[wp-hackers] WordPress and GPLv3

David Chait davebytes at comcast.net
Sat Dec 29 18:22:30 GMT 2007

Roy Schestowitz wrote:
> Hash: SHA1
>> Roy Schestowitz wrote:
>>> There are several hypothetical scenarios which come to mind:
>>>     1. Patent intimidation and settlements can be used to divide
>>>     and separate 'licensed' WP from 'unlicensed' WP.
>> This is the second message you've mentioned patent issues, and I haven't
>> seen a response to my initial query.  You seem to be indicating that
>> GPL3 will somehow help with patent issues.  Unless you mean protecting
>> us (devs/users) from someone like Automattic patenting things, if you
>> are talking about a third-party coming after WP and big WP users/devs
>> for potential infringement of CMS patents, how the code is licensed
>> won't make a difference.  So... if you could explain in more detail what
>> you're thinking/assuming GPL3 helps with patent issues, I'd be
>> interested to hear it.. ;)
> Imagine a scenario where a company forks WordPress and then signs a
> patent deal (licensing) with a patent troll. Suppose that company acts
> selfishly and then uses such pseudo-protection to pull people away from
> WP. From the GPLv3 preamble:
> "Finally, every program is threatened constantly by software patents. We
> wish to avoid the special  danger that redistributors of a free program
> will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program
> proprietary. To prevent this, the GPL makes it clear that any patent
> must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all."
> There are more scenarios to be considered, such as licensing with
> clients/users rather than vendor/distributor.
> I apologise if I didn't reply to your initial query. I must have missed it.
> - --
> 		~~ Best of wishes
> Roy S. Schestowitz

First, the scenario is a bit bogus... If a patent holder decided WP is 
in their sights, all WP forks would be 'hit up'.  Signing a license to 
protect them from potential legal action regarding said patent certainly 
wouldn't give them any more reason to 'pull away from WP' -- no more 
than ANY fork would.  If anything, one company 'giving in' would 
increase the likelihood that all WP offshoots would be 'attacked'.

Second, the preamble is in GPLv2.  V3 adds much more detailed language 
regarding patents (many, many paragraphs), but V2 does have patent 
clauses in there.  My belief is it is trying to make patent 'situations' 
much more explicit (legalese is all about whether you WANT gray areas, 
or WANT explicit terms... ;) but IANAL).  But I don't imho think V2 in 
any way protects someone in the scenario you gave -- the code is still 
GPL code, must still be distributed as a derivative work of the original 
WP (which is a derivative itself...).  The other thing V3 seems to add 
is much clearer language on patent/license being granted from all 
contributors -- which is a standard for any multi-company working groups 
today already.

Third, a reality of patent trolling is that they are going to go after 
big fish, not small ones.  Big corporations, etc.  And in that case, it 
could be more 'use' of the software than 'distribution' of it (imagine 
WP.COM or other WPMU hosting providers being hit), in a sense.

So, yes, V3 tries to make patent language much more explicit.  But V2 
also has decent supporting language:

For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then
the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.

If you have and distribute GPL code, and sign a license that wouldn't 
permit normal redist rights of the GPL code (completely unlimited, 
derivative works rights, etc.), then you are in violation of the GPL and 
can no longer 'distribute' it at all.  So, even under V2, signing a 
patent license is more of a 'user' protection racket than a 'distributor 
or creator' one.  I haven't read V3 in enough details, and IANAL, but my 
quick read saw more language about third party contributions giving 
patent rights (which is generally implicit in GPL projects).

I'm not sure how GPL covers 'hosting providers' (wp.com, et al) come to 
think of it.  That Chameleon thing is a good example, but WP.com and 
other WPMU sites are just as valid.  They provide services on top of 
(often forked/custom) GPL code, but on their own servers.  They don't 
redistribute the code (to the best of my knowledge), but they make money 
from it.  Some would say that as an application service provider selling 
a GPL-based application, anyone who buys/uses the service should be 
given opportunity to download the modified source.  I don't know.  And 
is there a difference in how they make their money (some make it by ads, 
some directly charge users, some charge via other 'consulting' work).

Anyway, fun excuse to read docs I have no need or time to read. ;) ;)


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