Inevitable: WordPress To Sue Thesis Founder

Filed as News on July 15, 2010 5:09 pm

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Another day, another impending lawsuit brews on the horizon. While no briefs have been filed yet, it looks like WordPress is probably going to have to sue a successful theme developer in court in the (not to distant) future.

Andrew Warner of Mix Energy fame was able to interview the founder of WordPress (Matt Mullenweg) as well as Chris Pearson (the creator of Thesis) over whether or not Thesis needs to embrace the way of GPL (or General Public License for you non-geeks).

After watching (or rather listening) to the video for almost an hour, it looks as if the only ones who are going to win in this upcoming battle will be the lawyers who once again will go home full of food and cash.

Update: video added below.

Who’s Right?

According to Chris (and some random Foreclosure lawyer in Florida, USA), Thesis does not have to comply with GPL since 99% of the code has been hand crafted by himself.

Matt on the other hand argues that since Thesis is based upon WordPress’s code, he does have to comply and uses simple legal arguments and cites several legal organizations as well as a GPL lawyer from Firefox.

Chris concludes that embracing GPL would hurt his business, which has over 27,000 satisfied customers to which Matt counters by citing WooThemes success by embracing GPL.

Unfortunately for Chris, not only is the law against him (.pdf) but public opinion might be as well after his claim to the “WordPress trinity” during the interview.

… I’ve done great things for WordPress since 2006, I’ve been arguably one of the top three most important figures in the history of WordPress. You, Mark Jaquith and myself are the three people that I’m talking about.

Chris seems determined to avoid embracing GPL at any cost, which could ultimately lead to his companies extinction when (not if) this heads to court as hosting companies will probably ask WP fans to remove Thesis (for legal reasons) or find another host.

Although Chris is a talented theme developer, he needs to swallow his pride lest the WP universe loses one of its greatest theme developers over a silly lawsuit involving three simple words.

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  1. By Pallab posted on July 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm
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    I am with Chris. It’s great if the theme developer wants to license their themes under GPL. However, Wpress just can’t force them.
    Btw, by the same logic shouldn’t all non-open source Linux software be banned? They also interact with the system through system calls or direct kernel hooks.

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  2. By Darnell Clayton posted on July 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm
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    Regardless of emotion, the law sides with Matt (and WordPress). While a court battle would end up hurting both brands, Thesis would become extinct VERY fast as hosting companies would not want to get entangled in this legal matter (thus forcing users to choose against Thesis).

    Chris’s awesome talent doesn’t place him above the law here, and if he doesn’t feel that way he needs to build his own CMS/blog software or embrace GPL.

    I have strong libertarian views about this issue but the fact is that when this heads to court, Chris is going to lose (and lose big).

    Reply

  3. By Andreas Nurbo posted on July 15, 2010 at 10:32 pm
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    Honestly its not 100% sure that Thesis are in the wrong. These matters are actually complex.

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  4. By Jason posted on July 15, 2010 at 10:36 pm
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    pallab,
    according to the GPL license, WP can force them. The reason that non-open source linux software is not banned is because linux is under a different license which allows for non-open source. This comes down to a licensing issue and Chris just does not want to obey the rules. It is like him saying that he is going to commit a crime because the law does not apply to him.

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  5. By Duncan Riley posted on July 16, 2010 at 1:07 am
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    More sloppy reporting Darnell.

    The Open GPL License is not “the law,” it is a license. A law is something implemented by Government.

    As for Chris being against the GPL: that’s subject to interpretation, and many would argue that he’s compliant with it now. If you bothered to look beyond the Mullenweg Fanboi pages, you’d know this.

    If I make an accessary for a car, I don’t have to deal with a license for that car, why the hell would an accessary for WordPress be any different?

    Chris is entitled to defend his works, and your complete and utter disrespect for him, a guy who has done a lot for WordPress over the years, does this site extraordinarily poorly.

    Reply

  6. By Darnell Clayton posted on July 16, 2010 at 2:20 am
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    Thanks for stopping by Duncan! Here are my responses to your comments:

    “More sloppy reporting Darnell.”

    Thanks for the compliments! ;-)

    “The Open GPL License is not “the law,” it is a license. A law is something implemented by Government.”

    In the US of A, licenses are contracts, and contracts are backed by law. Voiding a license is the same as breaking a contract, something American judges do not show much approval of.

    “As for Chris being against the GPL: that’s subject to interpretation, and many would argue that he’s compliant with it now.”

    Didn’t you watch the video?! Both Chris & Matt both said Thesis is not with compliance with GPL. Hence the whole argument.

    “If I make an accessary for a car, I don’t have to deal with a license for that car, why the hell would an accessary for WordPress be any different?”

    Bad example. If that accessory is based upon someone else’s invention, then yes you would need a license to sell/distribute that part. Patent laws would demand it (and ignoring it would only feed the lawyers).

    “Chris is entitled to defend his works, and your complete and utter disrespect for him, a guy who has done a lot for WordPress over the years, does this site extraordinarily poorly.”

    Chris’s talent does not excuse him or exalt him above the law. He probably is considered one of the best theme developers around, but regardless of his past accomplishments he needs to follow the license on which his software is based upon if it requires it.

    Many people are getting emotional about this argument and refusing to look at the facts. The law (whether you like it or not) sides with Matt here, and GPL is enforcable in the US whether you like it or not.

