Would WordPress Sue The Maker Of Thesis, A Leading WordPress Theme?

There was an argument brewing on Twitter today, so I invited the two guys at the center of it to talk openly here.

Chris Pearson, as you might have heard in his recent Mixergy interview, is racking up sales of Thesis, the popular premium theme he created for WordPress. Matt Mullenweg, the man behind WordPress says he’s happy that Chris is earning money, but insists that Thesis adopt the same license as WordPress, GPL, the most widely used free software license.

Neither man seems to be willing to back down from his position.

Chris Pearson

Chris Pearson


Chris Pearson is the creator of the Thesis Theme for WordPress, a premium template system designed to serve as the solid foundation beneath any kind of website. He’s is the co-founder of DYITthemes, the company behind Thesis. And he blogs at Pearsonified.com.



Full Interview Transcript

Andrew Warner: Hey everyone. I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Every day I invite a different entrepreneur here to talk about how he or she built their business, to ask them questions like how much money did you make on your businesses, to ask them about their setbacks and how they recovered. I do it all for an audience of entrepreneurs so that they can learn and go out there, build their own companies, and hopefully come back here and do an interview someday themselves.

Today’s guest rescheduled at the last minute. Fortunately, I noticed something interesting happen on Twitter. The old debate between WordPress and Thesis broke out and I thought I’d invite both founders, the founders behind both those companies, to come here and talk about what the argument is. They both were past Mixergy guests, so I have them on my Skype and I was able to connect them.

The first guest is Matt Mullenweg, the founding developer of WordPress. WordPress is an open source, freely available platform. I was going to say for blogging, but it’s for more than blogging. It’s used by sites like Mixergy and by the guys who create The Wall Street Journal’s website. WordPress, you know it.

The other side is Chris Pearson. He is a developer of Thesis. It is a theme that’s built on top of WordPress. Many people happily pay for Thesis. It is used by sites like Copyblogger.com.

At issue is, as I said earlier, if Chris creates a theme that’s built to work on top of WordPress, does he have to use the same GPL (general public license) that WordPress has? Just as important for me as a businessman, if he does, does it mean that Thesis, which many people today pay for, does it mean that it has to be given away as freely as WordPress? Those are the issues that I wanted to find out about. I also was hoping to just bring them together in peace and harmony and be the person who would do that and get the credibility that comes from finally solving this Crips versus Bloods issue that goes on in the Blogosphere every once in a while. I’ll let you see if I did it or not.

I have to thank my three sponsors. Shopify, thanks for paying for me to be able to do stuff like this. Grasshopper, thanks for continuing to send those checks over. PicClick, my buddy Ryan, congratulations on building that company.

Here is the program.

Andrew Warner: Why don’t we start with Matt? Can you give us just a short version of what the issue is from your side and then we’ll hear it from Chris.

Matt Mullenweg: Sure. WordPress is built on the license of a GPL that has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to build amazing businesses off it. All it really says is that you can do whatever you like but anything built on top of the GPL must be GPL itself. That’s the crux of it. There are over 10,000 GPL plug-ins. There are several thousand GPL themes. There are many GPL based theme businesses such as Blutheme, StudioPress, iThemes. You had 80 on the show. That’s how the WordPress system works.

Andrew: Your issue with Chris is that he’s doing what?

Matt: I don’t have any issue with Chris.

Andrew: With Thesis.

Matt: Thesis has stated publicly that they believe in a different interpretation of the GPL. The GPL doesn’t apply to them. That WordPress’ license doesn’t apply and they don’t need to follow it. That’s obviously harmful to the WordPress community and I would love them to join and be GPL.

Andrew: Chris, what do you say to that?

Chris Peterson: Well, I think let’s look at this from a really rational perspective. Matt said for instance, and has said on other occasions, that Thesis is harmful to the WordPress community. I consider that a very interesting statement and one that needs to be examined simply because Thesis has over 27,000 users, many of whom were not introduced to WordPress except through Thesis. Thesis has also, since its inception in 2008 and then prior to that, my legacy before that, has done a lot. Pretty much, I would argue, has been the driving force in both premium theme and just theme innovation in general. Thesis is responsible for the increased amount of attention that this particular aspect of websites has received.

Andrew: Chris, I don’t really think Matt’s arguing with that. I don’t think he is taking any credit away from the significance of Thesis and the functionality of it. He is suggesting that if it is built on top of WordPress than it also needs to have the GPL license, and you’re saying that it doesn’t. Right, Matt?

Chris: That’s correct, but I think that my statement earlier and the point that I am making needs to be made. He is saying that I am hurting the community, yet I am bringing thousands and thousands of people to the WordPress platform and increasing the functionality that they are able to get while using WordPress as their backbone. I am wedding more people to WordPress by offering a fantastic functionality that they’re not going to be willing to give up, switch, and go to Drupal or something else where they can’t get this. That’s important.

Andrew: Matt, what do you say to that?

Matt: I’d like to respond to that. One he isn’t inherently hurting the community. It’s just that anyone violating the license is disrespectful to thousands of people that built WordPress and all of the other businesses that have respect for WordPress’ license. Twenty-seven thousand users are very impressive. In terms of Thesis driving innovation in the world or their premium seat in the market, 27,000 users is basically four hours of WordPress downloads. We do 100,000 to 150,000 downloads when we do releases. WordPress is a community of over 25 million users. Twenty-five thousand; 30,000; even 100,000; would be impressive. I don’t think it’s fair to say Thesis is responsible for WordPress’ success.

Chris: I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that Thesis was responsible for WordPress’ success. I said that Thesis was responsible for bringing a great number of people to the WordPress platform and wedding them to it by offering a superior functionality.

Matt: Superior to all of the themes?

Chris: A superior functionality to that which is offered by the platform without Thesis.

Andrew: So, it does help WordPress to have Thesis. Nevertheless, Chris, what about the license? What about the GPL?

Chris: Okay. Let’s think about this. I could build, let’s say I want to build a piece of software for distributing music. Something like Last.fm or something along those lines. In theory, this could be built in PHP and exist on any server. There may be, just in theory, I could tie that into WordPress somehow and have people run that through a WordPress site. I would have built this music product, my own thing, totally separate, and then decided to make it usable on WordPress. In doing so, basically, this argument states that because it works on WordPress at all that it must inherit WordPress’ license.

I think that is faulty. I want to take this a little bit further and say, at what point does WordPress get to be the be-all end-all about what works with it? All it does is deal with front and backend database rights and reads. Why does it get to determine everything else, even if the scope of another project that works with WordPress may vastly exceed the scope of WordPress itself? How much sense does that make?

