As anyone can see from looking through past posts, I almost never blog here. I mostly post on the official WordPress.org blog, or toss out snippets of thought via Twitter. However, my two years of relative silence here — when it comes to the GPL and Thesis — is now at an end. Normally I would write this post and then wait a day and edit it before publishing, but in this case I’m just going to hit Publish. Tomorrow is a another day, and I can clarify anything that needs it then.

Yesterday, I met Chris Pearson, of Thesis theme infamy. How? Why? What? I accepted an invitation to speak at a real estate convention largely for the chance to meet him in a neutral situation (not a WordCamp, etc). I introduced myself in the hall and we went to sit down and talk in a room some speakers were using. As we walked down the hall, he mentioned wanting to get an iPad while in town that day, though supplies were scarce. I offered to call “my guy” at the SF Apple store to ask if he could snag one from stock and hold it for Chris. Even though Chris had previously been a confrontational jerk to most of my co-workers, collaborators and friends, I am just a generally nice person. If I can help, I want to. I made the call.

While pretty much everyone knows that I agree with the argument that themes and plugins count as derivative works and therefore inherit the WordPress license (GPLv2), I’ve really tried to stay out of the mud when it comes to the fighting. Even when people have baited me in the past, said mean things on Twitter, misrepresented/misquoted me or in any other way were just plain uncool, I tried to stay calm, think about the overall impact to the community and make love not war (figuratively speaking). I’ve traveled to meet with WordPress community members to discuss the issues that had them riled to see if we could come to some understanding; in most cases we wound up agreeing and became friends, while in others we at least agreed to disagree and be polite for the good of the community. It takes a lot to ruffle my feathers. I was raised to be a nice girl, and even when someone is a total jackass, that training usually sticks. I am basically an overgrown hippie who just wants everyone to get along and be nice, no dogma.

There is a history of antipathy between Thesis/Chris and WordPress/Matt that predates me. I have to admit that when I first started working with the WordPress open source project and I would see their squabbling on Twitter, it reminded me of boys kicking each other in the schoolyard. I began my job with the WordPress redesign for 2.7 in 2008, right around this time of year, though I’ve known Matt and WordPress for much longer. When I started paying more attention to the issue of themes being distributed under proprietary licenses, I was actually pretty astounded. The license text itself seems pretty simple, and has been around for several decades. Each copy of WordPress comes with the license attached, and states that derivative works inherit the GPL license when distributed. I’m not going to get into the details of the license here, that’s freely available all over the web. The thing is, most of the theme developers who were distributing WordPress themes under restrictive licenses either didn’t understand the GPL, or just hadn’t really thought about it too hard, especially those coming from agency or proprietary design/software backgrounds. Those people? Pretty much all went GPL once they realized what was going on. A few others, however, simply don’t think that the license applies to them.

When I met Chris Pearson yesterday, I didn’t expect him to jump up and say, “Yay for GPL and here I come with license compliance!” Based on things some people had told me, I expected the aggressive dude from Twitter to be more of a persona than a person; I thought I’d be talking with an intelligent guy who just had a different point of view. It seemed to start out that way. However, it didn’t last, and many circuitous statements later, it became clear that Chris had no interest in peace in the community nor any respect for the license. It was almost impossible to make sense of his assertions. In one breath he would claim that Thesis had nothing to do with WordPress, then in the next would say that he builds on top of WordPress because of the profit potential (broad user base). In one breath he would say that the GPL wasn’t valid, then in another breath would say that because of the GPL he was allowed to build on WordPress for free. Discussion addressing respect for the developers went nowhere, as did points about license structures, pricing, promotion, community, and more; pretty much they all wound up with Chris saying he didn’t care about the GPL, and that he would continue to license Thesis as he does for as long as he could make money doing so. I had planned to write up this conversation last night, but frankly, had started to wonder if someone had slipped me a roofie, because I found it hard to believe anyone could be so convinced that he was above the law (at one point he asked me where the cops were, if he was breaking the law).

I stated over and over that for WordPress, a lawsuit was an ineffective use of time and money that we could be using to improve our software and grow the community resources that support it, and Chris said something similar with regard to prosecuting his own pirates (he mentioned Malaysians profiting from his work several times). Yet somehow it kept coming back to him saying we should sue him if we were so sure that the GPL was valid.

The hour or more of this type of discussion was exhausting. At one point he raised his voice so loudly that another speaker in the green room (we were at a conference) shushed us. There were a couple of other guys there who tried to back me up (not related to WordPress project team; they were real estate guys), but Chris would have none of it. We parted ways and I was terribly disappointed, not just because I am sick of this whole thing, but because he really proved my pollyanna people-are-inherently-good-and-want-to-do-the-right-thing-if-they-only-knew-what-that-was attitude to be total crap. He showed me that he does not care about the good of the community. He wouldn’t even have a straightforward discussion. His responses to questions had more misdirection than a Penn & Teller act. Ask about the license and he responded with a statement about creating solutions that work or the quality of WordPress code (which he totally dissed, btw). Eventually I asked him why not just move to a platform that was licensed in a way he approved, and he said he was working on it, but that as long as WordPress was as profitable as it is, he wasn’t leaving. He kept claiming it was “just smart business.”

1. It’s smart business to adhere to the license of any software you use. Have we not learned this in this litigious age?

2. It’s professional to answer the actual questions someone asks rather than spouting pre-determined talking points.

What makes me think they are practiced talking points? Today, a brouhaha arose on Twitter under the hashtag #thesiswp. I was trying to avoid it, but eventually it came down to Matt and Chris and they wound up going on a live webcast to debate it. Chris was saying the same things he’d said to me yesterday, verbatim. In one exchange he said iPhone instead of iPod, but otherwise, he repeated almost every single thing he’d said to me the day before. I challenge anyone to listen to the debate and come away thinking Chris Pearson has anyone’s interests at heart other than his own. Frankly, I still don’t want WordPress to sue him. I still think it is a massive waste of time and money that could be put to much better use. I think he should either respect the license or choose a different platform. But if a court case will settle this once and for all, maybe it would help the community in the end; at the very least, it would make it all less confusing.

Oh, and after Chris walked away? “My Apple guy” called to verify that there were no more iPads available in the store, but he’d gotten one out of other stock and was holding it. Too bad Chris didn’t bother to ask me about it before he left.

Yesterday sucked. Today sucked, too. I’m really ready for a day to arrive when all this crap stops taking our attention, and we can focus on documentation, forums, plugin repository enhancements, fixing the media uploader, etc. You know, get back to the business of building WordPress for those 20 million+ WordPress users around the world who owe their publishing freedom to the GPL, and are glad to have it.

** I would have linked to dozens of tweets by various community members to support this narrative, but writing this all out makes me want to go get a drink with friends instead. I’ll come back and add links  later.

128 thoughts on “#thesiswp

  1. Good and readable summary of your experiences with Chris, Jane. Thanks for sharing.

    In today’s streamed interview, neither party came away smelling like roses. It got ugly quick. Matt didn’t help it with his condescending manner, and at times Chris sounded like a mad man frothing at the mouth (not dissimilar to how you sum him up in person).

    I half-joked today on Twitter that I wish Automattic would sue DIYThemes, if only to provide a resolution to the argument. It’s soul-sucking for the entire community, and neither side is capable of compromise.

