WordPress Licensing Issues – Why I care (Day 4)

Why should I care about WordPress Code’s License Issues? This might be a question you ask yourself as well when you’re a WordPress Contributor, Theme or Plugin Developer. (Yesterday: WordPress Licensing Issues – the third day)

It’s pretty simple. As it has been already explained on other sites, everything you interconnect PHP with the WordPress core software package is creating a so called derivate. I simplify this so to better hit the point: You just have made your own software.

The wordpress package says that WordPress is licensed under the GPL. And with GPL it’s fine for you because you get Free Software and you are allowed to create new programs out of it.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has created that license to spread free software all over the planet. Their current motto is: “Working together for Free Software”. There are the so called Four Freedoms in free software:

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Next to the FSF in north america, there are also sister foundations, the Free Software Foundation Latin America (FSFLA), than there is the Free Software Foundation of India (FSFI) and last but not least in Europe there is the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

So these folks have done a lot to take care about free software. And this is ongoing. As written, free software makes possible that you can so easily create themes, plugins, get your blog pimped until the server burns down because there is tooo much to extend, rewrite and mesh-up. You enjoy your low hosting fees? That’s because the hoster do not need to spend your money for operating system licensing. Free software makes your software to open up to the sky.

But what happens when – let’s say by error – the WordPress packages license gets broken? Maybe due to licensing or copyright issues as lately, software-patents or trademarks? What happens with your software then?

Well, then you loose a lot of your Freedom. The software becomes restricted in it’s use. Basically you’re doomed. Ouch! You have created a sofware you had not the right to do so for. Isn’t that mean? This feels like proprietary software then. Am I still allowed to run my site? Good question, this depends how far the break of the license goes, normally you loose anything because of the GPL: For that part of the software that has been GPL previously you loose usage rights until you have retained full compability. This implies the right to run the program.

I don’t want to fear you (this is about licensing, nobody has been physically hurt yet because of the last days), but strictly spoken you did something that is not considered legal per-se.

If you really want to go on with your software, but you can’t because of licensing problems, that sucks. Let’s say you can not pass your great stuff over to a friend or you already did and you said he can use it but now he can’t. That’s really negative.

Let’s recap. If the WordPress licensing is broken, we’re all doomed. Even the first freedom, the right to run the program for any purpose, is revoked. This means you need to shut your site down. So in case this happens – and it did, as we learned three days ago – it is important to correct any mistake so that every wordpress user can recover from that. One way would be to release an update that takes care and after applying it, the sky is bright again.

So now you might understand why I care. I do programming for friends with plugin and themes. All derivates of wordpress, so I’m better safe than sorry. That’s why.

And one reason I haven’t told you right now: My friends and I we all work together for Free Software. The Free as in Freedom. We visit conferences, talk with schools about how to get better software in there, support those who do not have that much to share. And much more like educating the rest of us, hacking and having fun.

That’s why I care.

If you have WordPress 3.0.0 or 3.0.1 installed on your blog, your rights have been revoked to make use of the software. This is because of a licensing problem in the software packages that are hosted on wordpress.org. It does not matter wether you have downloaded it manually or aquired via auto-update. I have informed WordPress.org by it’s Webmaster Matt Mullenweg about the issue already. As it’s weekend now and things might not change fast, I share the info on how to “fix” it:

  • If you are running the development version and you have updated in the last two days, than you’re ok.
  • If not, open the file readme.html and remove “v2” near the end, the one behind GPL (yeah, sadly).

That should help for the moment but I have the strong feeling that the next updates are not 2 characters only.

— hakre

Read On: WordPress Licensing Issues – Progress (Day 5)
Previous: WordPress Licensing Issues – the third day
Series: WordPress Licensing Issues

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13 Responses to WordPress Licensing Issues – Why I care (Day 4)

  1. mtekk says:

    If not, open the file readme.html and remove “v2″ near the end, the one behind GPL (yeah, sadly).

    Too bad that doesn’t do anything for you. Going back to the beginning, the real issue is that 3.0.x was distributed illegally (that is actually the only illegal act here). Copyright only covers distribution. Once you have it, there is nothing anyone can really do to you as long as you don’t redistribute it. You can buy an albulm and promptly destroy it and there is nothing the record company can do to you. Case in point, the RIAA does not sue those who are downloading content in an unauthorized manner, they go after the people sharing (distributing) content without authorization. The end users are safe, and can modify things in any why that they wish as long as they do not distribute it.

    • hakre says:

      Copyright covers rights of use as well, not only distribution. Like an end user executing the code – doesn’t it?

      But you might be right that very strictly spoken, the correction of the package might not make things better. I would say that this shows that a user is caring if doing so, as to express a wish or understanding. And so at least the education works.

      • mtekk says:

        I guess, in the US, if you consider running WordPress on a publicly accessible blog as a public exhibition or performance, then yes copyright would cover use (IANAL so don’t use this as legal advice).

  2. Elpie says:

    The GPL applies only to distribution. If the WordPress package is found to contain code that breaches the GPL the core team can either remove that code or get written permission from the copyright holder to relicense that code so it is compatible. None of this affects anyone who just uses WordPress without distributing code. It doesn’t affect plugin or theme developers either, unless they include the incompatible code with their work.

    The licensing situation with WordPress isn’t good but there’s no cause for panic either.

  3. Elpie says:

    I agree that the situation with the xml-rpc has to be sorted out but I don’t agree that WordPress had no right to distribute 3.0.x. That code has been in WordPress for years, with the full knowledge of the copyright holder. For all anyone knows, he may have given written permission for it to be relicensed for distribution with WordPress. Nobody (outside, perhaps the core devs) knows who approved the change from Artistic License to Modified BSD on the xml-rpc library but there’s nothing in the 3.0 or 3.0.1 code that causes any apparent problem with distribution.

    • hakre says:

      For 3.0.x I do not think about the implication of the XML-RPC file upfront (I opened a ticket in the moment I became aware of that problem btw.). That file is older, so this would be prior 3.0.0 as well.

      For 3.0.x that’s because the license sentence has been tainted w/o consent of the copyright holders. That’s why. It’s just the copyright issue.

  4. Pingback: Wordpress Licensing Issues – the third day | hakre on wordpress

  5. Pingback: Wordpress Licensing Issues – Why I care (Day 4) | hakre on wordpress at The WordPress GPL Debate

  6. Mark Jaquith says:

    If you have WordPress 3.0.0 or 3.0.1 installed on your blog, your rights have been revoked to make use of the software.

    No they haven’t. Stop spreading FUD. You made your point. We’re working on clarifying areas where the licensing of third party code isn’t 100% clear (like IXR). Throwing a fit and making wildly untrue claims about dire implications for WordPress users isn’t going to make us move any faster, but it is certain to expend all remaining patience that we’ve afforded you.

    • hakre says:

      Stop distributing wordpress with an unsolicited change of the licensing terms / copyright notice. That’s what that statement is about.

      The rest are problems I see as well and I’m on as well. I’m glad to see you more involved on the issues again.

      • Mark Jaquith says:

        It wasn’t a copyright notice that was changed. It was a licensing statement.

        And we are allowed to change the licensing statement, if we choose a license allowed by the licenses of the constituent code. GPLv2 is such a valid choice (indeed, until recently, it may have been the only valid choice).

        I do, however, consider that to be a mistake, because without having a clear code contributor statement, it might have been assumed that subsequent original code contributed to WordPress would be contributed under the GPLv2, which might unnecessarily restrict our future GPL-licensing abilities.

        That’s the issue. It’s about our ability to integrate GPLv3+ code in the future.

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