Matt: So, basically, without Thesis, WordPress isn’t useful for anyone to create websites or have SEO or do anything?

Chris: I didn’t say any of that.

Matt: But it’s just a backing system? It doesn’t really have the scope of Thesis? I’m just trying to understand this.

Chris: I didn’t relate that to Thesis. I was merely saying that you could build any application about anything, tie it in, and make it work on WordPress, that shouldn’t necessarily dictate that it should inherit WordPress’ licensing. That doesn’t make any sense.

Andrew: I think what Chris is saying is that if Last.fm or if Andrew Warner creates a plug-in or creates anything that enhances WordPress, do we then have to take the license that WordPress has? Is that right, Chris?

Chris: Well, not exactly. I mean, I would say that plug-ins and really small, tiny bits of functionality that are totally dependent on WordPress, I don’t really, well, I guess I can’t say that. I don’t think that it should have to inherit that. Not a plug-in or something like that. No.

Andrew: Now, is this an opinion or is that based on your reading of the license?

Chris: Brian Wasylik an attorney in Florida has published an article called “Why the GPL Does Not Apply to Premium WordPress Themes.” He cites a couple of court cases as precedents, one involving Nintendo and the other involving the Sega Genesis console. If you think about it, the relationship between a console and a game is very similar to WordPress and a theme or WordPress and a plug-in. In both of these cases, where precedent has been set, they determined that the console had no right to dictate what exactly these independent publishers making these games could do as far as their own licensing and stuff is concerned. As far as this is concerned, that is some pretty much landmark litigation that is related to this case. At least something that has actually been tested in court rather than just accusations and, ‘Oh, well, we’d prefer that most people would play ball the way that we want.’ That’s not good enough for me. What’s good enough for me is the truth.

Andrew: Matt, what do you think about that opinion?

Matt: Well, first of all, I believe that the person he’s referring to was not Brian Wasylik it was actually Mike Wasylik.

Chris: I meant to say Mike. Sorry about that.

Matt: He is a foreclosure attorney in rural Florida. I’m not a lawyer. Also, the Nintendo case, or whatever, which I think was from the 1980s or 1990s, has nothing to do with GPL. GPL is a license. When you build using other people’s software, you have to respect the license that it’s under.

For example, some software specifically states, it specifically states there’s an exemption. For example, LGPL software or Apache software that says, ‘Well, if you build something on Apache you don’t need to follow, there’s no restrictions, you don’t have to preserve the freedom of your users in building it, if you build a module for Apache.’ If you build a module for Drupal or a module for WordPress or a theme for WordPress or anything like that, the license says that you do have to follow the GPL. I think that it’s just a matter of choosing the platform. If you disagree with the GPL, just use a platform that doesn’t have the GPL.

To clarify something, I’m not a lawyer. I’ve read it. I’ve built GPL software for 8 to 9 years now. The GPL is older than I am, or almost as old as I am. It’s a professional opinion. The first person I ever talked to this about was Heather Meeker who is a very fancy intellectual property attorney in Silicon Valley. She probably charges $500 an hour or something, but she is also the chief counsel for Mozilla and Firefox. She is intimately familiar about the GPL, Mozilla’s NPL, all of the licenses and how they work.

Recently, I went to The Software Freedom Law Center, which is the, sort of pro bono law group that has done all of the cases around the GPL. There have been a few dozen cases around the GPL. Some of them have had court decisions in Europe. In the U.S., every company that has brought a GPL case, including giants like Cisco, has decided to settle rather than try to challenge it. The Software Freedom Law Center actually went very deep on this. They downloaded WordPress. They went through the code. The looked at how themes work. They looked at how themes use functions, how they use data structures, how they use the database, how they use all of WordPress’ code and they determined that they did substantively link.

Chris: Not all themes operate the same way. Not all themes use those things the same way. That’s a very, very thin slice of what WordPress, of the way that interaction takes place. That thin slice just does a massive injustice to any type of innovations that may usurp that originally established method of operation. It doesn’t leave room for massive fundamental changes in the way things operate. Maybe enhancements in efficiency. Different types of code or the way that code is actually served. That’s a very thin slice. I don’t see that holding up in court. There’s no way.

Matt: I think just one way to test it is, you know, take a screenshot of a website running WordPress without Thesis and then take a screenshot of a website running Thesis without WordPress. It would be a blank screen. It wouldn’t work. That’s just a very simple test.

Andrew: What about this, Matt . . .

Chris: That’s the same thing if WordPress is running a theme. It’s a blank screen. The same applies to both. Just to put that out there.

Matt: You could run anything.

Chris: Yeah, and without a theme at all WordPress serves a white page.

Andrew: Matt, when I had Chris on Mixergy you, in the comments, said that he can make one little change and he would be in compliance. What is that change? Then I’ll ask Chris how that would impact his business.

Matt: He just has to say it’s the GNU GPL. That’s it.

Andrew: If you took that, Chris, how would it impact your business?

Chris: Well, I think it would have a variety of different impacts on the business. The most important one to me is simply my right as an individual to put out some creative work that is independent. WordPress did not empower me to write this software, I wrote all this stuff. I thought about all this stuff. I thought about all the data structures inherent to hosting a webpage. I’ve constructed this all myself. I take great pride in that. I, also, get a little bit defensive when all of that is attacked as if because WordPress existed prior to me coming up with all this stuff that is somehow have to adhere to something that was established beforehand. That’s not fair. That’s like charging our children with debt that we accrue now. I’m not in line with that philosophy. I think that’s terrible.

Matt: What does that mean?

Chris: What does that mean? What?

Matt: Yeah.

Chris: Well, okay, so, I’m going to go back to answering Andrew’s question because, he said, how will. . .

Andrew: How would it impact your business?

Chris: One, it would require me to make a concession about something that I don’t think that I need to concede to. Why should I change? I’m protected right now. My work is protected, which it should naturally be. I want to retain that right. If I go GPL then I am ceding that right. The number one issue for me is the personal concession that I would be making. Not of any real impact to my business. I don’t want to make that personal concession, because I don’t have to. Okay?

The number two thing in how my business would be affected is if I was to go to GPL that means that anyone can take my code and do whatever they want with it for any purpose they please. Well, you know, I’ve already seen this happen where people have tried to do this but they’re not legal in doing so. They’ll take thesis and go sell it for $47 or undercut the price. Why wouldn’t you do that? Many people like to talk about this argument and they’ll say, ‘Well, people sell iPhone knockoffs for cheaper,’ or whatever. It’s not an exact iPhone though. Sure, if you can get an iPhone for $50 instead of $400 you better damn well believe that you’re going to buy that $50 iPhone, if it’s the same iPhone. But it’s not, so Apple is protected.

