WordPress Licensing Issues – Summary (Week 1)

The last days were very informative, I’m learning a lot about licensing. That’s not only in general but more important from a free software perspective in specific. All those how to get things right.

WordPress might look a bit as a collection of bad practice examples. Let’s see what we’ve seen so far in the first seven days:

  1. A plain copyright violation. A potential result are 12+ million illegal distributions of WP 3.0.x by wordpress.org (based on the projects own numbers).
  2. Incompatible licensed code within the code-base. This is since longer time and in multiple places.
  3. Violation of Third-Party-Licensing-Terms. Licensing Terms of third party code has been violated. This can make the modification and redistribution of that code illegal. Since years.
  4. Missing Copyright and Licensing statements for core files. This can endanger the whole status of the application because it is not evident under which licenses a file falls. Normally those are considered as Non-Free. This is especially the case with the next point.
  5. A missing clear Code Submission Policy. The committing developer has no orientation about the licensing of any provided patch. The whole project can be attacked because of this.

IANAL, I am a developer so my legal expertise is limited. Also I’m involved with the wordpress project so I have my own interests here (Disclosure: I contributed significant code to WordPress).

So I’ve called for professional help for the ongoing process to cover the bases and verify the wordpress licensing situation. That is needed to clarify questions that are not easy to answer (for me). Also I’m from Europe and copyright law differs to the US which adds some more complexity.

I’ve chosen to contact the Software Freedom Law Center in the US and the Legal Task Force in Europe. Both are connected to the Free Software movement of which I’m a supporter since years.

Consequences

The situation is grave. Which actions can the project take to turn the mess into something worth to distribute again?

For the moment I suggest the following immediate steps:

  1. Remove of the last known GPLv2 references from code (incl. misleading text from Add-On update/install messages)
  2. Revert the change of “Copyright” into “Licensing” in readme.html
  3. Release of WordPress 3.0.2 because of the licensing issues

That’s not fully covering the bases, I know. But it would help to end the copyright infringement we are currently facing in the 3.0.x distributions. And it would provide the needed traction that is missing on the open tickets regarding the known licensing issues.

I’ve contacted wordpress.org days ago to inform them about the copyright issue in 3.0.x and made them aware that they are still distributing tainted packages. I got no feedback so far. So there is probably a problem for them to take care.

After that the other points follow on the agenda. This means an ongoing check of the code. And for many points there is need for discussions between developers because we have a mixed, collaborative work.

That is a lot of work in front of us. It would be great to see your support for free software and wordpress here.

Outlook

First contacts to the free software people have been established. That is clarifying a lot of questions already in the early stages and it is a source of valuable information and tools. I report this information back to the wordpress development community: Via this Blog, Bug-tracker, Mailing-list and Wiki.

I’ve seen some developers arguing: We did it this way for years, we can not fix this. I can only say: Probably, but if you don’t start with it, you’ve already lost.

I wish to see more support from within the projects community because I think this is an important topic. I know that these are complicated questions, nothing easy to solve. But with a will, there is always a way. I know that this is especially hard for those who all the time thought everything is in order. For those I’m most certainly the person who is bringing the bad news. But this is not about loosing something but to achieve and win grounds again.

Everybody who is using wordpress for business (that’s from using it to run the own company’s site, to build sites for customers on top of it up to running a blogging webservice like wordpress.com) should think twice of not to take care about the issues we are facing.

And everybody else who is taking care about free software because for the ones own and the users freedom and not only for free as in free beer should take care as well.

I wish we could see Matt showing up in both camps.

– hakre

Read On: WordPress Licensing Issues – NOOP (Day 8)
Previous: WordPress Licensing Issues – Submitting Code (Day 6)
Series: WordPress Licensing Issues

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9 Responses to WordPress Licensing Issues – Summary (Week 1)

  1. Mark Jaquith says:

    A plain copyright violation. A potential result are 12+ million illegal distributions of WP 3.0.x by wordpress.org (based on the projects own numbers).

    I’m convinced you’re wrong about this. GPLv2 is a valid license under which to distribute WordPress. Whether or not it was intentional to distribute it under that specific version is another matter. In light of our lack of a clear code submission policy, I say that it was a mistake. A mistake which has been remedied.