    FYI: you are correct that Chris’s main interests are his own, not the community. But that’s just the person he is: he’s trying to make a living as a proprietor, and others are interfering with his ability to bring income. It’s simple to see where he’s coming from, and there is niching wrong with that. Saying that you “challenge anyone to listen to the debate and come away thinking Chris Pearson has anyone’s interests at heart other than his own” is a loaded way of interpreting his legitimate interests. Why should he have to fight for anyone else? It’s his personal argument.

    • I have to agree here. Neither one came out looking like a gentleman in this interview other than Andrew, who sounded as pained as I felt when Chris *still* refused to switch to GPL even if Ma.tt were to run on Thesis. How can you pass up on that?

      This really has got to be the biggest and recurring p—ing contest in the history of WP/GPL. Automattic should sue him. Let’s just put the nail into the coffin already so that we don’t have to waste so much energy coming back to this every year! I swear, my IQ just dropped a few points over the last few days because of this.

      • I respectfully disagree. I know Matt’s my friend so I’m biased, but I thought he was much more of a gentleman than Chris in the interview. Yes, Matt let his frustration with Chris’s obstinance and rudeness show a couple of times with a snarky comment (“Oh wait, I forgot you were one of the three most important people to WordPress, I should check with you before I say anything”), but he waited for Chris to finish his statements, asked the moderator if he was allowed to respond, did not raise his voice like Chris did, and kept it clean (no mention of blow jobs, unlike Chris). People may not like that the issue is finally being pressed, but I think Matt is doing a great job of keeping emotion in check and focusing on the license facts.

    • Matt was *way* more civilized than Chris and I completely appreciated that. He was very courteous to Andrew, as well, but I just didn’t like the snarky comments. They were clever and a bit funny, at times, but not necessary. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the next time such an exchange happens, maybe not with Chris but with whoever else (and hopefully that won’t happen in the near future), he’ll just take a deep breath and just respond sans snarkiness, because it makes for awful sound bites. Btw, thanks for writing up this post. Never met the guy but always thought he was funny, in sort of a self-deprecating kind of way, and seemed like somebody I’d wanna have a pint with… and now I’m not so sure anymore.

  2. I’m a user of Thesis but won’t be for much longer. It has nothing to do with the GPL or that Matt/WordPress disagrees with Chris. It’s primarily because of his arrogance. I don’t think even Steve Jobs calls himself one of the top influencers in the tech space. Today’s interview on mixergy.com was the last straw for me.

    • Melvin, I totally agree. I’m not a Thesis user, and Chris’ “I don’t care about anyone else” attitude will ensure I’ll never be a Thesis user.

      I have, however, purchased premium themes and plugins in the past, and will do again in the future. But I’ll be giving Thesis a wide berth.

      I’ve made a nice little business out of building WP sites for others. The GPL has allowed me to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’, and benefit from their efforts. Sure the GPL means that whatever I code falls under a GPL licence. But if I weigh up the pros and the cons of the GPL, it’s a ‘no-brainer’.

  3. It doesn’t even seem like Pearson has his own interest at heart. From his arguments, his claims seem to be coming from a stubborn “I’m sticking to this for no real reason other than I want to,” because so many companies profit using GPL licenses to sell their themes.

    I have my own thoughts about this, but I see no practical reason Pearson shouldn’t adapt the license, business or otherwise.

  4. Wow. Take a break and deal with the brouhaha later. It’s not going away and you deserve a break.

    You ought to sue Pearson, at minimal, for the cost of a day spa and really expensive meal. 😉

  5. I’ve found there’s just some people in life that you can’t have a reasonable discussion with. I’ve never met Chris, but he seems to be one of those people.

  6. I wish I was in SF to have a drink with you. I understand that feeling that if they only had the benefit of your explanation then of course it would become clear and everyone would be on the same page or whatever. I too am always amazed at someone else not playing fair- at all and being a jerk about it. I will not build another site using thesis unless Chris sings another tune. He has lost me. Boycott!

  7. Chris Pearson made the following comment during his live chat with Matt Mullenweg on Mixergy:

    “I’ve been arguably one of the top three most important figures in the history of WordPress – you, Mark Jaquith and myself”

    I think this is insulting to very many members of the WordPress community, and is representative of Chris’ disrespectful attitude to the community in general, both with regard to the licensing and with regard to recognition of and respect for the contribution of others.

  8. There seem to be a class of people who throw their finger up at laws and society as a whole and say, “What are you gonna do about it? Come and get me! Ha ha ha ha.” These are the same people who create viruses for no reason but to create chaos. Society (and laws, for that matter) may not be perfect (far from it), but we have to have some semblance of such to remain CIVILIZED. A term someone like this doesn’t even understand. I’m with Otto…have a drink and to hell with them. They don’t care that you (or anyone else) cares.

  9. Good call on the drink…an hour of that ridiculous logic certainly entitles you to one (or six).

    I’m reluctant to agree with you on one point…I think it would be in WordPress’ best interest to pursue this legally. As Matt alluded to in the interview, it’s a slippery slope to let one entity so blatantly disregard the GPL. And as you note above, there are millions of people who owe their publishing abilities to the GPL…seems the best way to maintain its integrity is to call to task those who are so willing to blatantly ignore it.

    Thesis is a cool product, I respect the functionality Chris has brought to the table, but he still needs to play by the same rules as everyone else. That’s the only way open source works.

  10. @Jane: My heart goes out. We can bond over those who hate everything we do, create, and stand for. Drinks in Savannah.

    @John Blackbourn: Chris made the exact same argument (“I’m #3”) to Jane yesterday. Talking points. Arrogant, bogus talking points.

  11. Yep, very much like interview.

    Basically you and Matt both expect Chris to put your opinion over that of his own.

    You expect nice attitude from person whom and whose clients and affiliates you are fast to kick wherever you have control.

    You expected everyone to be unanimous about API linking usage establishing derivative relationship of code, while having no clear license definition of that (quote what part of GPLv2 covers API usage in non-compiled code, without its incorporating) or directly relevant legal cases (feel free to correct me).

    I would very much like to see such court case indeed. Because there is nothing factual and constructive in mutually slinging mud in place of facts.

  12. You guys are all looking at it from the point of view of wordpress. Imagine if ubuntu decided that they didn’t want mathematica or vmware anymore cause they didn’t comply with the GPL? Awful. I watched the interview, and believe he is protecting his creation. He doesn’t want an all out, legal, free handout party of thesis. I can relate to that, he has been working on it for years. Personally I wish Matt would get off his high horse, and look at linux. You miss out if you try to force all to follow the GPL, and end up with the imitate, but never duplicate scenario. This is the reason I can never fully switch to ubuntu or fedora, as an engineer the software I need does not like GPL. It allows for others to rob you in an instant. This would be great if you stated out as Open Source, but some would rather profit from their hard work. I like wordpress, and also like thesis, but the whole GPL thing is bull and will end up hurting wordpress in the end. My $.02

    • What you’re failing to acknowledge is that the WordPress license wasn’t chosen, it was inherited. Because b2/cafelog was GPLv2, when Matt and Mike forked it to start WordPress, WordPress was GPLv2 as well automatically. Half the core team of WordPress has said publicly they would rather see a more permissive open source license (GPLv3, MIT, BSD, etc), but we do not have a choice. If a license is to have any value legally, it must be respected, whether what you’re enforcing is end-user restrictions (like Thesis) or end-user freedoms (like WordPress).

      • Others may disagree, but it’s very likely WP wouldn’t be where and what it is today if not for its GPL license. Many don’t want to contribute their efforts to projects that encourage selfish behavior, as BSD, MIT, etc. licenses do.

