[wp-hackers] Premium plugin protection

Mike Schinkel mikeschinkel at newclarity.net
Sun Dec 12 02:38:47 UTC 2010

On Dec 11, 2010, at 8:10 PM, Michael Torbert wrote:
> I address the issue of locking away functionality on a server
> just to be able to charge for it.

This comment caught my eye.  I'd like to explore it objectively hopefully without triggering emotional responses.  Upfront I'll state that I'm not taking a position on this, I want to explore the legal, cultural and philosophical issues.

I'm going to start with the postulate that all plugins for WordPress must be GPL.  Matt has taken that position, many people in the WordPress community have agreed, and the SFLC has backed him up with their opinions. So we'll run with that as a given.

As far as I know (and IANAL) the GPL requires that any software that chooses the GPL as it's license gives full freedom to redistribute to any receiver of the software, and that of course by license is required of anyone who builds software based on the GPL. No disputing that.  

On the other hand, and again AFAIK the GPL does not require that a software developer who builds software based on the GPK actually distribute it.  So if I build a really fancy website based on WordPress with lots of custom extensions then nobody has the right per GPL to demand that I get them a copy of the source code from my website.

By the same token if a developer creates a plugin architected into components, one of which they distribute and one of which they run on their own protected server then are they not completely within the letter *and* the spirit of the GPL?  If not, would that not make Google and Amazon and Yahoo and others who run open source software on their servers "in the wrong?"

Thus far, based on ThesisGate a few months back it appears that the prevailing argument in the WordPress community is that "The GPL requires that plugins be GPL" which is consistent with our opening postulate.  But if the GPL doesn't require it what is it that is defining it to be right or wrong?

Or is it a cultural things which says "For the WordPress community, and especially if it relates to WordPress.org and WordPress.com, then it must get our 'seal of approval' much like how you have to get Apple's approval to be in the AppStore." Which if so would be perfectly okay (assuming it were objective and written down.) Except ,if it is a cultural thing isn't it a slippery slope to try to apply a subjective criteria like "If it's like Akismet it's okay but if it's just functionality I've locked away not it's not okay?"  Wouldn't we find ourselves getting into hair splitting if that's the rule? 

Or is it more philosophical like the "Definition of Pornography" [1] in that those in the community who hold influence get to decide and based on their influence their decision holds sway?

I guess my reason for asking is that I'm uncomfortable the *uncertainty* of the criteria much like those who argue for locking in the Bush Tax cuts argue that the tax uncertainty is bad for business (sorry in advance to non-US members of the list who'd wish never to hear about US politics again.) 

So I wonder if it's not a bad thing that "the GPL" is used as justification for things which GPL does not actually require but might instead be cultural? If yes, then it would be nice if those cultural norms were disconnected from having a GPL connotation and codified somewhere in writing so that people don't violate them accidentally.  

Or if it merely based on the changeable opinions of those with influence, and thus more easily applied by them based upon who is asking and their general level of grumpiness at the time?

Basically if these decisions are arbitrary and not based upon something written that the community could have involvement in deciding then I think it is really bad thing for long term health of the platform.  If someone wants to build a business based on WordPress don't we owe it to them to have objective criteria for what is Good(tm) and what is Bad(tm), why, and what will occur if they exhibit Bad Behavior(tm)? (with no intent to reference to the ant-spam of the same name.  Pun intended. :)

Anyway, I'm curious to hear other's opinions on the subject.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it

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