    Incompatible licensed code within the code-base.

    Which? Point it out. I’m not aware of any.

    Violation of Third-Party-Licensing-Terms.

    Which? IXR? It’s merely unclear. We’re getting clarification. What else?

    Points 4 and 5 are valid, and are under discussion. I’d like all contributors to affirm that they provide their code under “GPLv2 or any later version,” and have the software be explicitly licensed as such.

    Again, if you’d like to discuss this issue in more detail, send me a message on Skype.

    • hakre says:

      Thanks for providing feedback on the various points. I’ve seen you’ve taken some action on the tickets as well. Thanks for that, I hope this licensing stuff will get more traction now.

      I’ve never stated that GPLv2 is an invalid license to redistribute (mind the re) worpdress under. As well is GPL v1 or v3, just for completeness. It’s the users choice and we’ve always said so in the package.

      If the wordpress project now wants to change the licensing terms it is releasing the package under, this needs support by all copyright holders of that software package.

      That’s the exact point that happened btw: The unsolicited change of the copyright notice that we see in 3.0.x right now is the reason for distribution problems – not the license version.

      (The term Copyright should put in again, btw. Just for safety reasons.)

      Incompatible licensed code within the code-base.

      Which? Point it out. I’m not aware of any.

      Hmm, you just make a change to trunk which removes the last known one reg. GPL and then you make such a comment.

      There still is misleading texts in the Add-On section doing wrong education about the wordpress license and the term Copyright should be used in the readme.html again. The re-labeling is not helpful, from all docs I read and feedback I get this creates more problems than it helps because the term “copyright” has some meaning internationally. That section did not need any clarification. At least I would not stress that, in our all interests.

      Violation of Third-Party-Licensing-Terms.

      Which? IXR? It’s merely unclear. We’re getting clarification. What else?

      That’s the same for me. I’m getting clarification and making up my mind.

      Regarding 4 and 5 I’m broadly with you, but in my eyes it’s misleading and bad practice to ask for GPLv2 or any later version instead of GPL without the version.

      • Mark Jaquith says:

        Hmm, you just make a change to trunk which removes the last known one reg. GPL and then you make such a comment.

        That was clearly a mistake. Jacob admitted as such. It has been fixed.

        That’s the exact point that happened btw: The unsolicited change of the copyright notice that we see in 3.0.x right now is the reason for distribution problems – not the license version.

        That is not a copyright notice. You’re all hung up on what the h2 said. It was (and is) a licensing statement. It says nothing about who retains the copyright.

        I’ve never stated that GPLv2 is an invalid license to redistribute (mind the re) worpdress under. As well is GPL v1 or v3, just for completeness. It’s the users choice and we’ve always said so in the package.

        If the wordpress project now wants to change the licensing terms it is releasing the package under, this needs support by all copyright holders of that software package.

        The “re” is meaningless. We, or anyone, can distribute WordPress under any valid licensing terms — that is, any license available considering the restrictions of the licenses under which the constituent major code portions were contributed or appropriated. If we choose a valid license, we don’t need the approval of copyright holders, because they’ve already given it (“GPL”). Relicensing doesn’t require the explicit support of copyright holders if the license chosen is one allowed by the license copyright holders implicitly or explicitly used when contributing their code.

        • hakre says:

          I do not think it’s wise what you’re after. It looks like, that the project promotes a specific version of the license right like it fits on occasion.

  2. Pingback: WordPress Licensing Issues – NOOP (Day 8) | hakre on wordpress

  3. Pingback: Relicensing of IXR – The Incutio XML-RPC Library | hakre on wordpress

  4. Pingback: Wordpress Licensing Issues – Submitting Code (Day 6) | hakre on wordpress

  5. Otto says:

    I don’t understand your objections at all here.

    -The license of WordPress is GPLv2.
    -The license has always been GPLv2.
    -The license is included with the thing in license.txt.

    It seems to me that you’re attempting to want to change the meaning of license.txt files after the fact. License.txt files are a standard and accepted way to convey the license of a software package.

    A change of a single line for clarification doesn’t change anything, it’s certainly not “unlawful” and you’re making an issue out of nothing.

  6. Pingback: WordPress Licensing Issues – On Showing License | hakre on wordpress

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