For those of you who don’t follow WordPress news and updates as I do, over the weekend Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg wrote a post accusing WordPress competitor Wix of stealing code. The CEO of Wix responded shortly thereafter. It’s been an interesting few days for WordPress and the GPL, with some people supporting and praising Matt for his post, while others have suggested that his post indicates a lack of leadership or that he was foolish calling out Wix publicly.
I’m not going to comment on either side. Nor will I be able to successfully comment on the legalities of different open source licenses. What I would like to do is offer some insight as to why I believe Matt is such a strong defender of the GPL.
Last night I started reading Milestones: The Story of WordPress. It traces the history of WordPress all the way back to the b2/cafelog days. In chapter 2 it talks about the original b2 developer, Michel Valdrighi, and his reasons for choosing the GPL license.
“It was important to Michel that b2 remain free, even if he stopped working on the project. He also wanted his code to remain free if other developers took it and used it in their own project. He recalls now that “at the end of that elimination process, GPL remained. It helped that there were already some projects using it, as I didn’t want the code to end up abandoned and forgotten because of the choice of an exotic license.”
Michel’s choice of license was prescient. Under a GPL license, software can be forked, modified, and redistributed. If development stops (as it did with b2), the ability to fork, modify, and redistribute can prevent software from becoming vaporware.”
It is vital to note that the freedoms provided by the GPL meant that Matt and Mike (the co founders of WordPress) were not only allowed to fork b2, but were allowed to study it, edit it, improve it and release it back to the community for further study, editing and improvement. All that had to be maintained through each iteration of the software was that it retained the GPL license and the freedoms it provided.
It’s probably safe to say that without the GPL license, Matt and Mike may not have chosen to fork b2, WordPress may never have existed, 25% of the web would be run on something else and the millions of people around the world (including me) would not have jobs today.
So, thanks Matt, for having the moral character to stand up for the GPL and it’s freedoms, the same freedoms that allowed you to create WordPress in the first place.
Sometimes the right thing to do isn’t always the popular thing to do.