Archive for i am not a lawyer but…

commentary

I appear to have become one of those people who does their blogging in other people’s comments threads. Oops.

So, here am I on putting the P into wOrDpReSs: 1, 2 and 3 (bonus link to camelcasers needing to get out more).

And whipping the dead horse of GPL just to make sure it will never rise again (oh, it just did):

All this debate does is make Thesis sound better and more important than every other theme that exists.

I feel sort of disappointed that this has sunk to the level of personal attacks. (On re-reading, I’ve decided I was a little harsh on Jane here. What actually irritates me about this post is the focus on how loud and aggressive and generally ignorant Chris is in comparison to gentlemanly Matt and sweet, altruistic Jane. He might be mean and you might be lovely, but it doesn’t follow that he’s wrong and you’re right. I hate to break it to you guys, but copyright law doesn’t care whether you’re nice.)

I wish somebody could build a time machine and tell Michel Valdrighi what a mess his decision was going to make years down the line.

and for the obligatory wordpress.com slant:

Seems harsh to get rid of wordpress.com themes purely on ideological grounds (no, I don’t know why permalinks to comments on Matt’s blog are broken either. Probably something to do with SEO).

I wish people would quit pretending this is a legal issue rather than an ideological one. Hands up who believes that a judge’s decision that themes did not have to abide by GPL would change Matt’s position, and that he would immediately throw open the doors of wordpress.org to non-GPL themes and quit badmouthing non-GPL developers? Nobody involved in this actually cares about the law, any more than the law cares about whether they are nice or not. Chris wants the power to licence his work as he chooses and Matt wants everyone else to licence their work as he chooses. And the GPL is obscure enough that it is possible to interpret it either way. Can we stop squeaking now? Thanks.

Comments (12)

gifts

[long sigh]

OK people, censored comment on this post. (No, I don’t know why people blog if they don’t welcome comments either. You’d have to ask them. Just don’t go expecting an answer.)

Of course, if people have been ripping off CC-licenced images and CSS, this judgement clarifies that the original creators are well within their rights to pursue the offenders; and nine times out of ten those are the elements of the theme people are interested in stealing, not the fairly generic PHP files. I know Automattic doesn’t believe there’s any distinction between functional, not-visible-to-end-users PHP and creative artwork, but it’s sad that you’re still living in denial even when your internet lawyers have conceded the point.

One of my friends is a successful livejournal designer who has had some of her templates converted by a third party (without her permission, by the way) to wordpress themes. I’m not sure it’s actually legal to relicence someone else’s creative work as GPL, whether you’re lifting it wholesale from another platform or merely using CC-licenced images or resources, but if these people were to upload these templates to wordpress.org that’s what the situation would be. You’re obviously cool with that. I, equally obviously, am not.

WP is GPL because of a decision Michel Valdrighi made several years ago. It doesn’t make coders morally superior that they abide by the licencing terms they’re lumbered with, and it doesn’t make designers bad people to want to be credited and compensated for their creative work. Sure, you can force people to embrace GPL by blackmailing them or encouraging others to relicence their content on their behalf, but I still don’t believe that’s how open source should operate. A gift that isn’t given freely isn’t really a gift at all.

Mostly. I’m disappointed with the lack of any denial that stealing and relicensing other people’s stuff is OK with Automattic. We all knew that was the case anyway, but it’s depressing to have it confirmed again.

Comments (8)

it is what it is

Even though graphics and CSS aren’t required to be GPL legally, the lack thereof is pretty limiting. Can you imagine WordPress without any CSS or javascript? So as before, we will only promote and host things on WordPress.org that are 100% GPL or compatible. .

Wow. Disingenuous, much? Your internet lawyers just admitted that the only elements of a theme covered by GPL are the PHP files, but you’re going to go ahead and insist on everything else being GPL anyway.

(What happens, by the way, if I give all the WP functions their own files within the theme, separating them from the html and calling them with a common-or-garden php include? Would index.php catch GPL merely by virtue of calling files that calls WP functions? OK, so nobody in their right mind is going to attempt this, but still.)