In my case, Thesis, if it were GPL it could be the same Thesis. You could be buying the same one for less. Why would you pay my price? Why would you do that? That is opening up the door for a vulnerability that I don’t have to open the door up to. Why would I invite that kind of vulnerability knowingly into my life? That doesn’t make any sense. I cannot see a sane individual doing that, except for if they thought they might be able to gain more from the perceived exposure they’ll get from WordPress. There’s something that people see. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus here, but I know that Brian Gardner and others chose to go GPL because they thought it would be better for their businesses. However, I’ve gotten feedback from them about links that they have on WordPress and other things and they say it’s not worth it. I have to distill that information with my own feelings and it adds up to, ‘Not worth it.’

Matt: Can I respond to that?

Andrew: Sure.

Chris: Sure.

Matt: Well, first of all, regardless of promotion from WordPress or anything, I mean, you should respect the license of the software you build on because it’s the right thing to do.

Chris: How is that? I think that what I’ve done stands alone outside of WordPress completely. Why should I respect that? It’s not that I don’t respect WordPress. I do. I only build on WordPress and push people in its direction because I genuinely appreciate the way WordPress has evolved over the years and what development has occurred. I like many people in the community, also.

Matt: Thank you.

Chris: I’m not disrespecting it. You are claiming that I’m disrespecting it. None of my users, I promise, they don’t think I am disrespecting WordPress. They think I am making it better. That’s a very, very slanted opinion and one that you continue to perpetuate. I argue that it is false.

Matt: Sorry. I am just trying to finish my sentence. I think that when you don’t follow the license of someone who wrote something, it is disrespectful. Just like if I downloaded your software and distributed it free, that would bother you because it’s something that you made and you distribute it under a certain license. If I violated that license, it would be disrespectful.

Number two, the second point, is that your business would be hurt somehow if people could, as you say, take your code and sell it for cheaper or something like that. Two parts, I think that undersells Thesis to an extent. I think that from what I’ve heard about people who like Thesis, it is much more than just a code and a theme it is the forums, the support, the community, and all the things around it that make it valuable. That is not something that someone in another country selling it for half-price is going to be able to duplicate because they don’t have you.

Second, there’s been every other premium theme developer and vendor in the world has already gone GPL and their businesses have been just fine. I mean, WooThemes, what did they say on the show, over two million per year, more than that. They’re doing great. If you are worried about that, I would just look to the other people who paved a path there and have shown that people who aren’t . . . . my personal opinion, this isn’t a legal GPL thing, just that people who don’t want to pay for your code are going to pirate it anyway. Businesses, people building on you, people who want the part of the platform will pay because they want to support it. They want to see it continue to develop. Finally, there is this point you keep bringing up that innovation is going to stop because of WordPress’ license . . .

Chris: I didn’t say it would stop. I said that the license does not account for innovation outside the scope of whatever lawyerly review was conducted on the software at the time.

Matt: Well, I think that what’s going on is that lots of innovation happens on WordPress. It’s all within, everything that I have seen, is all within the scope of the license. You can have third-party services, I’ve build two of them now Akismet and VaultPress, which create value on top of WordPress and they are paid services. I remember at one point Viddler, which is a video hosting service actually used WordPress’ user system as a base for their user system. There are all sorts of different ways that you can build on top of GPL software and create a really fantastic business. I just don’t worry abut that much. That’s your primary concern.

Andrew: It does seem like . . .

Chris: I said it wasn’t my primary concern. I stated that my primary concern was the fact that I would be violating something to myself. It’s something that I would be, I would be adopting a stance that I just don’t agree with. That I don’t think is applicable to my situation. I would, in a sense, be personally fraudulent. I hold myself to that standard. There is no way that I am going to operate in a manner that is incongruent with my character. You said all these other theme developers did that, that’s suggesting a game of follow the leader. I think a brief examination of my history will show that I am anything but a follower.

Andrew: I think we have two different issues here. The one is the conviction and the other is the business. Let’s talk just a little but about the business and then maybe we can find out, then I’d like to dig deeper into the conviction that you have, that you each have, that you are walking the right path here. Matt, I am looking at Thesis themes and he has a developer option here that allows developers to only install thesis on sites they own. If you were to go GPL developers, couldn’t they just install it on any website that they wanted to? Then wouldn’t that take a substantial amount of revenue away from Chris?

Matt: Well, they could do that now.

Andrew: You’re saying legally they could, even though he doesn’t believe that.

Matt: No, if they don’t care about what he asks they could do that now. He could easily say, ‘Well, we only support one site if you have this license,’ or something like that. There are many ways you can do it. The fact of the matter is just that you create something fantastic that creates added value for people, you ask them for money and believe that they’ll pay for it. Many other businesses, including the themes everyone else has developed for options and personal options, so I don’t see that as a barrier.

Andrew: You would suggest that he offer this under GPL and basically sell the support, the forums, and the connection to Chris, but not sell the theme itself?

Matt: You could even sell the theme itself. There is nothing in the GPL that says it has to be free.

Andrew: But if it is GPL, couldn’t I just take a copy of it and offer it free on my website without him being able to stop me?

Matt: Apparently, people are already doing that.

Andrew: You’re saying people are already . . .

Chris: That’s not an answer to the question.

Andrew: Could they, at that point wouldn’t he be ceding his legal right to that, to stop them? Wouldn’t he at that pint be saying, ‘Yeah, you could.’ I am seeing that WooThemes does have that issue since you brought them up. I can get a WooTheme for free online. I can also buy it from other people other than WooThemes. There’s a little bit of confusion when you do a search for WooThemes whom you are buying it from. I can see some people buying it from someone who is not WooThemes and maybe even being a little but confused.

Matt: Sure. That would be a marketing issue. That could be a trademark issue. Let’s say I was going to download Thesis. Let’s say Thesis was GPL, and I was going to create Antithesis and sell it on my site. I wouldn’t be able to call it Thesis because Chris still has the trademark to Thesis, I assume. Also, GPL does not invalidate your copyright. In fact, GPL is built on copyright. That’s why if the GPL was not valid, no one would have the ability to use WordPress, because they wouldn’t have a right because it would all be copyrighted by its developers. Copyright says that he could create other licenses if he wanted. For example, Movable Type is available under a GPL license but also available under a proprietary license. You could also create a separate license for the job descript images in CSS, which were determined not to follow under the GPL by The Software Freedom Law Center.

Andrew: I see. What do you think about that, Chris?

