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:
- 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).
- Incompatible licensed code within the code-base. This is since longer time and in multiple places.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Remove of the last known GPLv2 references from code (incl. misleading text from Add-On update/install messages)
- Revert the change of “Copyright” into “Licensing” in readme.html
- 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.
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.