Actually this is pretty reassuring for anyone still clinging on to CC — they can protect their CSS and images if they choose to do so, freeing them to use third-party CC content such as icons, photos, brushes or backgrounds. HTML generally isn’t special enough to be worth protecting anyway. They can’t submit the resulting themes to wordpress.org — Automattic don’t have the resources to moderate them — but nobody really suffers from that apart from users who are too lazy to look beyond its heavily limited selection; it’s not like there’s a shortage of alternative directories.

Meanwhile, I feel vaguely sorry for the saps who bought multi-use licences for hundreds of dollars from the various premium theme developers, only to discover within months (or weeks, or even days) that those who only bought a single-use package are now getting exactly the same deal, and that anyone who downloaded a pirate copy for nothing has officially done nothing wrong. But they don’t seem to be complaining too much (or maybe their comments are being censored, or maybe they’re too ashamed to admit to their stupidity in public, who knows?)

I can see that the developers were pushed into a corner here; you can’t risk being ostracised by the company who own your platform, because without official backing people won’t trust you enough to do business with you. It was OK while everyone was in the wilderness together, but as soon as one sucked it up and toed the GPL line they all had to, or he was going to get the monopoly. If you make iPhone apps you’re at the mercy of Apple, if you build a business around wordpress themes you’re at the mercy of Automattic. It’s just the price you have to pay. I still don’t believe that the GPL was conceived with the intention of being used to protect the interests of big corporations and manipulate the little guys, but it is what it is.

Comments (16)

open is as open does

Here we have a guy taking his crusade against Litespeed to the .org forums. (Litespeed is the server software the official WP sites use instead of Apache; it’s recommended on their requirements page and Codex.)

LiteSpeed is not only a commercial product, but it’s closed source and most likely includes code from LightTPD and / or NGINX which are free. WordPress is already benefitting this commercial venture being the posterboy for LiteSpeed, which has very expensive licensing (they charge $250 PER CORE in your server, a dual opteron 280 would cost you $1,000) and they also delve in censorship with a policy that bans its use for legal adult content (I wonder how come WordPress.com runs LiteSpeed, when it’s chock full of adult content to the point of being banned in Turkey?).

Couple of points:

  • I don’t know how many people are running around with the misapprehension that wordpress.com is blocked in Turkey because of adult content, but that really can’t be good for the brand.
  • Yes, in an ideal world WP would use only free open source software, but in the real world Automattic are a business and they have to go with what works best. If the free open source tools won’t cut it, then they can’t use them. Some of us wish they had taken this more pragmatic approach years ago when it came to picking forum software. Or wordpress.com themes. Still, better late than never.
  • Of course, not being GPL means you can dictate who gets to use your code :

    You can not use the SOFTWARE for a Warez site or a Porn site. This includes sexual content, or direct links to adult content elsewhere. This is also true for sites that promote any illegal activity.

    Um, you think nobody on wordpress.com ever posts ‘sexual content’ or links to porn sites? Why do we have a ‘mature’ tag then? Oh, right, it’s to keep the adult content hidden from Club Penguiners, Christians and LITESPEED!

  • Clearly, this is bonkers. So yeah, can we please work on getting the free open source tools to cut it, because then you can go around being smug about only using OS stuff and you won’t have to pretend you don’t know about their loopy licencing requirements. Because if you’re profiting from someone else’s work it’s good manners to respect their wishes, whether those wishes are that you refrain from removing their credit link, or refrain from linking to porn sites, or refrain from using their code when they’ve specifically asked you not to. I know that the licensing requirements of third parties are of little concern to Automattic since if you’re not using GPL you are evil and deserve to be screwed (and if you are using GPL, you have already issued them with permission to screw you), but I can’t help thinking that one day this cavalier attitude towards other people’s terms of use is going to end up backfiring.

[kudos for this story goes to adam. I don’t spend anything like enough time in the .org forums to pick these things up myself.]

Comments (7)

above the law

Root says, in the middle of yet another thread about global tags (I don’t know where Lorelle gets this strange idea that if we complain, they might change it):

Of course strictly speaking there are no *kids* at WordPress dot com anyway.