Chris: I mean, you know, we could talk all day about what applies and what doesn’t apply. For me, the bottom line is simply the fact that at this point, there has been so much hot air around this issue for so long and this can’t be understated or glossed over as if it is not true, my position in the market is pretty much at the top. I am the most visible person in this space. Everyone is gunning for me. Everyone wants a piece. If I open the door to letting other people profit off me, they are going to run and do that. Right now, tons of people are still profiting from my work and doing extremely handsomely. We have a lot more plans to enable these economies to develop around Thesis in the future. I want to help people make money. I do not want people making money off my good name and my good product, undercutting me, selling me for less out in the wild, and having the legal authority to do so. That’s a poor business decision if you ask me. That’s the only way to look at that.

Matt: You are very, very lucky that the developers of WordPress don’t feel the same way as you do.

Chris: Why’s that? Because WordPress exists and I’m able to use it?

Matt: Yeah.

Chris: I mean, I chose WordPress because it is the largest platform and has the least path of resistance to me and end user customers who are not familiar with any of these technical details, don’t care about licensing terms, or anything like that. They just want a website that works.

Matt: Well, there are plenty of other non-GPL platforms out there. You could build on any of them and not have any issues with violating the license.

Chris: I guess my point in all of this is, if you are going to have a license, make it enforceable and enforce it. If you’re not, then don’t. This is all just a bunch of discourse over nothing. Actually, I think all that it’s doing, what it looks like, is enhancing my position and importance within the marketplace, which would seem to be a counterintuitive goal for you. You’d be better off saying nothing and trying to take me to court or doing something undercover, behind the scenes, something. Instead, you chose to fight this thing out front that leaves many question marks on both sides of the fence. I am not saying anything outrageous here. I think a reasonable person would hear this conversation and be genuinely confused about the sate of things. That’s what I think. You know, what does that really say about this whole thing?

Matt: Are you saying you want to be a test case for the GPL? You want us to sue you? I mean, that would break my heart. I’d rather you be part of the family.

Chris: Right, you just want people to play ball exactly the way you want them to play. However, I am asserting that WordPress does not have some kind of sacred position in the marketplace. They are not the highest authority node up on the tree that gets to decide everything that happens underneath them. That’s preposterous. I am not trying to do that with my customers. I am just telling them that they can’t take my stuff, distribute it free, and violate my license. That’s all I’ve said. I am not trying to enforce anything else. But you, you’re trying to distribute your product in a free manner, to everyone, and then dictate who can do what one tier removed from your own authority note. I mean you’re two tiers away. Two degrees of separation. That’s unbelievable that you’re trying to dictate out on those terms after having such a flimsy license to begin with, that’s unenforceable.

Andrew: Let’s hear their response to that.

Matt: Wait. For one, the GPL is on a flimsy license. It’s what Linux is built on. It’s the most popular license in all of open source software. I didn’t write it. It was written in the 1980s. It is really quite strong. Two, you said that the only restriction you put on your customers, users of Thesis, is that they can’t redistribute it. The only restriction WordPress puts on their users is that they can redistribute it and if they build something on top of it, it should also be GPL. That’s just how licenses work. You can say whatever you want in your license. By someone using your software, they agree to it. You can say, ‘You can’t say anything bad about Thesis.’ There is a constant management system . . .

Chris: Thesis is not an end user for software though. I don’t repackage WordPress to redistribute that as a download. It is a separate entity. It does not inherit anything from WordPress. It’s preposterous. It inherits nothing.

You see, the thing that really is bothersome about this is now that we are hearing this issue, there is no resolving it, either you sue me or you don’t, or you continue to talk or you don’t, but the problem that I have is now you have all these trolls. All these WordPress people just slinging mud. They’ll believe anything you say, Matt. You’re an extremely, extremely high up authority figure in this market. Anything you say at all can be taken by somebody with fervor and spread around like a disease. You have an extreme responsibility to be accurate, factual, and to never overstep the boundaries of what you are saying because any of it can be use in a tortious manner, in just terrible ways that you probably never intended and certainly didn’t have malicious intent to begin with.

Matt: Of course . . .

Chris: I think you could do a better job of handling that from the top. Look at these things from Andrew Mason just absolutely slamming me. He doesn’t know what he is talking about, but he is a WordPress developer so they just say whatever supports their cause. This guy, Ryan C. Duff, just slinging all this mud. I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this at all, dude. I don’t sling mud at you and say, ‘Oh, you do all these terrible things.’ Then have an army of people slinging mud at you saying that you don’t understand, you don’t do this, you don’t do that. Put a stop to that. It’s terrible, dude. I don’t deserve that. I mean, you know what I’m saying. I developed an honest product. I’ve been honest with all of my customers.

I’ve done great things with WordPress since 2006. I have 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 am talking about. I just don’t understand why you, in the position of authority you are in, allow it to be degraded to this little, ridiculous, personal level. You’re fine with all these ‘top WordPress developers’ . . .

Andrew: Let’s give Matt a chance to respond to that.

Matt: Thank you, Andrew, for jumping in there. Well, first of all, I’m struck by your humbleness in that you think you are one of the top three people to deal with WordPress. I would definitely point to the people who write the software that gets use hundreds of thousands to millions and millions of times, particularly the core developers, which mason is one of, Mark Jaquith, Ryan Boren, who I think has 5000 connects to WordPress blocks. These people to me are the people who are the core of WordPress. Even in the premium theme market it looks like Thesis is under 10% of the premium theme market. There are just so many other alternatives out there that have really . . .

Chris: I think that is a pretty impressive share considering how many premium themes there are.

Matt: Well, less than 10% of the premium theme market, which is less than 5% of the total WordPress user base, less than 3% actually. You are looking at like 0.3% on the very, very high end of users, and that’s assuming that you have 50,000 to 100,000 users. There are 25 million WordPress blogs in the world. That’s easy math to do. Two, I do recognize as a leader of WordPress a very big responsibility. That’s why I reached out to Heather Meeker. I reached out to The Software Freedom Law Center. I reached out to the best minds that dedicated their lives to started the GPL, how it interacts with other software, how WordPress works, how themes works, etc., to give an opinion. Even though I had my own interpretation, I held off. I went to the experts to look at this issue. That’s all. I’ve done my best to try to be accurate. I really do believe that the GPL applies to all themes in WordPress.

Chris: You accuse me of breaking the law publically, which I don’t appreciate at all. It’s not factual. It’s not accurate.

Andrew: Let me ask each of you a question here. Matt, first of all, if Thesis is such a small part of the WordPress community as a whole and of even the premium theme community, can you just agree to disagree on this case and accept that he has a difference of opinion on this? Let him do business his way without confrontation?