        And it certainly hasn’t kept Matt from turning WP into a business.

        Those who want a “more permissive” license are short-sighted, selfish, or both. Thankfully what they want is irrelevant.

  13. Jane,

    This is THE reason I won’t use Thesis and encourage others to stay away from it as well. And frankly, it isn’t that good either..

    But don’t let it get to you, there will also be people like these, they’re actually not worth your time or attention..


  14. I’ve not used Thesis, but it looks like a good ‘product’. Couldn’t Chris simply avoid all this by bundling his framework into themes like woothemes, or a membership site helping designers? OR.. are all the premium theme sellers out there also in violation of the GPL? I’ve purchased from several companies in the past including Brian Gardner, woo, etc. and I’ve designed complete custom sites on the wordpress platform also.

    I don’t really get the benefit of Thesis anyway if you know how to code a site, and don’t really need all his admin panel functionality. Isn’t there also an open source framework out there.. I’ve looked into that too but decided I didn’t need it.

    I met Matt at a wordcamp event, and he direct some negative comments to Thesis several times.. going against his vision of wordpress I suppose. Then again Automatic is making a lot of money, and one of the great things about the open source community is that it enables individuals to sell there services on top of these wonderful platforms.

    • Hi Justin. 1. It has nothing to with charging for themes. You can charge for themes and still be compliant with the GPL. The issue is about putting restrictions on the theme buyers/users once they have it. The GPL would say they could use the theme however they liked, redistribute it, modify it, etc. Thesis sells under a proprietary license that says how many sites you can use it on, and no more, and states that redistribution is not allowed, a clear violation of the inherited license terms. Note: Having multiple price tiers is also fine, you just can’t put restrictions on what users can do with the code once they have it. Also, only the PHP code is covered by the GPL. Thesis (or any theme) could carry a split license and have PHP under GPL for compliance, but use Creative Commons or some other license structure for their images and CSS. A theme licensed that way wouldn’t be accepted into the WordPress.org theme directory, because without the images and CSS the theme wouldn’t be very useful (and on WordPress.org directory everything must be GPL, which is a higher bar than simple compliance), but it would be be within the letter of the license. Brian Gardner and Woo both license their themes in compliance with the GPL. 2. Re Matt’s comments, it’s not that Thesis goes against Matt’s “vision of WordPress,” it’s that Thesis goes against the license of the software he is using as the foundation of his product. Matt has said many times that he is very in favor of businesses being built on WordPress and he tries to support them whenever he can.

  15. This is why I don’t sell my Themes and the reason why since 2003 none have been sold to the general public. Custom themes for small business owners are much more fun (this is just me). If one day I decided to release something it will be free and by the guidelines.

    I never worked on Thesis before and don’t know the guy so can’t really say much about that, one thing for sure is that this Twitter fight is bad marketing for Thesis and Chris.


    • Emil, for the record, you can absolutely sell themes and still be compliant with the GPL. The themes you sell just need be licensed GPL as well, so that the buyer/user has the freedom to do with it whatever they like. What it really comes down to is that with the GPL, user freedom trumps developer ownership.

    • Hi Jane,

      There is no need to add licenses, serial numbers, php code locks etc, even if there was no GPL. I am using and working on WordPress since the 0.70 version and can’t live without it, not sure how anyone would jeopardize that.

      If one creates an issue with WP and don’t want to comply with their guidelines is only bad for them. Bad word travels fast and consumers don’t like that. I just hope that this doesn’t hurt Chris to that point where nobody goes and buys his product because of something that’s so easy to “fix”

      If you are WP developer/designer built it and release it by the book, don’t want to give your work for free! fine, but adding unnecessary licenses to your work is just playing wrong.

      Long Live WordPress,

  16. Today was… um, educational. The whole Thesis/GPL/WordPress/etc thing had involved a lot of mixed feelings in my head, but things became crystal clear today. I need to write up those thoughts in the next few days…

  17. GPL is one of the greatest things we have in the software community. We are what we are thanks to it.

    I think Chris has singed today the future of Thesis. And we know the future: change or die.

    Thanks for all the hard work. And enjoy your drinks 🙂

  18. Hi, Jane. I don’t know neither you nor Chris, but this post got my attention.

    I hope not to be controversial 😛 but, although I mostly agree with you, I don’t see 3rd party WP themes and plugins as “part of WP core” (I’m not a designer, but a programmer, and all the plugins I’ve made have been released as GPL, BTW). Creating a theme from scratch is not using any part of WP, but just creating php, images and CSS files that WP system uses to display information. I see them as a “function library”, from a programmer point of view. So people might want to use their own (and sometimes restrictive) license.

    Having said that, if WP license is strictly GPL (and it is), it might, in fact, enforce 3rd party components (plugins & themes) to follow the GPL license as well.

    I know you already know this, but other people reading this post might not (so let’s make it clear): LGPL (Lesser GPL) do allow non GPL components to be “linked” with GPL ones.

    And finally: and “hippie” people like you is what the WP community needs (I was a bit disappointed with it some month ago, BTW). Sometimes we forgot we’re here to have fun, and not to take all of this too seriously. 😉

    • That’s a good point to clarify: all GPL licenses are not created equal. WordPress is licensed under the GPLv2, which has very specific terms and is less permissive (to developers setting alternate licensing terms) than other GPL licenses. I do believe that a theme like Thesis, which has actually copied chunks of code from WordPress itself, would have a very hard time convincing someone who’d actually read through the code that it is not a derivative work. It would definitely be possible for someone to write “a theme” that relied solely on direct database queries and used the APIs without using WordPress code, but that is in no way how Thesis is structured.

  19. I didn’t know what to make of this post until I just heard his Mixergy interview with Matt. Now I’m convinced you’ve been incredibly restrained and gracefully deliberative in this writeup. Like John, that sentence from him just made my brain fall out of my head: “I’ve been arguably one of the top three most important figures in the history of WordPress – you, Mark Jaquith and myself”

  20. I think Chris has destroyed his own reputation with that interview, or at least he did for me. Anyone who claims they are one of the top three figures within the WordPress community despite having done virtually nothing for it is not worth the time of day IMO.

    • I think the WordCamp Savannah t-shirts may need to indicate that every attendee is one of the three most important people in the WordPress community: a user, a developer, or someone who spreads the word.

  21. Uggh I had a similar little confrontation with some of the backers of the EduBlogs/WpMUdev folks a year ago and in the end I had to walk away too because there was simply no reasoning with people who have such a hard line stance. It is such a shame that these folks do not realize that if they contributed back as much as they profited from the WordPress community they would reap the rewards and benefits of our collected knowledge and work… What a shame.

    • You know, EduBlogs is another “big bad” I’ve avoided writing about, but you’re right. Incsub has made conscious decisions to infringe on the WordPress trademark and deliberately confuse users all over the place. Maybe I’ll write that one up, too. Being nice and keeping quiet can make you a popular girl, but it also lets people walk all over you.

    • It’s worse than that in their case. In my honest opinion they have almost single-handedly stalled BuddyPress’ early adoption. The project has definitely taken a beating because of the churn within the plugin/theme developer ranks. Some of this is due to them luring people into working form them and the rest by putting vital early themes/plugins behind a massive pay wall.

    • Hi Jane,

      Please elaborate on the Incsub/WordPress trademark issue that you refer to. It’s my responsibility to recommend WordPress resources to the members of the DFW WordPress Meetup and this Incsub concern has flown under my radar.