    If Chris wants to test this out in court, he can find himself a good lawyer in an attempt to “stick it at the man.” But you (as well as Thesis fans) are not going to enjoy the end result.

    Reply

  7. By franky posted on July 16, 2010 at 7:37 am
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    Duncan,

    and your complete and utter disrespect for him, a guy who has done a lot for WordPress over the years, does this site extraordinarily poorly

    Let’s for a second forget the lines of lifted GPL code in Thesis.

    Disclosure: we have former Chris Pearson works in our portfolio and Thesis also is used as affiliate program on some of our sites, just like many other (GPL) premium themes. Although we have GPL’ed Cutline after we acquired both theme and the IP for it, WordPress.com links to Chris Pearson’s site. Interestingly enough Cutline was CC-SA 2.5 when the theme was listed on WP.com, and Splashpress Media are still outlaws because we use the Thesis affiliate program but in this case I side with Matt.

    Chris has several options: he can make a WP independent Thesis versions under whatever license he wants. Alternatively, if he wants to build on WP and make a decent living with a product which has been awaiting the promised version 2 since, if memory serves right, more than 2 years now… why not become a ‘hero’ and switch license. That alone will bring Chris renewed respect and even more business.

    Matt and the way the GPL is interpreted, I will not go into that other than saying that I have to started to admire Matt, especially when thinking back to the 2005-2008 Matt.

    Personally I will file all this under ‘We learn as we move on and evolve, sometimes we support the changes, other times we don’t but it’s for the better’.

    These words are my personal opinion and not the opinion of my employer, Splashpress Media (NOcapital_P_dangit()).

    Reply

  8. By Robin posted on July 16, 2010 at 9:29 am
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    Thesis was built on WP which had GPL when Chris started. I can’t fathom Chris and his logic here. He built something on a license he had to agree to before he could install WP and now all of a sudden he doesn’t agree. If he can’t agree to the GPL in this context then he must leave WP.

    This totally sounds like an Ego thing to me coming from Chris’ argument.

    Reply

  9. By Miriam Schwab posted on July 17, 2010 at 8:28 pm
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    After reading much of the discussion on twitter etc, it seems that Matt et al have been trying to get Chris to GPL Thesis for about 2 years. Why didn’t they go to court about this earlier instead of letting it get to this ugliness?

    Here’s a possible reason: as we all can see, this is not a clear-cut case. When suing someone, there’s always a chance you’ll lose. If WP takes Thesis to court and loses, then the whole enterprise is in big trouble. Therefore, I think it’s possibly in WP’s interest to stay away from the courts.

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  10. By Harsh Agrawal posted on July 18, 2010 at 11:14 pm
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    I have been monitoring whole #thesiswp debate. Though being a Thesis skin dev. I still believe Matt was right till a point. Though the way he reacted on twitter was far away from professionalism and least expected from him. I will rather wait to see Matt filing a lawsuit against Thesis if he things he is also right legally. :)

    Reply

  11. By Mike T posted on July 19, 2010 at 11:24 am
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    Pallab,

    Most software that runs on top of Linux does so through standardized APIs that Linux just happens to implement. The Linux development team generally takes the stance that if you are using only standard APIs, your use of the Linux kernel does not fall under a derivative work since it literally does not require Linux at all to run. Kernel drivers, however, have the same politics about them that WordPress themes do. For evidence, look up the fights over the nVidia and ATI drivers on Google.

    Where this guy is going wrong is simply that he does implement proprietary WordPress APIs. No one else has implemented a compatibility layer for a system like Drupal which perfectly emulates the WordPress APIs, so he can’t use the same argument to protect himself.

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  12. By Mike T posted on July 19, 2010 at 11:32 am
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    Let’s for a second forget the lines of lifted GPL code in Thesis.

    Thesis is f#$%ed. It’s now a derivative work under the GPL. End of debate.

    Reply

  13. By Gregory Burrus posted on July 21, 2010 at 5:42 am
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    For thesis sake I hope they find a way to survive, I love it and hate to see it go away.

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  14. By Reed posted on August 21, 2010 at 9:54 am
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    as far as thesis goes, I hope it dies. It is miss-marketed, and horribly hyped.

    The whole package is marketed as “user friendly”, but is far from it. It actually is a developing platform, made SPECIFICALLY for those who want to make sites user friendly for clients who have no idea what they are doing. It is not for the beginner.

    If you actually take a look at the big picture, thesis is a middleman. They are a buffer for wordpress updates. A lawyer could easily support that case in a court based on the messages Thesis markets. Thesis would literally be eating their own words in the court of law!

    As far as thesis’s support goes… if you read through the forums, the support sucks. People who are technologically impaired buy thesis believing they can easily create a website. Instead they get frustrated and end up buying “Skins” from thesis developers. The creator of Thesis claims he is creating a whole economy around wordpress. The fact of the matter is, he is! but only because he is capturing website-incapable people, that end up supporting his “Thesis developers” after finding out they can’t possibly make the site they wanted in the time they believed was possible.

    To make matters worse, I could find a tutorial on how to make a custom page template for wordpress in a matter of seconds, whereas for thesis – a theme that claims to be user friendly, I couldn’t find a significant answer in the forums, in fact, I had to look outside the forum ( on THESIS Developer sites(who were marketing their own services)) to find vague tutorials of how to accomplish it. You tell me that isn’t frustrating?!

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