I just ran over the fact that in August 2010 Alex Shiels (tellyworth) tagged the akismet readme with “License: GPLv2″. The info left in the changelog is:
* Spell out that the license is GPLv2
Well, even that this is actually giving some license information (the Hello Dolly plugin still remains silent about it’s license), I see some possible implications this change might have.
The Akisment plugin is not developed by the WordPress project but by Automattic, Inc. That just for some information upfront for those who don’t know. It is the only code wordpress ships with, that is not part of the project’s source code repository.
The more important part is, that even it is not developed within the project, it gets automatically bundeled into each wordpress software package. Either you get it manually from wordpress.org or via the auto-update. Because of the incorporation, the license change went into the wordpress package and finally out with wordpress 3.0.2 on November 30 2010.
The problem is, that WordPress itself does not limit the package to a specific GPL version, and so didn’t the Akismet plugin before that change. There was some dispute about the version of the GPL licensing, which had been resolved by not naming the GPL version number by the project.
WordPress 3.0.2, a mandatory security update for all previous WordPress versions, did not announce such a change in licensing.
Previously in the Hello Dolly Plugin code copyright issue WordPress core developers have argued, that plugins, as being part of wordpress, are under the same license as wordpress. Hello Dolly next to Akismet is a plugin with the special state to ship with wordpress by default.
I didn’t made up my mind about this issue a lot as it’s new years day (and to be honest, I didn’t wanted to go into the topic that fast again), but from the little I can see, it looks like this should be clarified so not to put more constraints to the licensing issues that are already visible. If the project puts code into the project (or let’s it get put), it should ensure that this is not calling for problems.
If the wordpress project that bundles this plugin has questions regarding software licensing and how to prevent such problems, I’m happy if I can be of help to improve the situation. As I just did with helping finding a solution for the WordPress GPL Violation in kses.php.
Additionally I’d like to understand why there was actually a need for the Akismet developers to introduce that change and what they think which kind of implications this has or has not with the wordpress package. Having more information at hand might help to find a solution that is pleasing everyone.
Happy new Year.
Update: I now checked the wordpress license regarding incorporating otherwise licensed works and verified that 3.0.2 was the first release in version conflict. Reported in Ticket #16100.
Update 2: In reaction to the report, Joseph Scott from Automattic has changed the licensing of the plugin to GPL v2+ and has reinstated usage rights for the older WordPress packages. However, the new licensing will only become visible when the next version is going to be released.
Update 3: Akismet today made the new release with the GPL v2+ licensing.