      • They were illegally using the trademarked WordPress logo (the W symbol) and the BuddyPress logo as part of their own product logos. They were buying and using domains containing “wordpress” in violation of our trademark/domain policy. They consistently linked from the names of our free, open source products (like WordPress MU) to their own paid product home pages. They used copyrighted images from our web sites without permission. All of these things in conjunction have led to many users being very confused about what sites are part of the official open source project vs the Incsub businesses; Incsub is playing on this confusion to make money when people assume they are on an official site. I cannot to go into detail regarding our communications with them, but some of these transgressions are still in evidence and have not been changed, though we’ve been asking for over a year. I do not recommend that any reputable business use their service, and any individual who wants to support the official project would be better finding service elsewhere.

  22. Some people just can’t admit they are wrong even if they know they are. After playing the game of the evil guy for so long it’s hard to suddenly change your mind and make peace with everyone.

    It works both ways, if Chris was to say one day that he wanted to move GPL for Thesis and the greater good I don’t expect anyone on the other side to forgive him that easily.

    There are enough people involved already, just stand back, relax, and prepare yourself for Manchester…we like drinks over here. See you soon.

    • That’s not true. I’ve told many people, as has Matt, that if Chris began to comply with the license he would be welcomed with open arms. I’ve said before I would write a personal thank you post on the wordpress.org blog. There are many people who previously licensed themes under restrictive licenses, who’ve become important parts of the core community since they switched to GPL. But yes, I’m hoping everyone in Manchester will buy me a drink! 🙂

  23. @John As insulting as Chris’s comment might have sounded to you, he’s not far off-target — the GPL and how it applies to those contributing to WordPress is one of the reigning issues within the WP universe as a whole (which is what I suspect he was referring to), and Chris is the current face of that. So it’s not preposterous for him to suggest he’s one of the top three, although it’s something he can’t prove.

    He would been better off being specific through generality, and not include the specific ranking. But you and others wouldn’t be talking about him if he wasn’t up high on that list.

  24. You are my hero: staying calm is a difficult thing to do in such circumstances. Conflict may be, in most cases, avoided, but when two positions collide, you must stay on you point.

  25. I have a wry smile whenever I read about this. Mainly because I have never heard of Chris before, and I’ve been following WordPress since 2004 (if not before).

    Try not to get drawn into it.

    Anyway, Your trip to the UK and WordCamp will hopefully take your mind off things 😉

  26. I’m here in Jakarta is too far to see what the whole thing is going on, but from your post I should say that I’m on your side (and Matt’s side) regarding the #thesiswp issue that happenned recently.

    The very clear point is: themes and plugins are derivative works, so in terms of license it should follow it’s source.

  27. This post is the first item I’ve read on this issue that stated it all very clearly. I’ve been following on Twitter and like you was thinking how much of this was schoolyard competitiveness (especially as I don’t know either men personally), but I am a huge fan of WordPress and think that it is such a success because of the GPL and it’s openness to work with people.

    I think that many Thesis users would not be so happy to know the conditions that the application is created under — especially as there are a few good alternatives that do ‘play nicely’ with the WordPress crew.

  28. Thank you for making an effort to resolve GPL violations in a friendly way; it’s always the best way to try first, and it’s worth doing no matter what the outcome.

    I hope that he WordPress community will chose to enforce the GPL. I’m always happy to give advice on the topic if anyone needs it, so always feel free to get in touch.

  29. My problem is that what does Chris do or not do in violation of GPL. Even this write up doesn’t give the salliant core of the dispute. It’s also not clear from the live broadcast

    • 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.

  30. First time I’ve heard about this, and clearly Thesis is in violation. I agree that perhaps the FSF may help. Cant WordPress just copy what he has done from a design point of view and give people an awesome theme that they seem to want by default?

  31. {FYI…skimmed all previous comments…}

    Hey Jane, this all sounds very frustrating for you. I’d always seen Chris as a larger than life, OTT character and always believed that he had ‘invented’ this persona to aid in courting the controversy that he obviously enjoys.

    I find it hard to believe that he is actually like this – maybe its a case that he is just trying to save face after being so anti-GPL for so long. He is after all sitting on a multi-million dollar product.

    Anyway, catch you at WordCampUK in 2 short days. I’m first up with the provocatively titled “How WordPress Themes Changed the World”, maybe we can grab a face-to-face when I’m done.

  32. Thanks for taking the time out of your life to illuminate this issue and the persona involved. I agree with everyone that we shouldn’t waste our positive energies and resources on this. In the same breath there’s nothing that irks me more than someone who won’t give credit where it’s due, someone who lives off the hard work of others and effectively steals from them. I think by making this issue very public new potential buyers of Thesis will shy away and that may be his comeuppance.

  33. Wow Jane. Yesterday morning I was still a big Thesis fan but after following this issue since yesterday I am not going to support it anymore until it goes GPL.

    I also really like the new WordPress theme Twenty 10 and WooThemes and StudioPress are all great options too.

  34. Dear Jane,

    I have been listening live yesterday to the whole interview and reading a lot about this whole issue. To be honest, and I think this is a part of your statement too (feel free to correct me if i git you wrong), I have the feeling that this whole story reminds me too of the sandbox game of two ego-driven boys.

    The problem now is that both have said things publicly that they now have a problem to step back from their own words without loosing pride and their face. And that is the main problem. This whole thing is not any longer about GPL and licensing. It is a fight of two ego-driven individuals, which seem to loose the opportunity to show the whole world and the community that such things can be resolved in an mature, smart and coll way without bullshitting around and without blackmailing.

    I posted a long comment over at Matt´s Blog today and I am looking forward if he will publish it. I have been training, teaching and coaching CEO all over the world for many years and I know these kind of discussions very well. Chris had no change to react in an other way then to say the stuff he has thrown out in the interview yesterday. And Matt did a lot to provocate him too. Just by saying out loud and in public that there has never been a public legal case with the GPL licensing but ALL the big players in the industry would love to state the case with Chris the first time is just a pure provocation that makes NO SENSE.

    Instead of wasting time and money and hurting the community, us the users, both of them should take a cold shower, leave there testosterone in the locker and sit together as examples for the world.

    It is in the moments of our decisions when we face our destiny – and this is a moment for both of them to take their status as leader and influencer and prove the community that it is a TOGETHER and not a AGAINST EACH OTHER.

    Lets see who wins – the ego and hormones or the smart, cool and intellectual way.


    • I think people need to be careful about the gendered take on this. If it was two women it’d be offensive to call it a catfight, same goes with the male analogs

    • I don’t feel like Matt is acting as a ‘ego-driven- individual’. I think that statement is a disservice to him and an unfair characterisation. In a very calm demeanour he is defending the very things that have made WordPress what it is today and for all the people that have contributed to that. That’s kind of what we would want from our community leader. Just because Chris Pearson’s style of communication is bold and confrontational doesn’t mean they are engaged in a school fight.

    • The WordPress community is together, Fil. DIYthemes (Chris Pearson/Thesis) are the ones who are not respecting the community by claiming that the GPL does not apply to them.

      It’s quite clear that efforts have been made over the last two years to get Thesis to comply with the GPL and therefore be part of the community around WordPress. DIYthemes have continually shown that they have only their own interests at heart. This is why tempers and emotions are coming to the boil.

      Why should a community have to accommodate someone who doesn’t play by the rules, and, potentially, the law?

