Email To The FSF About WordPress’s GPL License Violations

So, after it became obvious that the WordPress developers responding to having the GPL violations pointed out to them were unwilling to admit that they needed to abide to the license, I decided that it was best to email the FSF themselves and ask about the violation issues. The email I sent is below:

From: Michael VanDeMar <michael@endlesspoetry.com>
To: license-violation@gnu.org
Subject: GPL Violation

Hello,

I would like to report a violation of the GPL v2 license by the Worpdress Foundation with their blogging platform script, WordPress. There is an MIT license violation in the same product, which may make it 2 violations under your jurisdiction since they are mixing licenses and then licensing the whole as a single GPL product. The current version of the package , which is 3.0.5, can be download from here:

http://wordpress.org/download/

There is a binary included in the package that has neither the source code nor a written offer to provide it included with the package itself. This has been been the situation since version 2.5, which was released in March 2008, and all versions have been in violation since then, and all are still available from their website here:

http://wordpress.org/download/release-archive/

The binary file in question is located, sans source code or written offer for such, in the following directory of the distribution package, in both the zip and tarball archives:

/wordpress/wp-includes/js/swfupload

The file is named swfupload_f9.swf in WordPress 2.5 and simply swfupload.swf in WordPress 3.0.5. There may have been other name permutations included in the various releases over the years. Additionally, that particular binary is licensed under the MIT license, but there is no license accompanying the file. Also missing appropriate licenses are the following components:

/wordpress/wp-includes/js/imgareaselect (dual MIT and GPL)
/wordpress/wp-includes/js/jcrop (MIT)
/wordpress/wp-includes/js/jquery (dual MIT and GPL)
/wordpress/wp-includes/js/thickbox (MIT)

This has been reported to the developers via their bug tracking system. However, they are arguing that they are not required to follow the terms set forth in those licenses:

http://core.trac.wordpress.org/ticket/16517

I have done a writeup on the issue here, and you can further see the developers arguing their point in the comments section:

http://smackdown.blogsblogsblogs.com/2011/02/18/as-it-turns-out-wordpress-itself-is-not-100-gpl-compliant-after-all-and-they-violate-the-mit-license-as-well/

In addition to submitting this report it would be appreciated if some opinion on the WordPress developers claims about why they are not required to comply with those sections of the GPL could be given, and if they are indeed in error, why. Also appreciated would be an opinion on the impact, if any, of any derivative works based on those improperly licensed versions of WordPress.

Please feel free to contact me if you need any further details. Thank you.

-Michael VanDeMar

After I sent it I realized that I needed to clarify why I was writing them, since the FSF is obviously not the copyright holder of the various scripts that are in violation, so I sent this as well:

From: Michael VanDeMar <michael@endlesspoetry.com>
To: license-violation@gnu.org
Subject: GPL Violation

Hello,

By the way, I understand that the FSF is not the copyright holder on WordPress. However, they are claiming that they only offer products that are 100% GPL on their website which is apparently not true. Since the FSF is the copyright holder of the actual GPL license, and WordPress is one of the most publicly visible GPL proponents out there, I do feel strongly that this affects you as well. Even if legally there is no recourse for you to force them to abide by the terms of the GPL your input in this situation is valuable.

-Michael

And I do feel strongly about this. I think the attitude that supplying the actual source code isn’t the essence of and absolutely required for something to even be considered GPL in the first place is ridiculous. I will update this post with whatever response, if any, I receive.

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8 thoughts on “Email To The FSF About WordPress’s GPL License Violations

  1. You are right to send that mail to the FSF.Hope you get a reply soon.I really wonder what their position is on this matter.

  2. Kevin, apparently “who cares” depends on who is doing the violating. If Matt Mullenweg thinks that there is a theme or plugin developer violating the GPL then a large portion of the WordPress community will vilify, insult, and threaten that person. You are right though, this would be much less of an issue if not for the whole glass house/stones aspect of it.

  3. It a problem, because it’s a violation and it’s not fair towards the other theme/plugin developers. Good job on writing the email. Somebody has to take a stand!

  4. Hi,

    Did you get a reply from the FSF?

    The MIT licence file for swfupload with a link to the source code repository is now included in the last release (3.1).

  5. Christophe – no, they never did reply to me on the subject one way or the other. Just a link to the source code does not satisfy the licensing requirements though. It has to do with the distribution package. The FAQ on the FSF website discusses how the written offer to provide the source code is very limited in scope in what is allowed, and the WordPress devs are trying to get around it with some imaginary loophole.

  6. I’m not even sure this is really a violation: the GPL of one part of WordPress only implies restrictions on the other parts with which it is *linked*. So I think they’re perfectly allowed to distribute this .swf file under a different license, just like Emacs includes files which are not under the GPL.

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