How WordPress Could Eliminate The Thesis Problem Without Going To Court

Matt Mullenweg WordPressMatt Mullenweg doesn’t really want to take Chris Pearson to court over his Thesis theme violating the GPL license. I’m sure he’d like to sort it out behind the scenes and without all the drama and FUD that a drawn out court battle could create.

Also, I’m sure Chris Pearson doesn’t want it to go to court (despite what he says) as the legal costs, potential damage caused his reputation and a loss of business, as well as just the “told you so” attitude of the blogosphere, would be beyond a royal pain in the backside.

It’s time to stop the war of words and for WordPress & Mullenweg to show the color of their convictions.

Here are some ideas that WordPress could implement to effectively make it impractical for people to use non-GPL themes.

Block sites using licenses violating themes from accessing services such as Akismet, VaultPress, WordPress stats etc. In the case of Akismet, it’s fair to assume that 90%+ of sites using premium themes like Thesis are commercial, make these sites pay the $5 a month for the commercial licence.

Yes there are (may be) alternative services but when clients start asking developers why they can’t use these defacto services, the developers will be between a rock and a hard place. Either they lie to their clients or attempt to explain how WordPress is claiming they are violating the license, but aren’t really. Not many clients will want to be on-board with a developer at that point.

WordPress could take a leaf out of Microsoft anti-piracy playbook.  WordPress installations can poll a regularly updated blacklist of violating themes and if a user installs one, have it display a warning in the admin panel that the theme is violating the licence (with suggestions for alternative themes?). If you want to be really heavy handed have it appear in the footer as well so that visitors can see it.

Yes this may seam a bit harsh, but there is nothing that will shake a clients confidence in a developer than the software screaming at them that it is being naughty.

You could go even further than warnings and start disabling functionality, but that is hurting the client and not something you’d want to do if you want to keep them on WordPress.

This would be neither anti-competitive or in violation of law (I’m not a lawyer but reasonably certain), and if a developer feels that it is, the burden is then on them to take WordPress to court and prove that WordPress is at fault, rather than WordPress having to worry about suing individual developers who abandon the GPL just because they feel like it.

Pearson Vs Mullenweg – Personalities And Fear

Chris Pearson

Yesterday I said that I wasn’t weighing in on the Thesis vs WordPress, Pearson vs Mullenweg debate over GPL licensing. I didn’t want to add my voice to the discussion because while I use WordPress religiously, I had little new to add to the conversation, beyond gut reactions and instincts.

This morning, in between trying to figure out how I woke up with a Pringle stuck to my face and herding children, Sara and I managed to find a little time to discuss this.

Three things I’ve learnt from that discussion:

  • To a lot of people GPL is a codeword for free (as in beer), which is of course not correct.
  • Chris Pearson suffers from hubris (which I can seriously relate too)
  • Matt Mullenweg is not the most accomplished public speaker in the world (or at least was one seriously tired bunny when recording the Mixergy interview)

In a clash of personalities (not necessarily of will power) with Chris Pearson, Matt Mullenweg is out-classed. Pwned would probably be the correct gamer term.

Listening to the interview Pearson comes off as being loud, brash, very articulate, self confident and and with a blinding pride that sounded to me like it was sheer arrogance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I “suffer” from many of the same traits myself, but he certainly did himself no favors when he described himself as one of the 3 most important people in WordPress history.

Mullenweg was the complete opposite of Pearson. He was quiet, reserved (to a fault, sometimes he sounded like he had just been woken up and was still 90% asleep) and beyond polite. I lost count of how many times he asked the host if he [Matt] could respond to a question, which was a stark contrast to Pearsons verbal onslaught, yet Mullenweg still managed to sound determined and fully in charge of his convictions.

Listen to the interview. Really listen to it. Listen to what Pearson says about why he will not adopt the GPL (despite the fact that Thesis 1.7 contains GPL code).  His arguments aren’t about business. When it comes to business he dribbles confidently on about organic systems and the GPL being un-natural. When faced with legal arguments, lead developers explaining how themes actually work with WordPress, and examples of other developers who have gone GPL and had a positive impact on their business, he dismisses them because they are at odds with what he believes.

Really listen to what Pearson has to say.

It boils down to this: “I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to”.

I’m not having a go at Pearson here, this is simply what I get from the interview, and the reason I “get it” is because I have been there and I recognize the blindness that comes with the obvious pride Pearson has. I’ve been there.

“I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to” = “I’m afraid, I don’t want to lose control”.

“I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to” = “I don’t want to change, I fear change and I’m not sure if I can adapt”.

Pearson, much like one of the boys (the five year old) when he’s told to go to bed, feels that this is unfair. He can’t really explain why. He can make up excuses, stick his lip out and pout, complain that his older sister gets to stay up later, but in the end, can only throw a tantrum, say that it’s “not fair” and ultimately accept that he must go to bed.

If he doesn’t go to bed he can (will?) be punished and the end result will be the same.

Ultimately Pearson will either have to adopt the GPL, possibly face legal action from WordPress, definitely lose business (I would suspect based on reading the #thesiswp twitter stream this has already happened) and potentially face being shunned by the WordPress community for the damage and fear (amongst developers and clients) that this may cause.

(I’ll post a little later today about what WordPress can do to stop the use of non-GPL themes without going to court.)

You Get What You Pay For? What Bollocks! Or Why Cash Doesn’t Equal Quality

I’m deliberately not weighing in on the entire Thesis Vs WordPress GPL debate, but while reading some of the commentary on it, I came across this statement made by Dave of “Think Dave”.

I’d like every single plugin and theme developer to release their work outside the GPL, and charge money for it. This would instantly get rid of 90% of the crap plugins, themes and add-ons that don’t work and aren’t supported. And it would leave behind a core product offering that is easily robust enough to be used for any Enterprise web project.

Sorry Dave, but that is a very misguided and naive statement. Want proof? Look at Apples App store. The vast majority of apps are crap and you pay for them.

When everybody charges for everything, the vast majority of people end up trying to charge you for crap and a lot of folks operating in that environment attempt to charge you for stuff that normally they would be embarrassed to give away for free.

It doesn’t get rid of crap plugins (or crap apps) it encourages people to attempt to make a quick buck on the back of crap product.