Which seems as good a moment as any to mention that Xanga got fined $1million for COPPA violations last year. They had well over a million kids, though, so I don’t expect Automattic are worried. We have a lot fewer than that, and at less than a dollar a child, the ads on the kiddieblogs would easily cover the fine ;)

What I would like? I would like wordpress.com to wipe the illegally-obtained email addresses of under-13s from its database. (Yes, I know they’re not going to do anything bad with that data, but do any of us know where we’re going to be in a few years time? You can’t promise that any future owner wouldn’t sell addresses on, any more than Danga could promise that there would never be ads on livejournal.) I would like some way of telling wordpress.com that I am over 18 and I don’t need protecting from content that they or one of their users considers ‘mature’. And I would really like somebody to explain to me why, if both wordpress.com and livejournal are based in California, only one of them is required to abide by US law.

(Before you try, I don’t think the ‘common carrier’ argument is going to work on a host which actively monitors content for links it doesn’t like the look of. And I’m not going to be convinced by ‘we don’t ask for birthdates so we don’t know how old they are’ either. If I go to a blog’s About page and it tells me the author’s twelve, I’m going to go ahead and assume the author’s twelve. And you should probably be grateful that I am neither a paedophile nor a Daily Mail reporter.)

Comments (17)

free as in speech

Is this for real? Are Automattic actually so lacking in spine that they need their community to tell them how to handle third-party attempts to censor their content?

This bit worries me:

The number of our attempts to inform and warn you regarding these defamation blogs must have been at least twenty, many times through your support page, a couple of times to your legal department and we even sent a regular mail to Mr. Matt Mullenweg. Most of our attempts were unanswered.

Guess what? Ignoring complaints, even if you think they are groundless, even if they are coming out of repressive states with a dodgy record on human rights, even if they are about blogs in a language you can’t read, doesn’t make them go away. You hire a translator and give the translations to your lawyers. You tell the complainants you are doing this. If the blogs are in violation of US law and/or the ToS, they come down and the bloggers are informed of your commitment to upholding US law and/or the ToS. If they are not, they remain in place and the complainants are informed of your commitment to free speech.

It worries me that Matt seems to think there is a decision to be made by anyone other than the lawyers.

Even if your entire Turkish community were to cry out with one voice ‘take down those pesky blogs, so we can get back to writing about cars without having to faff about with proxies!’ it makes no difference one way or the other to the legality of the content. We should not need to have a poll on this. And I should not need to be spelling these things out.

Comments (30)

career guidance

My comment on this went mysteriously missing (and no, the moderation excuse won’t cut it this time — it showed up as soon as I posted it, then its existence was concealed by a (0) on the index page even though it was still on the post page, today it has gone entirely). Never mind, we’re used to this by now. This is what it said:

Before WordCamp all sponsored themes should be removed from themes.wordpress.net.

Is this you publically ordering Thomas to do it, or have you already taken the site back under your wing?

I would kind of appreciate an answer, though I’m not holding my breath. The wording seems to me ambiguous. ‘Should’ rather than ‘will’ might imply that it’s someone else’s responsibility, but surely nobody seriously believes that theundersigned is going to sweep through four thousand themes in a week, checking and deleting them, when he hasn’t done a site update since March and there is no indication on the site itself that sponsored themes should no longer be uploaded?

My prediction is that Matt will sweep in sometime before WordCamp, wipe the whole thing and replace it with the contents of the wp-themes net repository (which, I note, is currently unreachable), throw a couple of wp.com themes in there so it looks less bare, maybe relocate to wordpress.org/extend/themes and then unveil his shiny new GPL-only official theme directory to the conference-attending masses.

I really hope this is just wild speculation on my part, because even though Thomas clearly isn’t up to the job of running the site on a day-to-day basis, that doesn’t negate the work he and others put into building it and he doesn’t deserve to be screwed over to that degree. Either way, he’s clearly not in charge anymore. Last week he was responding to demands that sponsored themes be removed with ‘Try to refrain from irresponsible comments, nobody needs your career guidance’, so no way is their removal his own decision. Evidently Matt thought he did need career guidance.