Matt: I think the issue there is that, one, it’s a violation of the license and if we allow someone to violate the license so blatantly, so publicly, and he is not being quiet. He does tell other people that GPL doesn’t fly. That it doesn’t matter. He’s threatened . . .

Chris: When I’m asked. Because people keep asking.

Matt: They keep asking because it’s a violation of the license and when you violate someone’s license it is breaking the law. It’s a definition of breaking the law.

Andrew; So, if he agrees not to discuss this issue publicly, would you agree to step away from the issue and just agree to disagree and continue to just each do business without each other?

Matt: I’ve recently started to, because, you know, Chris promotes these things by pointing to premium users like Laughing Squid, Mapcuts, and such. I’ve recently started talking to these folks about why they chose Thesis.

Chris: Poaching my users basically. He just bragged earlier about how Laughing Squid left the platform. Matt, don’t frame it like it is some generous thing that you’re doing. You’re trying to poach the top users. To hurt us from the top. Don’t act like it is not calculated. Come on.

Matt: I’m not poaching. I’m not making money from these people. They just weren’t aware.

Chris: It’s not about money, Matt. We both know that.

Matt: Excuse me. Let me finish. They didn’t know about the GPL issue. You know, once they knew that it was in violation of WordPress’ license, you know, this is obviously something that I think as more people are aware of the violation they probably might want to make a different choice with regards to the theme. If that could encourage Chris and all that seems to matter is the bottom line, if that could encourage him to respect WordPress’ license that would be a great outcome.

Andrew: I see. Chris, here’s a question I have for you. If you could be convinced that you can take possession of Thesis, or at least the key parts of it that make it Thesis, and have some control over where Thesis goes and how people promote it so that the example that I gave about WooThemes wouldn’t apply to you. I couldn’t set up a Thesis knock-off website. If you could be convinced that you could continue to do business under GPL, would you?

Chris: It’s not that I think I can’t do business under GPL.

Andrew: I mean, maintain your revenue and profits.

Chris: I think the license, the GPL, is at odds with how I want to distribute my software and what I want it to be. I don’t think that it necessarily should inherit WordPress’ license when over 99% of the code within Thesis is Thesis code base don the actual process of building a website. Certain processes that occur in nature can be describes mathematically by code. I am trying to describe it with code. I am describing a process that exists separate from WordPress or from any piece of software that deals with website development for that matter. It’s its own thing.

Andrew: You’re a businessman. Part of you doesn’t want this. You don’t want Matt to go out to The Laughing Squid. You don’t want the threat of a lawsuit. Is there a way that you can adopt the GPL, be whole with yourself, and maintain your business? If there were, would you feel comfortable doing that?

Chris: Well, I said, it’s as simple as I don’t think that some license that I didn’t come up with and don’t really want to apply to my piece of software applies to this independent thing which is Thesis that exists, that I built. Why should I, I don’t think the GPL applies. If I am just sitting here, in an insulated booth, in my own little world, I’m not dreaming up that the GPL should apply to Thesis and I don’t want it to. That’s what I am saying. It’s not about, ‘Can it work?’ It might work. I don’t want it. It’s not how I chose to do it. I am free to choose. I have that right.

Andrew: But your choice depends on what is good for your business and it doesn’t seem to make sense to continue to battle the WordPress community or at least to battle Matt’s influence in it. Also, I know that you are a man of convictions; I’ve seen you say things on Twitter that I sat there reading and said, ‘Well, why does he want to engage in that political argument. It can’t be good for business.’ But I realize, you know what, ‘Chris wants to stand up for what he believes, even if it doesn’t come across, even if it doesn’t win him any new business.’ You also have an open mind. If you could be convinced that this is the right thing legally, would you be open to it?

Chris: yeah, if I thought something was a better answer, absolutely. I am always open to that. The truth is, I had to think about this issue for a couple years now. I put a lot of thought into it. There was actually a time when I was pretty sure I was going to go GPL.

Andrew: Why? Why were you going to do it?

Chris: I believed that this whole concept of flow, there seems to be some gnashing teeth here between Thesis and WordPress. Obviously, it seems better for all parties involved if there is just a natural flow and no gnashing of teeth. A confluence of developmental direction and of what you’re trying to achieve. It seems to me that would produce a better overall result in the end. However, however, I think any astute economic analysis of economic systems of the way businesses and economies actually work would very quickly notice that the GPL does some very inorganic things to what are otherwise organic systems. From a systemic standpoint, on a systemic level, I disagree with the way that the GPL perpetuates economies.

Matt: Andrew, do you mind if I address that for a second?

Andrew: Absolutely.

Matt: I just wanted to point out two examples. One of the premium theme developers, WooThemes, got involved with WordPress. I promote WooThemes all the time and they actually contributed code that later became WordPress 3.0’s menu system, which now benefits the whole community, including Thesis.

Two, you mentioned Bryan Gardner earlier saying that the only reason that he switched was that he thought he would get more business or something like that. I think he did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. He did just Tweet out that he thinks that, ‘StudioPress has higher sales now (being GPL) with 100’s of competitors, than when Revolution wasn’t GPL and had none. My sales have increased since I went GPL. I have zero regrets.’ That’s one of the original premium theme guys testify how his own business has gone. Chris is a very savvy businessman. I am sure he would do just fine and even better if I were able to point people to him.

Andrew: Chris, from a business point of view, does it make sense?

Chris: What, the GPL?

Andrew: For you to adopt it, yeah?

Chris: I don’t know. I thought I just explained that in detail. I think that it produces skewed results in natural economic systems and I don’t want to reproduce those skews into my . . .

Andrew: That’s more of a political, macroeconomic answer. What about for your business?

Chris: I think that is how you conduct a proper analysis and chose what is good for your business. By seeing how systems work and what consequences are when you introduce inorganic things into those systems. When you introduce inefficiencies like the GPL on natural things.

Andrew: I see. Is this coming from a libertarian point of view?

Chris: I wouldn’t say at all. I have no political affiliations like that at all.

Andrew: Okay.

Chris: I am just someone who is very interested in economics, economic systems, also in systems in general. Coding, the whole practice, is developing a system to describe another system. All the system thinking that I do has me on a constant search for more information about systems and really trying to understand how they work. I’m not claiming that I’m some kind of genius about systems. I’m not. I learn something new every day and it is fascinating and wonderful. When I encounter something like the GPL that seems contrary to many things that I have learned and experienced in my own life, yeah, I am going to be hesitant to adopt it because my learning and my experience suggest otherwise.

Matt: I don’t know how to respond to that because I don’t entirely understand what it meant. But I can point to the examples in WordPress. My own business brings in millions of dollars to WordPress businesses, many hundreds millions of dollars if you include the webhosts all complaint with the GPL. Base don that data the GPL is not incompatible with flourishing business.

