GPL-tards want to steal your work

2 07 2009

The WordPress GPL brigade is at it again, claiming WordPress Themes are derivative works that must be GPL licensed. This time they have an opinion from the Software Freedom Law Center. According to their web site:

We provide legal representation and other law-related services to protect and advance Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). Founded in 2005, the Center now represents many of the most important and well-established free software and open source projects.

According to this group of impartial lawyers with absolutely no agenda, the PHP portion of a WordPress theme must be GPL-licensed:

The PHP elements, taken together, are clearly derivative of WordPress code. The template is loaded via the include() function. Its contents are combined with the WordPress code in memory to be processed by PHP along with (and completely indistinguishable from) the rest of WordPress. The PHP code consists largely of calls to WordPress functions and sparse, minimal logic to control which WordPress functions are accessed and how many times they will be called. They are derivative of WordPress because every part of them is determined by the content of the WordPress functions they call. As works of authorship, they are designed only to be combined with WordPress into a larger work.

This is absolutely wrong. Writing a theme or plug-in for WordPress does not require copying a single line of code, or anything derived from the code, into the theme or plug-in. Unless copyright now applies to function names and APIs, in which case the WINE and Mono people are in serious trouble.

If you don’t copy anything subject to the GPL then your work isn’t subject to the GPL. It is as simple as that. And I will back up my claim by quoting section 0, paragraph 2 of the GPL v2:

Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted [...]

The GPL-tards conveniently ignore that sentence-and-a-half. In this instance they haven’t bothered citing any text from the GPL to support their ridiculous claims. They try to confuse you by talking about memory spaces, functions, and intermingling while ignoring what the GPL actually says.

I’m not against Free Software or the GPL, but I am sick of their advocates trying to abuse Free Software licenses in order to appropriate other people’s work.

Update: I do, however, fully support their decision to only promote GPL-licensed works in their themes directory. It is perfect reasonable for a Free Software project to choose not to promote non-Free works.

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6 responses

6 07 2009
Tony

You said: “This is absolutely wrong. Writing a theme or plug-in for WordPress does not require copying a single line of code, or anything derived from the code, into the theme or plug-in.” ==> If you are such an expert to say that, you must be a damn good coder, so why don’t go ahead and code a WordPress Theme that does not use “the loop” (from WordPress) or a single line of code to interact with WP core files – and see how functional, useful, and WP-compatible it will be!

7 07 2009
notaresource

Using != Copying.

What’s your argument, that I can’t type the string “have_posts()” without violating the WordPress copyrights? Do I now need to GPL license this comment?

If you have a real argument based on the text of the GPLv2 or US copyright case law, I’m ready to debate. You should start by explaining why someone must agree to the GPL in the first place in order to develop a theme / plugin (Section 5), and if they had agreed, why Section 0 doesn’t exempt their work when distributed without a copy of WordPress.

7 07 2009
Les thèmes Wordpress doivent être libres | Encre de Lune

[...] blogger anglophone va même jusqu’à contester totalement cette prise de position. Son argumentation est qu’un thème “ne copie pas” ou “ne modifie [...]

8 07 2009
17 08 2010
Rog

WordPress themes do contain WordPress code though.

You’d be welcome to write an alternative theme engine that worked on a plugin to get around this.

Legally, they’re sound.

Nobody wants to steal anyone’s work, they just want people to adhere to the licenses / contracts that they’ve agreed to. Anyone who’s made a WordPress theme and thought they weren’t required to follow the license was just being naive. When you make a theme, you are leveraging a popular open source project. You have the choice of making a theme for other software or using a different theme engine.

The dishonest ones here are those who’re happy to leverage open source and assume it’s public domain. It’s not. There’s a cost, not in dollars, but in following the license. The people who try to leverage and also refuse to adhere to that license: Those are the true dicks here.

17 08 2010
notaresource

Are you arguing that typing the name of a WordPress function is sufficient to trigger a copyright violation, or that one must copy some other WordPress code to produce a working theme?

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