    • @Firas: Thank you for your indication of the analogy. My way of describing the situation is not meant to offend anyone, but to draw a picture of how the behavior can be seen outside the two involved parties. But in first place it is meant to describe how I see the whole situation – so my personal opinion. But I appreciate your indication on it.

      @Peter Knight: I dont know if you listened to the whole interview on mixergy and how much you are familiar with negotiation tactis/strategies and manipulative rhetorical techniques. If you are and if you did listen to the whole interview you will find a lot of that stuff on both sites during the interview – and that is the reason why I called them so. I also posted a comment on Matt´s blog where I used the same analogy and he didn’t feel that I treated him unfair. They are using both the strategies and techniques to get in a better position during this so called “discussion”. But I appreciate your way of looking at it too, because it gives me also the opportunity to see the things from a different perspective. And that is the way how people can solve such situations – to try to walk in the shoes of each other and change perspective.

      @John Blackbourn: A very good question and it is exact this question that brings us to a very interesting point. Why is the point of view from Matt (or even the one from Chris) the only one which claims to be the right one? Why should there not be a different approach to this whole situation? As you say it doenst harm Chris to accept the GPL and it is the same the other way around: It doesnt harm the WP community if he doenst. And the most interesting point is: Why should this two approaches be the only ones?

      Nature shows us every day that absolute opposite circumstances can exist together in a great harmony – like night and day, summer and winter etc. – so why cant we apply these in our daily lives?

      • GPL and proprietary software licenses are exactly like night and day. But you only have night when it’s not day. You only have day when it’s not night. We already have GPL and proprietary licenses side by side like night and day; what we don’t have is a license eclipse.

    • “Instead of wasting time and money and hurting the community, us the users, both of them should take a cold shower, leave there testosterone in the locker and sit together as examples for the world. ”

      You’ve simplified it too much. It’s not about Matt vs. Chris. It’s about WP Community vs. Chris, or even about Open Source vs. Chris.

      Therefore Matt has my total support, and I bet any money – from majority of this community as well! It’s time to stop this BS and go to court on this, so greedy designers like Chris will think twice in the future before they violate GPL.

      Nobody forced the GPL on Chris – it was his decision to develop on WP platform. And by using WP he explicitly agreed to the license. Once you use it, you can not go back and say that you don’t like it anymore and will ignore it.


      1) he should be sued in court, and I hope that this will happen soon

      2) the community should get together and develop a free and GPL based clone of Thesis called “Antithesis” and offer it to all current Thesis users

      3) Current Thesis customers should request return of money because he sold them something that violated somebody’s else copyrights/license. This is the same if you buy in good faith some products, and then later on learn that they were stolen, or that the Rolex watch you bought from a Rolex distributor was fake. If all the current clients would file a class action lawsuit for return of the money, plus monetary damages, because they would need to switch to another theme, that would be another lesson for Chris that violating a license is not a good idea.

      As you’ve guessed already, as an Open Source developer I really don’t have much sympathy for people who are leeching off the community and are totally arrogant about it!

  35. a wonderful post, I hope this doesn’t go to court.

    It is a waste of Matts time, a distraction, and it won’t really stop someone who is bullheaded enough to think they are above the rules.

    But it does make me want to contribute to wordpress *puts on hard hat*

  36. If it was a derivative, then it would replace the original. In this case, it is meant to run on top of the original – although I do not doubt some of the code inside may have been copied, which would be a problem.

    Why wouldnt you want people selling ‘skins’?

    • A. Derivative does not mean “replaces,” it means “derives from.” A dictionary can help explain the difference.

      B. We have no problem with people selling themes. The problem is the fact that the PHP code as a derivative work must be licensed as GPL. You can charge money for GPL code, you just can’t place restrictions on how people use it once they have it.

  37. I’ve been following this argument for awhile now. Here’s the one suggestion/option/scenario (that I see quite often) that I have yet to see shot down by any legalese (I am not a lawyer, this is just a developer’s interpretation & hypothesis):

    Say one has built a theme. Contains some derivative code, and some completely proprietary. Wouldn’t only the parts of the theme that actually contain derivative code need actually be GPL? Any proprietary library of code created by a developer (think of a /lib folder containing some algorithm for content metrics, etc) could conceivably be licensed separately if that library contained no derivative code of wordpress. Everything would still be in compliance, technically speaking, as long as my derivative code was distributable and made available as per the terms of the license (in this case, GPL v2).

    To apply my hypothesis to a real-world product: let’s take the Palm Pre, for example. Their phone runs on a variant of linux, contains open source components and all sorts of other things that their proprietary code sits on top of (on runs in conjunction with). Anything that is open source derivative (and or used) is licensed accordingly and released here: http://opensource.palm.com/packages.html. Nothing should be “technically” able to stop a theme developer from doing the same thing.

    And I ask this question in conclusion: if a theme like Thesis were to, say, GPL all the parts that contained derivative code (like the examples found in http://wp.me/pg2iw-1R) but closed-sourced their library of “magic” that was proprietary, would they not be fully compliant, especially if the derivative code were allowed to be redistributed as per the GPL v2? Seems to me its exactly what folks like Palm are doing without seemingly being violators of their respective packages they’ve derived from.

    (Disclaimer: I do not work for Palm, I am a wordpress developer/supporter/fan, I do not know anyone involved in Thesis development, and I would just like to, as a developer in this community, actually help forge understanding for myself and others).

    • If all parts of the theme are distributed together then everything much be under a GPL2 compatible licence.

      If you shipped the standalone library separately and the only interaction it had with the rest of the code was to be called when it existed then you can likely use any licence you want because it is a separate work and in no way links or derives from WordPress or the code which calls it.

      As soon as this library starts making calls back into GPL2 code then it is linking in.

      You example of the Palm Pre is different from the way WordPress works.

      On the Palm Pre each application is a standalone entity and uses a public API to talk to the operating system – the WordPress analogy for this is the different APIs we provide like APP and XML-RPC.

      A WordPress plugin / theme is much more like a Linux Kernel Module – it lives in the same process space as the core WordPress code, calls internal functions, accesses internal variables and generally links in very tightly with WordPress calling and being called (think actions and filters).

      In general as far as I know it is not possible to distribute any GPL2 code together with anything which is not GPL2 or under a compatible licence.

  38. Also re: my previous comment, I’m not advocating necessarily for such a thing as I have yet to across a case where I developed something within a WP theme that needed to be closed-source/non-distributable. Just was wondering with regards to the current discussion at hand tis all.

  39. This whole debate between Matt/WP and Chris/Thesis has made me extremely nervous about continuing to work with WordPress. A large portion of my business involves developing custom WordPress themes for clients.

    This whole GPL license business is so unclear (I’ve read some very persuasive legal opinions explaining why themes don’t have to be GPL), it makes me scared to develop anything WordPress-related. If I’ve developed custom themes for clients, do I now have to make them available to the community?

    I’ve got other ideas for moving the business forward with WordPress-related services and products, but it seems that there is no future for WordPress-based businesses (unless you’re Automattic). I’d love to find out that I’m wrong.

    • 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.

    • Just because your theme must be GPL if distributed does not stop you making money.

      Any custom work done for a client as “work for hire” for a specific site is not “distributed” and so the distribution clause doesn’t come into effect – instead you are creating them something custom for them to do what they want with and which usually they own the rights too (otherwise you are likely distributing a copy of it to them).