Andrew: It seems, Chris, to violate your sense of right and wrong. Do I have that right?

Chris: Yes, but it’s no so much like a right and wrong in the context that most people get it. I just think it’s not the right way to set up a business and an economic system. It’s not like I think that, you know, this isn’t some moral debate. I just wanted to make sure that everyone understands that it is definitely not on those grounds at all.

Andrew: What would it take to convince you to adopt it?

Chris: I mean, like I said, Andrew, I think the GPL is something that is artificial and improper to induce upon a system. I don’t think it is a good thing. Nothing is going to convince me to do something that I think is a bad idea. Nothing.

Matt: Well, then why build on a GPL platform. If you’re right than WordPress is going to go away and go out of business soon. Why not pick something that wasn’t GPL?

Chris: Well, that may be true but number one, I’ve been building on WordPress for a long time. Number 2, WordPress has the huge market presence that you talked about. Its like, do you want to release a video tape for Beta or VHS? The smart one is for VHS. Regardless of what I think about that.

It pays to mention, when I started Thesis. I didn’t know about any of this. I wasn’t prepared for all this. This has grown and this issue has grown, as this has happened I was already on WordPress. I don’t want these problems. I just wish everybody would be quiet about the issue. However, now that we, you know, have come to the point where we are, I understand more about the situation, others understand more about the situation, we’ll be able to make some educated choices about the future. What reasonable business person is going to say, ‘I no longer agree with this,’ and just cut the umbilical cord like that when you have thousands and thousands of customers. No one would do that. I encourage a little bit of sympathy and understanding for my position and exactly why I haven’t taken some sort of brash action. I’m trying to think about everyone involved here.

Andrew: You’re saying, this is your livelihood and you can’t do that to your livelihood.

Chris: Well, I’m not going to do that to the people who are relying on me to provide them with solutions.

Andrew: You talked in your interview about all the people who are depending on Thesis and the company behind it.

Chris: Yeah. Right. Exactly.

Andrew: Matt, so if he doesn’t back away from his position right now. You’re not going to sue him. Right? You don’t want to sue a member of the community. You don’t want to sue someone who is so well known and loved in this space. Do you?

Matt: I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

Andrew: Does that mean that you are thinking of doing it?

Matt: Well, if in the WordPress community people started deciding that the GPL doesn’t apply that’s a very, very slippery slope. Not just for WordPress but for all of open source. Like you said, there hasn’t been a court case yet in the United States because every company, including big ones like Cisco, have backed down. If Chris wants to be the court case that proves the GPL, I am sure there are many people in the open source community that would love that opportunity.

Andrew: What’s your position? Do you want to do this? Are you thinking of doing it?

Matt: I wasn’t before. However, it sounds like Chris, like a business argument isn’t going to change his mind. It sounds like, you know, all the legal analysis from the biggest experts in the world isn’t going to change his mind. Chris has just decided that the license doesn’t apply to him and so he shouldn’t have to care about it. That’s breaking the law.

Chris: I mean, you know, when I was in college in Georgia apparently it was illegal, in the Georgia State Doctrine, it was illegal to get a blowjob in the State of Georgia. But that’s one of those laws that’s never enforced. That brings up a valid question. What kind of law is it if it I unenforceable?

Matt: I think it’s the same kind of law that . . .

Chris: Is a license a law? I’m not familiar that it’s a law. I know it’s a license. I didn’t know it’s a law.

Matt: It’s law. It’s the same law that you feel protects your work and your license and the distribution or not distribution of Thesis. Yes. I think it is completely valid. It is also important on behalf of the WordPress community that has invested thousand of man-years in creating software under this license. It would be disrespectful to all of those people who consciously chose to be involved in a project that used a GPL to say that the GPL doesn’t matter, it can be violated, and it isn’t enforceable.

Andrew: Chris, what do you think about that? The threat of a lawsuit isn’t something that you want in your business. That would also threaten your business and the people who depend on it.

Chris: I’m not worried about threats. That doesn’t motivate me or sway me one way or the other. If it happens, it happens. I mean, I’m ready. I’ve accepted the position that I’m in. I’ve found peace with it. I feel comfortable with my method of operation and where I stand. If it happens, it does. If it doesn’t it doesn’t. I don’t really care.

Andrew: If you could be convinced that this is the right way for your business and the right away in general, would you change? Would you make this change?

Chris: What? To go GPL?

Andrew: Yeah.

Chris: I’ve explained it so many times. No.

Andrew: No.

Chris: until I look at this and see or think and realize that there may be some kind of true distinct advantage without long-term problems and other things then I might. But at this time, I think my method of operation is exactly congruent with my feelings about everything. I feel good. I am operating in a method that is harmonious with my existence and everything it has been about up to today.

Andrew: Chris, that’s, I’ll tell you why that’s hard to hear, because it sounds like what you’re saying to Matt is, ‘Unless you guys come at me full force, I don’t have enough incentive to change and I don’t want to change. I’m not going to.’

Chris: I mean, I guess that’s that if you’re going to be upset about something and say that somebody is breaking the law and whatnot I suggest you back that up with some real action. Otherwise, it’s just idle threats.

Andrew: Chris, why are you saying that? You’re saying, ‘Sue me.’

Chris: I’m not saying, all I am saying is that if you are going to hurl accusations you should back them up. All I am saying is substantive evidence. Every empirical claim should be and must be backed up with actual evidence and facts or it is based on nothing. It is nothing more than rhetoric. I don’t have time for rhetoric. I have time for action.

Andrew: I see. So, you want a settlement to this issue. It sounds like Matt wants a settlement to this issue. You are both thinking that the best way to do it is with a court case. If not a court case, it doesn’t make sense to keep having conversations and discussions like this.

Chris: I agree. I don’t think anybody said that.

Matt: I would love for Chris to just use the GPL. Everyone else in the WordPress community already complies with the license. It’s not like this is some weird niche interpretation of the GPL. This is what the entire legal community believes except for one guy in Florida. I would love for Chris to just come on over.

Chris: That’s another irresponsible statement from you, Matt. That’s not what the entire legal community believes. How can you even make such a claim? You have to start checking what you’re saying because of your position. You have to. It’s your responsibility.

Andrew: Do you want to give another example or two? I think someone else in the audience was asking for it?

Matt: I forgot that you were one of the top three people in WordPress and that I should check with you before I say anything. Just in general, or. . .

Andrew: No, that’s not necessary. Chris, do you want to bring up another person so that we’re not just left with that one lawyer? Do you have any other persons at your fingertips that you can bring up? Another legal name.

Chris: I think there have been a lot of posts.

