The “Karate Kids” – Chris Pearson (Thesis) vs Matt Mullenweg (WordPress): 0-1 So Far

Picture by Daniel Larusso

Beware! This might be time consuming!

Yesterday I opened my dashboard and noticed syn-thesis-1 by Matt Mullenweg in a window – It’s a prerogative of some WordPress developers to have their posts in one of the WordPress dashboard windows.

Matt Mullenweg (@PhotoMatt) is the guy behind WordPress, the blogging platform software I use here.

Chris Pearson (@Pearsonified) is the guy behind the Thesis Theme that I use here.

Matt was referring to an audio stream of nearly an hour, kindly put together by Mixergy who tried to bring the two closer together.

To get a bit perspective and background you could consider to look at this interview of Chris by Mixergy (@AndrewWarner).

There is another connected read in a post #thesiswp by Jane Wells @Janeforshort, an Automattic member.

You can reed Tweets about it in the #thesiswp stream.

Chris “addressed” the matter without going into details of the dispute itself in an earlier post Solutions and Ideology

Unfortunately in the audio stream neither party clearly stipulates the issue.

What’s it all about?

WordPress is bound by the GNU GPL License.

Jane explained the issue to me in the comments to her post:

The uber-simple version: the WordPress license states that derivative code (based on WordPress, using WordPress core functions, etc) inherits the GPL license and must retain the user freedoms that the WordPress license guarantees. Chris uses WordPress code (in some cases directly copied and pasted from WordPress core), but is not following the rule of the WordPress license, and is instead releasing his Thesis theme under a restrictive license, which takes away the user freedoms that the WordPress license exists to guarantee. Basically, developing on WordPress has one rule by the license agreement: you can take our code for free and build on it, but any work that comes out of that and is publicly distributed must be made available for modification and redistribution just like WordPress itself. Chris doesn’t like that rule because the second part of it would allow other people to build on his work, and he doesn’t want them to be able to. So he takes advantage of the first part of the rule, and violates the second.

It is not about the money

Jane further explained:

As has been stated many times (and is in the license itself), the GPL issue comes into play with public distribution. If you create a theme for your own use and don’t distribute it at all, license isn’t an issue. If you create a work for hire for a client you should deliver the source code to them (which you do when you deliver the theme), but you do not need to append a license to it b/c you are simply delivering work for hire. Only when you engage in public distribution (make it available publicly via the web or other delivery mechanism, whether paid or free) do you need to think about the license. At that point, yes, your PHP theme code needs to be GPL, but you can license your images and CSS under whatever license you like in order to protect the intellectual property of your designs.

Why 0-1?

Listening through the audio interview with Matt I concluded Chris was angry. He wasn’t drunk as he stated somewhere on Twitter. He shouldn’t have been angry. By loosing his temper he lost it. He clearly didn’t make a cohesive case. The end of the story is that he dared Matt to sue him. I’m not sure a judge from behind his desk would be able to solve the matter in a way the community could live with.

Matt kept his calm and announced another weapon: He offers Thesis users to buy them a GPL compliant premium theme.

I might consider to take Matt up on that offer.

On another note: Is it mere coincidence that Matt chimes in after WordPress 3.0 was released that has many features and functionalities Thesis offered long before 3.0 was launched?

Update
The issue intrigues me from various points of view. Especially the fact that both characters are behaving more like trolls than sensible people.

I’m collecting some links here for further reading:

  • In themes are GPL too Matt posted a (part of?) a Software Freedom Law Center opinion on the matter already back in July 2009. Here he goes over the boundary in my view:
  • Even though graphics and CSS aren’t required to be GPL legally, the lack thereof is pretty limiting. Can you imagine WordPress without any CSS or javascript? So as before, we will only promote and host things on WordPress.org that are 100% GPL or compatible. To celebrate a few folks creating 100% GPL themes and providing support and other services around them, we have a new page listing GPL commercially supported themes.

  • WordPress Them Licensing by Ryan Boren (@Rboren), on the WP side
  • Thesis War summary by Ben Cook (@Skitzzo), on the Thesis side
  • A thoughtful article why the GPL does not affect a theme Why the GPL does not apply to Premium WordPress themes
  • A further collection of links on the subject: 32 WordPress Thesis and GPL links to help you formulate your own opinion
  • Matt Mullenweg Fouls his nest
  • @FrederickDing has a pleasantly insightful take on the matter in Tracking the ThesisWP matter

More to follow…

Last edited by GJE on July 18, 2010 at 2:57 am

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5 Responses to The “Karate Kids” – Chris Pearson (Thesis) vs Matt Mullenweg (WordPress): 0-1 So Far

  1. OK, I have poked through the tweets, read the posts, listened to the debate bubbling away in the background, and now I have heard both Chris and Matt put their respective sides of the argument. So I now hold, what I would consider to be, at least a semi-informed view on the issue.

    I can see both sides of the disagreement, but I have to say, I think Matt’s line of reasoning is the better informed, the most public spirited and the one which has already and would continue to benefit the online community the most.

    Chris way over-estimates the importance of Thesis to the WordPress community, and his position in that community. Somewhat speciously, he uses this inflated estimate of its worth to argue he should not be subject to a license that was in place long before he built Thesis and upon which he was entitled, in fact as a businessman, obliged, to read and understand before so doing .

    I am also astonished at how rude, boorish and over-bearing Chris was in trying to dominate the debate, and had I known his views and understood the issues a little sooner, I would never have bought Thesis.

    I wish I could keep my temper in check, as Matt did, but I know myself better than that. So I tried to think what I could do to help, instead of just getting mad, and this is what I decided.

    Because of the overriding benefit to the online community, even though he will surely prevail; I don’t think Matt should have to put up his own money to fight a law case to prove the validity of the GPL which is, in effect, on our behalf.

    Therefore, if you have bought a version of Thesis from DIY Themes (Chris Pearson’s company), or from any other website, you can click this link now and join the Thesis Class Action Suit list at …[the list has disappeared], and let’s see how many people agree with Matt.

  2. Thesis theme is not 1/10th as important as WordPress. There are gazillions of themes and frameworks out there, but only one WordPress…free and open source. These (WordPress) guys keep the online environment livable in the face of unrelenting onslaught by silicon valley wannabes (Thesis).

    BTW Chris doesn’t consider Joost de Valk (Yoast) of any importance either. Some might say, Chris who?

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