Yesterday, Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg debated Thesis Wordpress Theme founder Chris Pearson over the ethics, legality and benefits of using the GPL license for the Thesis theme. Matt argued that by not using the GPL license, Thesis is disrespecting the Wordpress community, violating the Wordpress license agreement and hurting its own business. Chris contends that Matt has no right to tell him how to license something that Chris built himself, even though he built it on top of the Wordpress platform.
I’m not an attorney, but I am a human capable of reading and inferencing. The legal issues concerning the GPL seem pretty clear to me. There’s a reason why Dan Rivcher is cited by the Software Freedom Law Center’s compliance guide. There’s a reason why the SFLC sides with Wordpress. There’s a reason why lawyers at big companies tell their engineers not to use GPL open source projects. There’s a reason why the LGPL exists. There’s a reason why many communities, like the Ruby community, have moved to use the MIT license instead of the GPL. All of these reasons are the same: the GPL is a highly viral license that infects everything it touches. If your code uses GPL, your code needs to be GPL. I don’t know this because I’m a lawyer; I know it because every credible lawyer I talk to or read about or am influenced by reaches the same conclusion.
And I’m reminded of how well I know this, because I gave up healthy means of income in order to abide by it.