This is Why We Can’t Have Nice (Free) Things

There was a little internet kerfuffle last week when Matt Mullenweg from WordPress correctly pointed out that Wix was violating the GPL. Now, he did it in maybe not the nicest way (“If I were being honest, I’d say that Wix copied WordPress without attribution, credit, or following the license”), but at it’s core, his argument was true.

A core part of Wix’s mobile editor is forked from WordPress’ GPL licensed editor library.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. In the end, if you use something that is GPL’d in your application, you walk a fine line of needing to open source and offer your source code under the GPL as well. The GPL is a viral license (GPLv3 particularly so), and including code licensed under it is, at best, something you should do with a close reading of the license. At worst, you simply just shouldn’t include any GPL code.

Wix’s CEO posted a response and completely missed the point. As did one of their engineers. They both seem to think that intent matters. While it does matter in that it helps us understand that there was probably not any malicious intent, the GPL is the GPL and it’s pretty clear.

As Daniel Jalkut says:

if you want to link your software with GPL code, you must also make your software’s source code available … You have to give your code away. That’s the price of GPL.

Many developers understand, and view the price of GPL as perfectly justified, while others (myself included) find it unacceptable. So what am I supposed to do? Not use any GPL source code at all in any of my proprietary products? Exactly. Because the price of GPL is too much for me, and I don’t steal source code.

In my office, we’ve basically made the same rule. Even though we don’t ship code, we still stay away from GPL’d code as much as possible, simply to avoid any chance of impropriety.

I look at the GPL like Dave Matthews Band. It sucks, there’s lots of other licenses just like it that are much, much better, and it’s fans are so annoying as to make it that much worse.

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