      If they were to distribute it then they need to respect the GPL but even then they could still charge people for the theme.

      Also don’t forget the GPL does not have to apply to the CSS for your theme – that is a separate work and is not linked into WordPress and can be under whatever licence you choose to use.

      There are lots of people out there making money in the WordPress eco-system while respecting the GPL2.

      You don’t have to give anything away for free – you can charge as much as you like, all the licence asks is you don’t restrict the freedoms of the person who buys the theme/plugin from you in the same way we don’t restrict the way you use WordPress.

      The only people who have the right to your WordPress theme/plugin code under the GPL are those who you distribute it to. You can ask them for as much money as you like. You just can’t restrict them from enacting the freedoms that the GPL provides for them and you.

  40. Jane, I do feel for you. This whole debate is soul and energy sucking. Take a break.

    Now, listening to the interview, neither of them come out with clean hands. I’ll leave it at that.

    In reference to GPL and whether plugins/themes are derivative works, that’s for a court to decide. As it stands, for the matter at hand, the GPL is convoluted. Various lawyers have looked at it, dissected it, and come to varying conclusions.

    And for everyone else who seems to believe the GPL is law, are you kidding me?

    GPL != Law. GPL == Contract.

    If WP wants its GPL enforced, then the only recourse is litigation in a civil court, not a federal one.

    • Actually the GPL is not a contract (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract) it is a license (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/License) given by copyright holders. You don’t sign it; it’s not negotiable; you don’t need to click through agree to it; it’s take it or leave it. It’s just like when you buy a non copyleft book, you don’t sign a contract agreeing not to photocopy it 20 times and distribute it to friends. That doesn’t mean that the publisher can’t come after you.
      The license tells you what the terms are. I would not invest money in any business where the owner had not done baseline research on the licensing terms for the tools the business depends on.

      The fact is no one has yet tried to oppose GPL enforcement in a US court. That’s because lawyers in the end don’t disagree. Sure some might blog about it but do those lawyers actually have clients they have advised to not settle? The closest adjudicated court case that matters is Jacobsen v. Katzer which gets exactly to the secondary code copying issue that has been raised. The concluded Busy Box cases as we all know, have all been settled in favor of the developers.

      Civil actions around copyright most often take place in federal courts, so I’m not sure what your last sentence means.

      @Jane Great piece, stay strong. It’s far from a waste of time for Matt, you and anyone else to protect the people who make WordPress Possible.

    • Elin,
      Since you like to throw Wikipedia links around, here’s one:

      As far as I can tell, the GPL is a software license and a software license is a contract. Also, contracts do not need to be signed in order to enter into one, the parties involved simply need to agree to the terms–in essence, once a user uses a piece of software, she implicitly agrees to the terms of said contract (i.e. the license).

      And as far as my reference to being held in a federal court, maybe I should have been more clear: Chris Pearson’s offense is not a matter of criminal law, it’s breach of contract, i.e. a civil matter.

    • KB,

      Nothing in that article says that a license is necessarily a contract. Some licenses, particularly proprietary licenses, might be contracts, but the GPL is not. Since the page you link just goes back to a page I linked, “a contract is an exchange of promises with specific legal remedies for breach.” There is no promise to you in GPL. It’s not a two way exchange. You haven’t purchased the copyright even if you buy a piece of GPL software, not any more than you purchased the copyright to a book when you bought the book. You get no warranty and no right to sue if the software is terrible or even causes you financial loss. You get permission to use some software under certain terms. You’re allowed to study it, run it, share it, and improve it without restriction but should you decide to give or sell it (or just your improvements to it) to someone else you have to give it with the same rules you got it under. If you don’t like those rules, you delete it from your storage media or just don’t distribute either the application as a whole or your improvements.

      • Hello again Elin,
        A few things:

        There is no promise to you in GPL. It’s not a two way exchange.

        Yes there is. Yes it is.

        But it seems you already know this because you’ve just contradicted yourself.

        You’re allowed to study it, run it, share it, and improve it without restriction…

        That looks suspiciously like a promise to me.

        And since you seem to have missed it in the link, software licenses fall under contract law because, essentially, they are contracts between the software distributor and the software end user (possible redistributor).

        The GPL is no different except that it isn’t a proprietary software license.

        The software distributor agrees to release the software under the terms of the contract and the end user agrees to run, use, or distribute said software under the same terms of the contract.

        The limitation of certain rights (i.e. warranty and legal recourse should the software be crap) doesn’t make it any less of a contract; those stipulations are merely terms of the contract. In fact, most contracts have such clauses, not just software licenses. And if a person doesn’t agree with the terms of a software license, then that person shouldn’t use the software because use of the software gives a tacit agreement.

        So, back to my original point: GPL != Law. GPL == Contract (or, GPL == Software License == Contract).

  41. Wouldn’t Richard Stallman or the FSF jump at a chance to enforce the validity of the GPL? I would expect that if asked they could find a lawyer that could take this up pro-bono.

    Big-co’s have been taken to court over violating GPL, why not Pearson? Give him what he’s asking for.

    I worry that allowing this to stand will dilute the validity of the GPL, just like with copyright/trademark. It might make sense for the WordPress Foundation to at least look into it.

  42. A few years ago, this(GPL compliance) is the same issue that hounded Joomla. A lot of mod and theme creators were bitching around. No actions were taken against them but the users were informed and educated as a result of the the whole debacle.

    At that time, WordPress is ‘just a blogging platform’. The issue on the WP license back then is not yet enforced. And now that the license is being enforced, those who profit from it and yet not honoring the license like Chris are bitching around.

    And with that, I’m hoping that WP users be aware of the license. I think that’s the only positive thing that may come out of it.

    And by the way, I hope this issue to end soon. It’s dragging on, eh.

  43. I don’t know Chris, I don’t know Matt, and I don’t use WordPress, nor do I have any stake in the community. Be that as it may, there are a few critical points here which are going unaddressed:

    – Maybe you don’t like Chris Pearson. Heck, maybe he’s objectively an asshole. Whatever the case, it is *abundantly* clear that he has trouble communicating effectively under duress. However, *that does not mean he is wrong*. If anything, he probably feels like he’s been backed into a corner by the WordPress community and leadership. Given that he’s built a business on this platform, I can’t say that I blame him for being a little riled up.

    – People keep bringing up the fact that other WordPress theme developers have gone along with the GPL mandate and have been quite happy doing so. I can’t think of any point that’s less relevant to the discussion. This isn’t a contest about the popularity of an idea. Chris has taken a firm stance on an issue in which he believes he is morally and legally justified. The *only* question then, is whether or not he is, in fact, right.

    – This brings me to my final and most important point: **Neither you nor anyone have any legal basis for telling Chris that what he’s doing is wrong.** The fact is, quite simply, that the question of what constitutes a derivative work under the GPL is mostly legally ambiguous. There are valid, reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue, but at this point, all anyone can offer on it, (even an attorney) is an opinion. This will remain the case until the definition of a derivative work (specifically) is tested in court. If you want to publicly shame someone for not following along with some arbitrary rules, that’s up to you, but don’t feel like you’re entitled to some sense of righteousness. All you and Chris have between you is a difference of opinion, nothing more. Can you agree to disagree, or can’t you?

    • A license isn’t arbitrary. If it were, companies like Microsoft wouldn’t be able to go after software pirates.

      Chris was not under duress when he spoke with me the day before his debate with Matt. We were in a comfortable room with couches. He had the same demeanor.