I’m really past caring about Matt’s personal vendetta against sponsored theme designers (though I still think it’s hypocritical to fulminate against sponsoring whilst being quite happy to use the fruit of it on wordpress.com). They’ve had a decent enough run, and if they’re savvy they’ll switch to developing for other platforms which actually need more themes and don’t treat designers with contempt. But I’m not sure reducing the number of easily-findable themes helps users, I’m not sure screwing over yet another volunteer helps the community, and I know that forcing themes into a GPL straitjacket, if people actually knew what the GPL entailed, would kill a lot of good, creative work at birth. I don’t know what Matt thinks is so terrible about using a beautiful CC-Attribution photo off flickr, and crediting the photographer in the footer, but in his GPL-only world it would never happen.

(Obviously, this is all the fault of the evil photographer for seeking recognition for their work. I suppose he thinks all books should be published anonymously as well.)

Comments (21)

this horse is glue

The theme sponsorship hysteria is boring me too much to blog about it properly. Here, have some links:

The implementation of a GPL-only, ad-free resource at wordpress.org/extend/themes is getting likelier and likelier, though it remains to be seen which repository’s code will get stolen borrowed and improved to do it.

[uls still broken in Unsleepable, I see]

Comments (7)

bad words and maturity

I was commenting on the whole censorship imbroglio over on adam’s blog t’other day (you missed this? erotica bloggers were bitching about being kicked out of the global tags system. I tend to think the best riposte to this would have been to ship their content, traffic, and all their friends to a more welcoming host and let wordpress.com become a kids ‘n’ Christians ghetto, if that’s what they want. Bitching a lot and slamming the door on my way out, obviously.) My line remains — it’s shouldn’t be up to wordpress.com to protect me from content they (or whatever random who clicked ‘flag as mature’) think is unsuitable by hiding it from my tag searches or keeping it out of my dashboard. It’s up to me to tell wordpress.com whether or not I want or need it to be hidden from me. Which naturally got me thinking about COPPA again, and the fact that Automattic doesn’t ask for reassurance that we’re over 13.

So here’s a thread and here’s another where drmike has to think fast and censor the age of the original poster. Because a disclosure that they were under 13 would automatically put wordpress.com in violation of COPPA for knowingly having users under the age of 13 and not requiring parental permission to keep their email addresses on file.

It’s nice that they have an experienced webmaster looking out for them on this, because left to themselves I’m not sure they’d have a clue. At the moment, they’re still got deniability. Yes, drmike knows there are users claiming to be under 13, and anyone reading the forum can surmise that there are users claiming to be under 13, but we’re not employees so it doesn’t matter. But the moment an irate parent comes along saying ‘why did you let my twelve-year-old daughter sign up to this pervert-ridden site without even asking her to lie about her age to do so?’, the game is up.

I’m not sure kids can be reasonably expected to understand or abide by this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ age policy they have in operation here. And I am not especially happy about the fact that adults can’t choose for themselves what they can and cannot view in the shared spaces of wordpress.com because of a child audience that officially doesn’t exist. So please. Flag the users, not the blogs.

Comments (3)

sigh

Using WordPress in Your Domain Name? Don’t! trumpets Lorelle to whoever may actually be reading the Dashboard. Only seven months late to the story. Impressive.

But, returning to that hoary old post and its unwieldy comment thread, I was reminded of the comment by Christine defending her right to use the word however she pleases:

I’ll “google it” or I’ll “Tivo it” or I’ll “blog it” all I want, thank you very much. And if I want to “WordPress it” (which just sounds silly), then I will. *sigh*

Now, I don’t remember whether I mentioned this at the time — probably not, the thread was already pretty old by then — but it just so happens that Christine was the original inventor of the WordPress name, back when it was just another b2 fork. Naturally, this has been airbrushed from WP history; you’ll no longer find any mention of her on wordpress.org, but you can’t hide from archive.org. I’m sure she never dreamt that one day businessmen would be sending out cease and desist letters on behalf of the company that now owns the trademark, because it’s no longer a name invented by one blogger and given freely to another, but a commercial asset that needs to be guarded carefully.

I think getting angry about this sort of thing is naïve, and being an uncritical fanboy about it is naïve, and there is a melancholy inevitability to selling out which is not unpleasing. So I think I’ll just repeat what she said. Sigh.

Comments (30)

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