Andrew: Okay.

Chris: I don’t have anything right this second pulled up.

Matt: I’m going to point to the three organizations, the Free Software Foundation, which is the creator of the GPL. They wrote the GPL license and have been at the center of it for 20 to 30 years now. I will also point to the Software Freedom Law Center, the pro bono lawyers behind every single GPL case that has ever happened. Third, Heather Meeker who is the chief counsel for Mozilla, an intellectual property attorney, dealing with intellectual property and open source for at least a dozen years now.

Andrew: Would you two be willing to have a private conversation about this with the goal of not letting the other person know what your point of view is and why it is right, but the goal of trying to find a way where you can both live together comfortably?

Matt: I would just want to say that I’ve tried to contact Chris privately before. I would happily promote Thesis, send people to Thesis, and love Thesis, whatever. I’d switch my own site to Thesis. Just come over to GPL. It’s not hard.

Andrew: Would you switch your own site to Thesis with a link to Thesis if Chris went GPL?

Matt: [laughs] I really said that, didn’t I?

Andrew: Sounds like you would. Chris, now you have a business decision to make. Does that make enough sense for you? Does the traffic and the reputation that comes from that help?

Chris: Well, Andrew, the thing about that, there is no incentive that incentivized me to do anything. My decisions come from within. My motivation comes from within. I don’t care what anyone does. I don’t care if the whole world sets me up and says, ‘You’re president of the world now,’ because it doesn’t matter to me. All that matters to me is how I feel inside, and I don’t feel like it’s right for me or my business. That’s all.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Then I don’t think it’s fair for me to try to make you change that point of view. What I was trying to do here was bring the two of you together and if I couldn’t do that to at least give you an open forum to express how you honestly feel. I think we’ve got how each of you feels. I think we did it in a way that shows respect for the other person’s point of view and at least the ability for the other person to express that point of view. I think we accomplished what we set out here to do. At least, well, we didn’t accomplish my big goal, which was bringing the two of you together, but at least we did allow each of you to say where you stand.

Final word, Chris. Then final word, Matt.

Chris: Nothing. I appreciate you having this interview, Andrew. I think that many people in the community are going to appreciate that. I think that it’s good to have this kind of live interaction. Matt, I appreciate you. I definitely appreciate you coming on here today, too. I think that just sharing information and being honest instead of all these one-sided things where somebody says something terrible over here and others re-tweet that and all this bad information is perpetuated, to have a self-contained conversation like this, where details can be hammered out seems to make a lot of sense. I appreciate that as somebody who just wants honest information to be out there. I don’t want Matt to be being hammered by people who are fans of me. I don’t want to be hammered by his fans. I think that everybody should be able to behave in a respectful manner and get the facts straight, or at least get some information in a forum where it makes sense. I think you’ve provided that. I think that’s wonderful. Thank you.

Andrew: Thanks, Chris. Matt, final word?

Matt: I think that the facts basically come down to three basic things. One, going GPL is the right thing to do. You don’t want to be at odds with the platform that your entire business is built on. Like I said, WordPress is a very large community. That’s apparently why he chose it as opposed to a different platform. However, when you chose software, you abide by its license just like you would want people who use Theis to abide by its license. Second, I believe it is the legal thing to do. Some of the best legal minds have looked at this issue, at WordPress, and at Thesis and have decided. Three, I just think it is good businesses. Many other businesses made the switch. You have direct analogs to what Chris could do here. In addition, back to the first point, you want to be aligned with the platform you built on. In summation, those are the three things I believe. Again, thank you Andrew for bringing together this special.

Andrew: Thank you both, Matt and Chris. Thank you both for coming here and talking about this. I was really hoping that I could bring the two of you here and have some kind of understanding that would work for both of you, but as I said, if we can’t have that at least we had a discussion where you could each express your point of view and we could all learn from it. Thank you guys.

Thank you all for watching and listening. Bye.

This transcription brought to you by www.SpeechPad.com.

335 thoughts on “Would WordPress Sue The Maker Of Thesis, A Leading WordPress Theme? – with Chris Pearson and Matt Mullenweg

  1. Jason says:

    round and round we go

  2. Great convo. Thanks for having them andrew.

  3. I think matt's comment about genesis/nintendo is spot on. ~~> (hardware – to – software) is not the same as wordpress (software – to – software)… i think chris' attempt to use that as a strong point is not a 1:1 and pretty weak.

    chris has definitely contributed a lot to wordpress but perhaps not as much as he believes. credit is due tho!

  4. David Spinks says:

    Tough argument here. Looks like the only way it won't end badly is if Chris swallows his pride and goes GPL.

    When it comes down to it, without WordPress, Thesis won't be successful, at least not to the extent that it is now.

    Hope they can come to an understanding as they're both providing a great service that would be a shame to lose.

    David, Scribnia

  5. chriswallace says:

    I love John Saddington.

  6. Jcf2q says:

    This interview had 50 in the chat room.. I know that doesn't sound like an outstanding number, but it's normally 25 and the highest I've seen by far in months..

  7. Chris should really be careful that EFF doesn't get on his ass!

  8. elramirez says:

    Thesis is not just another business using wordpress as a CMS, is an extension for it built upon it's code which otherwise would have not existed if wordpress was closed software. Or am i wrong?

  9. Will says:

    sounds like Chris is fresh off of reading Ayn Rand's work.

  10. spencer says:

    No blow jobs?

  11. Frankie says:

    nice fucking transcript

  12. Sean says:

    Who ever it was in the chat said it best, “your server is going down tonight, Andrew.”

  13. Thomas Millner says:

    The thing that has become most apparent from listening to this interview, is that Chris' ego is at least the size of Texas.

  14. myflungabung says:

    Matt. Sue Chris's arrogant arse.

  15. Sean Fallows says:

    According to Lawrence Rosen (IP law specialist, and OSI general counsel) “The primary indication of whether a new program is a derivative work is whether the source code of the original program was used [in a copy-paste sense], modified, translated or otherwise changed in any way to create the new program. If not, then I would argue that it is not a derivative work”

    source http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/6366

    He has built software that works with GPL software but is not derivative work.
    Additionally Matt quoting WooThemes founder is just crap, the license he choose did not make his premium themes a success it was that his product and company matured and grew.

  16. STHayden says:

    Matt Mullenweg is, in general, the nicest person in the world and if you can actually find a point of contention with him then you are doing something wrong.

  17. RLCrocker says:

    Interesting debate… I'm 100% committed to open source but Pearson makes a good case. I haven't used Thesis at all but if Pearson's extensions add as much as he says then he should have the right to use the license he feels most comfortable with.