  44. Not that was looking for it, but I feel validated at the moment.
    Until about 6 months ago, I really didn’t give much thought to the Thesis theme – until like some freakish fire ant attack – I had so many almost seemingly formidable requests to use the Thesis Framework n the course of a week, that I was sure someone had played a practical joke on me and placed some sore of ad stating that I was a “Thesis Theme God” or something.
    Personally and professionally, I have never used it – and didn’t even know much about it. And, to see what the fuss was all about, I started to do a little deeper digging.
    My business relies mostly on creating custom WP themes for clients who are not looking for that “blog feel” but more of a professional polished site. We build each of them from the ground up based on their individual needs. So when I saw how the Thesis business model actually functioned, I was shocked.
    Now, many months later, I am no longer shocked, I am actually pissed off. I still get calls from clients who heard about Thesis, or saw an ad about Thesis, or was told my someone that it was THE theme, and they want me to build their site with it. I outright refuse. My response is always, “Yes, Thesis IS a piece of work – if really HAVE to have it, buy it, and set it up yourself – you don’t need me. If you want something customized for your needs, you’re guys. And, for future reference, we won’t work on sites with the Thesis theme.”

    Thanks for helping me see that my initial thoughts that the guy/company behind it, really must be a ‘piece of work’ were accurate, and it was not just me.

  45. Jane, you’ve succeeded in missing my point almost entirely. The license itself is not arbitrary. However, that Chris Pearson is in violation of the license *is your opinion*.

    The best you can do right now is think/believe/assert that he’s breaking the law. He’s not *actually* breaking the law until a court decides he is.

    In fact, I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that, by stating objectively that Chris has broken the law (with the intent to damage his business, and rather than disclaiming it as his own opinion), I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt has exposed himself to a potential libel lawsuit.

    • If I cheat on my taxes, whether I’m caught or not, I’ve broken the law. It’s the expectation of civilized society that the laws and contracts we create will be abided by. Judges only come into play when someone chooses to live outside those written agreements of conduct and another entity comes forward to enact punitive enforcement that must be proven in court in order for a judge to confirm or deny the charge and decree appropriate punishment/reparations. If you’re speeding on a highway, you’re breaking the law. If a guy on Delancey St. is selling stolen handbags or pirated copies of Microsoft Office, he’s breaking the law. While our system doesn’t punish that guy until Coach or Microsoft proves in court that he has in fact sold the stolen handbags/pirated software (as known stolen goods/in violation of the license agreement), let’s face it, that guy knows that what he’s doing is wrong; he’s just made a personal decision to try to get away with it because of the profit motive. My conversation with Chris, which you were not present for (but which was very similar to the interview with Matt on Mixergy), made it very clear that Chris felt that he would be able to keep ‘getting away with it’ and maximize his profits indefinitely without repercussions. If you really want to argue against the legal validity of the GPL and Thesis’s violation of it, maybe there’s room on their legal team for you? We tried for two years to work it out personally, without going the legal route. If we have to go the legal route now, no one from the WordPress core team has any doubt in their minds that we will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Thesis violated the WordPress license terms. I suggest reading the post by Mark Jaquith in which he lays out some of the technical reasoning behind this.

  46. I wish I could have pointed a client who wanted to use Thesis to the interview (hadn’t taken place yet, unfortunately). The over-the-top arrogance Chris Pearson demonstrated has got to translate into his product and product support. Mr. Pearson needs to develop his own platform and leave the WordPress community, which he clearly disrespects, apart from his claims to the contrary.

  47. Personally, I would like to see people who believe that Chris is wrong and needs to be taught a lesson about justice, fair play, and legality to raise the funds so that WordPress as an entity doesn’t have to fund the lawsuit.

    I’m not pledging $10,000 or anything, but I personally would like to see Pearson sued and I wonder if the huge developer base of people like me who are interested in fair play would be able to fund it so that WordPress can keep using their resources to push forward on things that matter.

  48. *Sigh*… again, Jane, you seem to either refuse or are flat-out unable to see outside your own small view of the situation. The fact that Chris is not operating outside the law has nothing to do with *him* getting caught or going to court, and has everything to do with the fact that there’s no case law on the books that establishes what constitutes a “derivative work” under the GPL.

    Personally, I *do* hope Chris gets taken to court. I hope he gets taken to court because when he wins (oh yes, he will win), the GNU General Public License will finally, once and for all be de-clawed, legions of developers will be spared a great deal of hand-wringing, and I’ll be able to come back to this blog with a huge grin on my face, and (very smugly) say ‘I told you so’.

    Oh, and I have read Mark’s post. As with this one, it represents a very biased, narrow, view of the issue, and doesn’t even seem particularly well thought-out. He’s mainly parroting the opinions and reasoning of the SFLC, and does *nothing* to address any counter-arguments or examples (of which there are many).

  49. I also hope that we’ll sue Chris and settle this issue once and for all, so other potential GPL violators will think twice before they do it.

    In the meantime, maybe few good programmers could create a clone of Thesis and release it under GPL and for free as “Antithesis” 🙂

    Sometimes people are so full of themselves that they don’t listen to a reason, until something hits them and it hurts. I think, Chris needs that badly to wake up…

  50. I’m a big proponent of the GPL and see a possible solution here. If Thesis is, by default, GPL because it is inheriting the license from WordPress (despite what Pearson wishes were true) then I, personally, am within my rights to redistribute it. As is anyone else.

    So, why don’t we GPL his theme for him. I have a copy of Thesis from a torrent site. I can publish it. We can all publish it. And what can he do? Then the lawsuit is on Pearson instead of WordPress. It’s sort of a mass civil disobedience.

    I know it would be provoking, but I love this license, what it stands for, and what it means. So why not?

    • Getting premium themes off torrent sites is not a good idea. Although this whole debate comes down to distribution, the fact is that I (and the rest of the core team) want to see people rewarded for their work. Also, you’re more likely to get a version of the theme with spam/malware inserted into it. If you want to use a commercially-supported theme, I recommend just buying the theme from the original developer.

      • I’m not interested in his theme, but I am interested in openly distributing it because it is clearly under the GPL and I have that right. I hope that makes sense.

        Why honor Pearson’s attempt to copyright his theme when it’s not legitimate? I say, distribute it regardless. Treat it as if it is GPL *because it is*. Why pretend otherwise?

        Right now, someone would have to sue Pearson. If his theme is openly distributed, then he has to become the plaintiff and track down every person distributing the theme.

        In my other life I am an activist/organizer/artist. This is what I would do to change the power dynamic and put pressure on someone doing the wrong thing to do the right thing. Pearson doesn’t seem like he’s going to suddenly honor the GPL on his own.

        Pearson is in violation of the GPL so no one is under the obligation to honor his tacked on license. By “violating” his license Pearson is forced to make a move to sue or comply with the GPL. If he sues, then you can get the EFF and the FSF involved… which I realize isn’t exactly what anybody wants, but could be a next step.

        I realize this might sound left field, but I hope it makes sense.

      • Well, the fact is, I wouldn’t personally redistribute Thesis because I would only be interested in distributing something I thought had great code.

    • The right way to handle this is for Matt to sue Pearson. In fact he really has to, in order to protect the copyright, and to protect the interests of the contributors.

      IANAL, but I wouldn’t be too sure you can redistribute Thesis in any event, because Thesis is in violation of the license. You might simply be adding to the problem by increasing the distribution of code that violates the WP license. You can’t change the license for Chris Pearson, he has to do it.

