessing not)

Gary Barrett July 18, 2010 at 3:56 pm has a different standard.

All theme files – css, javascript & images – must be GPL to be listed on

Matt doesn’t have a problem with split licensed themes though, he bought Headway for me 🙂 . It’s also why he doesn’t criticize ThemeForest, ThemeGarden or Elegant Themes.

Ben Cook July 18, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Gary, actually if I recall correctly a member of reported having his plugin rejected from the WP repository and the reason cited was that his site supported Thesis and ThemeForest.

It’s obvious what Matt thinks of Thesis but there’s absolutely no reason to mention ThemeForest since they are GPL compliant even by Matt’s standards.

I think my interview series with several GPL theme dev’s illustrated that there really is very little benefit to complying to Matt’s standard, other than avoiding attacks from Matt.

Gary Barrett July 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I mentioned ThemeForest in response to DWs post about Matt being disingenous with regards congratulating Headway. Matt has not publicly stated that he has a problem with any split licensed themes.

There may not direct benefits for vendors going GPL, but there are for the clients and the WP community. Useful php code snippets can be reused, built upon, forked etc.

Harsh Agrawal July 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm

I have been monitoring whole #thesiswp debate. Though being a Thesis skin dev. I still believe Matt was right till a point. Though the way he reacted on twitter was far away from professionalism and least expected from him. I will rather wait to see Matt filing a lawsuit against Thesis if he things he is also right legally. 🙂
More over I believe this debate will hurt Wordpress brand and giving more edge to other Blogging platform like Drupal and Joomla…

Jon November 30, 2010 at 2:30 am

Scenario: You, “John Doe”, are a developer (including “theme developer”), and would like to use WordPress or develop themes for it, but you don’t agree with the GPL license or WordPress’ condition of use.

Solution: Don’t freaking use WordPress then! Either you accept it as it comes, or you don’t. If you do, abide by it. If you don’t, use some other freaking software to develop upon.

Ben Cook November 30, 2010 at 2:35 am

Jon, it’s not the GPL that most people disagree with. It’s Matt Mullenweg & Automattic’s interpretation of the GPL and what it applies to that people take issue with.

And really, the solution is to do whatever the hell you want with WordPress since the WordPress Foundation doesn’t actually do anything about it.

Chip Bennett November 30, 2010 at 10:07 am


What, exactly, are you attempting to contribute to the conversation? The bottom line is, Matt is incorrectly interpreting the GPL. Unless a Theme has actual WordPress code in it (as with what was found in Thesis 1.7), mere calling of functions and hooks does not constitute a derivative work. Precedent copyright case law is quite clear on this point.

I can quite easily turn your assertion back on you, and on Matt: if you don’t want people extending your GPL code with non-GPL code, then don’t (freaking) write extensible code.

What I really can’t understand is: why is Matt wasting so much time and energy attacking Thesis (and furthering his grudge against Chris Pearson – see Cutline/Coraline and PressRow/Pilcrow), while at the same time risking the loss of the WordPress trademark by failing to go after the hundreds of websites that use “wordpress” in their domain name, in direct violation of WPORG’s (or is it, WPF’s) domain-name policy.

Tell me: which poses the greater long-term risk to the health of the WordPress project, Chris Pearson or dilution and loss of the trademark?

Andy Beard November 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

The biggest dilution of trademark is as can be frequently seen on sites like Techcrunch when a “reporter” says WordPress has a new feature, and developers have to jump in and say that is not WordPress(TM) and ask for the article to be corrected.

As for GPL, I still think the best option is “not pissing in the pool” and do what the majority of people who commit code to WP core believe is the license.
The majority who do contribute significant amounts of code (those that are still with the project) seem to agree with Matt or “take the party line” thus any other interpretation is using the law to justify being legally allowed to piss someone else off.

Chip Bennett November 30, 2010 at 11:17 am


You’re right with respect to brand/product confusion, but doesn’t represent Trademark dilution in any legal sense, because it’s still under the Matt Mullenweg umbrella.

Also, I agree that the WordPress community (or at least the part of the community that is most intimately involved with the development of the project) can choose to employ an ethical structure around free-software philosophy, and based on that ethical structure, choose to accept or shun based on acceptance of/conformance to that philosophy.

But that’s not what’s being done; rather, Matt is attempting to use the force of law, via the GPL (which is a copyright license), to enforce use of the GPL. And therein lies the problem, because the GPL doesn’t give him the legal power that he claims it does. Themes and Plugins that do not incorporate actual core WordPress code are not WordPress-derivative works, period.

As for “using the law to justify being legally allowed to piss someone else off”: this type of thinking is where I become incredibly anti-hippie. Nobody has a right not to be pissed off. Part of encouraging the advancement of free-software philosophy is accepting that the freedoms you have given to others includes the freedom to use code in ways that you don’t like. Releasing code under GPL and then attempting through the power of persuasion, peer-pressure, and guilt-trips to restrict the freedoms and rights within the license is the epitome and height of hypocrisy.

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