  51. The SFLC represents their members free, so a lawsuit wouldn’t cost anything for WordPress.

    Every time I read something from the people at WordPress about how they want to avoid a lawsuit because it wouldn’t be fun and would just involve giving money to lawyers I want to throw up.

    WordPress would rather slander those who don’t play the way they want, rather than actually go to court, where they would probably lose.

    • It’s not just about money, it’s about time and energy. Just responding to this debate alone has cost us half a week of productivity. A lawsuit that drags out for a year or two would have a negative impact on our community of contributing developers. If it comes down to a lawsuit being the only way to resolve it, then it’ll happen, and we’ll just have to suck up the fact that we’re all going to lose a lot of time that we’d have rather spent in more productive ways. No matter how you look at it, resorting to a lawsuit is reactive (and punitive), rather than proactive. As much as possible we should try to resolve our differences through proactive means.

  52. As far as Pearsons, yes, he’s a tool, and if he really did lift GPL code from WordPress and other plugins and put it in Thesis then he’s in violation of the GPL.

    But the discussion about themes being GPL is ridiculous.

    • Ridiculous in what way? That’s a pretty strong opinion, but you haven’t given any facts to back it up. Your fake email address doesn’t give you a lot of credence either.

  53. I’m not sure whether abandoning your usual policy of thinking before posting was a good idea.

    I don’t know. I feel sort of disappointed that this has sunk to the level of personal attacks. I gather from this post that you dislike Chris Pearson’s manner as much as his stance on the GPL but I’m not convinced that is, or should be, relevant to the issue in hard. I think my problem arises from my uncertainty whether you are bitching about him in a personal capacity (fine, though it might have been better kept among friends) or a professional one (kind of not fine).

    • I didn’t say I posted without thinking, I said I posted without taking a day to edit. I’ve been *thinking* about this issue for almost two years.

      I think this debate has mostly stayed away from personal attacks; the focus is on the business decisions and the justifications a businessperson (Pearson) has made for those decisions. If I were commenting on his personal use of language, habits, or hairstyle, you would have a point, but just saying that someone is using personal attacks doesn’t make it the case. This is a business debate, nothing more.

  54. Hi Jane,
    What a truly great honest post. Thank you for giving us all an insight into how this is affecting you at the ground level as one of the WordPress community leaders.

    I am a hippie at heart too and also wish every person’s good nature could be found with enough kindness and understanding. I think you did your absolute best to do so and I am so disappointed Chris purely barked his opinion at you without making any effort to listen and understand you actually wanted a positive outcome for him.

    Thank you so much for your ongoing passions and support for the greater good in the WordPress community and I hope this distracting situation is resolved peacefully for all of our sakes sooner rather than later.

    Kind regards

  55. Everybody Hates Chris..lol that makes me laugh.

    I’m mostly tired of this topic because it’s been going on for a couple years. And if someone was going to do anything about it (matt) he should do it already. Every corporation has legal counsel to handle situations like this. That way Matt can continue on in his quest to grow the “community”. I mean seriously..this sounds like a Kobe & Shaq squabble.

  56. Jane,

    Thanks for posting your thoughts. I can certainly identify with one of your frustrations you’ve articulated in particular.

    “I’m really ready for a day to arrive when all this crap stops taking our attention, and we can focus on documentation, forums, plugin repository enhancements…”

    In my opinion *distractions* can cause much more harm to a project like WordPress than license infringement. Distractions will absolutely kill your morale, breed cynicism, and suck the fun and life out of what you love to do.

    If I can offer a small piece of advice that I’ve learned the hard way: Yes, shed light on a subject (as you’ve done really well here), but then move on. Life is short. Too short, in fact, to worry about the d-bags of the world. His actions will have their own consequences, and the community will do the right thing. It always does.

    Again, thanks for shedding light on the subject. Now wash your hands of this nonsense and get back to having some fun! =)

  57. Sorry I have to post as anonymous. I have a developer’s license of Thesis and 90% of my sites are WP+Thesis. I did build a WP theme (GPL’d) but was denied an entry to the WP themes directory since I had ads to proprietary themes on my sites.

    As I can understand the WP community is right about the license, however the stance is too aggressive (a theme can’t be approved for the WP themes directory because of the ads on the developer’s site?)

    At the end of the day I still want to be running WP+Thesis but sad that I’ve decided to look for a GPL compliant framework. But anyways, what has GPL got to do with the ads on a theme developer’s site? Arn’t we trying to enforce GPL way too far? And if we are, let’s set an example out of Chris for all to know.

    • The thing with ads is basically that wordpress.org doesn’t want to promote non-compliant themes. Some people were putting in compliant themes just to link to the site with their non-compliant themes, or sites where they made lots of ad/affiliate revenue from non-compliant themes. It’s kind of an extreme definition of “not promoting,” I’ll agree, but I think the net benefit is that fully compliant themes/business promoting compliant themes are getting more traffic, which is good.

  58. Here’s a case of GPL/derivative works implications etc. IANAL, but may be this helps put things in a clear perspective what this debate is all about. The sad part… the case is not settled yet (as per the article, maybe someone can look it up), but it does help explain what constitutes a derivative work and its implications under GPL. Note: I have no clue about the differences between GPL and GPLv2.

  59. Jane,

    You may not want to redistribute Thesis because it’s not great code (a bit of a dig back at Pearson for attacking the WP code?), but that doesn’t address Steve Lambert’s idea – which I share.

    What’s to stop someone buying Thesis, putting all the GPL header stuff back in (and maybe tidying up the code!), and then offering it online?

    Not suggesting WordPress.org/Automattic do this but someone must be up for it.

    Put the onus on Pearson to sue.

  60. Just now reading this. I’d followed a bit of the #thesiswp discussion on Twitter, but hadn’t (and won’t) watch the video of the discussion between Matt and Chris. However, Jane, your post here is the final straw that has convinced me to abandon Thesis theme.

    I don’t make money from my blog, so that’s no incentive. (Full disclosure: I received one affiliate payment for Thesis; I’ve received none from my affiliation with Scrivener nor from the Amazon ads on my site.) However, the other articles I’ve read in the past week have convinced me, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that Thesis violates the GPL.

  61. I’ve just listened to the mixergy (Chris Pearson – Matt Mullenweg) interview and my brain just fall from my head after hearing Chris Pearson bigged up himself as ‘one of the 3 most important people in the history of WordPress. And he was so rude throughout the interview.

  62. Hi Jane, I was one of the guys in the room with you. Yes it was heated and yes, Chris needs to learn how to form an argument that is not just a blast of words that on reflection didn’t amount to much.

    He has a right to his opinion and he has a right to defend his viewpoint. You also have a right to defend the GPL.

    I dont think legal will get anyone anywhere, but a “WordPress Fail” website with companies or individuals who flagrantly go against the GPL may well be a good idea, people are less likely to deal with companies or individuals who do not comply with these things.

    Hope you are well and it was lovely to catchup at the Conference.

    Regards Peter RIcci

  63. I know this is two years later, but it’s still a great read. My first ever experience with Chris was his interview with Matt. I hate bullies, and that’s what he sounded like. Arrogant ass.

  64. Apparently I’m still subscribed to comments here, lol.

    And I agree with Dan. Two years later and this still makes for a terrific read. I actually forgot some of the details including the reference to being in the top three WordPress devs. of all time. That sure is a warped perception.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s