  18. gnomeontherun says:

    After hearing this conversation, regardless of what I think about the topic I feel very turned off by Chris. I won't be buying Thesis, and as a resident of Texas I can say his ego is even bigger than Texas. He won't even close his mouth long enough to hear someone, and calls himself in the top 3 important people in WordPress.

    I'm 100% on Matts side, software that requires another piece of software should respect the license of the parent software. GPL says all things running on WP should be GPL. Period. Chris's business would not be hurt by going GPL, in fact I believe it would give it more credibility.

  19. I think Chris is doing to WordPress, what he doesn't what to be done to his Theme. Violate the restrictions on the license.

  20. Basically, the best explanation of what went on was this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JGQUEnpTkw

    And as for the Top 3 people of WP, sorry Jane, I would have put you on up there :/

  21. Sofisticated says:

    The GPL is not the most popular license, it's the most discussed. The BSD license, alone, dwarfs GPL software.

  22. Matt Butson says:

    Thesis is still available via Torrent! haha.

  23. If Chris isn't happy with the License and has built all the structures and the likes that means that he doesn't need WordPress, as I believe he said, fine, walk away and don't use WordPress. If this comment about not needing WordPress isn't true, then suck it up Princess and follow the license!

  24. ASKJDOG says:

    I'm sorry.. but Chris is a good bullshitter, and I will admit a good communicator (I know a little about this, as when not working in the telecoms engineering industry I teach communication skills).. and I think perhaps the definition of douchbag.. yes, I said it! I've met Matt, and he is the nicest person in the world you could have an intelligent conversation with. Chris is obviously all about the money, which is fine, but I think he can comply with the GPL license he develops on and make the same profitable business.

    Chris is making money of the WordPress platform, if he hates the open source licensing of it so much, then just develop, and market on another platform.

    My vote.. WordPress a game changer.. Matt a high calibre individual.. Chris I'm not so sure about. He likes to try to bamboozle people with his 'views' using decent use of manipulative language, but I'm not sold on the guy.

  25. Vak says:

    wow!!! this was awesome andrew…very powerful…i think you should have more of this with other guests…you're onto something here

  26. Ryan says:

    Wow! That interview came across really bad for Chris Pearson.

    I never really he was such an arrogant little prat until hearing that interview.

  27. Ian R says:

    How is this even an argument? Chris unknowingly built software on-top of GPL'd software and didn't respect the license. (“When I started thesis, I didn't know about any of this…”) Now he's getting pissy about the authors of WordPress calling him out on it?

    People make mistakes… own up to the mistake. Tell everyone you messed up and didn't recognize the GPL problem when starting, and you're correcting it. People respect that. But, the whole “Sue me” attitude is just lame.

    Or, Chris needs to develop his own standalone product with its own license. Don't agree with the license, don't develop on-top of it. Plenty of companies do this and do great.

    How is this even an argument, really?

  28. Firas says:

    How's he gonna say he's the top 3 drivers in WordPress history with Matt & Mark Jaquith? Wow. All that shows is that he's a Johnny-come-lately who has no respect for the culture and history of the community. Which would be okay as far as the technical issue here is concerned except that he's also flagrantly violating a binding license as verified by the top intellectual property authorities on WP's GPL license.

  29. lol… yeah you get that in the first minute :/

  30. thesis is crap – use genesis

  31. Andrew – great interview! Chris, come on man… you're asking for it. Thesis for Drupal anyone? LOL

  32. Luke says:

    I'd like to see Chris's opinion after he see's a lawyer.

  33. Alex M. says:

    This is what the Software Freedom Law Center has to say on the matter:


    The tl;dr is since the theme requires WordPress to work and uses WordPress functionality, it is therefore a derivative work and is required to be GPL.

  34. Ileane says:

    Andrew, you have done a fantastic job of providing this interview to the community. This is classic stuff and your hard work to pull this off cannot be overlooked.

    There comes a time when people are just that – people, and bloggers are the BEST people around. Every blogger who listens to even the first 5 minutes of this episode will realize that Thesis might not be around much longer. I know that if I used Thesis I would be looking for another theme right now. I mean it's nice and all but WORDPRESS ROCKS! Thesis is debatable (as you can see).

  35. Agus Suhanto says:

    I'm on the matt side. Thesis is only one of thousands WordPress theme available out there. The one that matter is WordPress. WordPress can live without Thesis but not vice versa.

  36. Scott Maentz says:

    As a paid Thesis user, I had no idea about this issue. I am blown away by Chris' arrogance and disrespect for the GPL license. Although Chris has received my money for my current sites, I'll definitely be looking for an alternative for future clients. While Thesis is a great theme, there are MANY others. Bottom line, if you are going to build your business on a given platform you must respect its license. I'd love to see this go to court. It's obvious to me who the winner will be.

  37. TheSpotter says:

    While I never liked Chirs's theme I respect his work but he is on loosing side of argument. Seems like simple enough decisions for him, as someone pointed earlier article on GPL and WP themes:


    He can easily make his CSS as Non-GPL and make all php as GPL, which would put him in compliance with the CORE that his theme requires to operate. At least right now. While I know Drupal and Joomla are big – if he walks away from WP – he will loose his most enthusiastic supporter base.

  38. Cory says:

    I'm with Chris, although he didn't do himself any favors here. Mullenweg needs to let it go – keep building WordPress and let the free market work itself out. There's no reason for WordPress to the bully. More of my thoughts here: http://post.ly/nHXc

  39. John Gardner says:

    Scott, you're assuming the stance taken by Matt and WordPress is the correct one. The stance taken by WordPress is the opinion of 1 lawyer working at 1 organization. There are dissenting opinions (such as http://perpetualbeta.com/release/2009/11/why-th…). Right now, no one knows which stance is the correct one, legally, because it's never been tested in court.

    For all we know, the GPL may not apply to themes and Chris could totally be in the right here. Until a court decides, the issue is not resolved.

  40. Monika says:

    Chris has just lost me thanks to his oversized ego. I think it's a shame that a guy of his stature and fame can't retain some sense of humbleness. There is no doubt that he has achieved a lot with the Thesis themes, but the way he came across in this interview is like a kid that is close to losing his favorite toy – a real sissy!

  41. Agata says:

    I think Chris is right, and if Matt doesn't agree, go to court. Its annoying to listen this conversation to be honest. Matt is making big deal out of nothing to be honest. What Chris done is what is lacking in WordPress.

  42. Ade Lack says:

    Oh Matt, come on dude you know the only way to end this is in court. An argument of two different interpretations of a license aired in public will never be solved any other way.

    For anybody that thinks Thesis can not stand up without wordpress give me a break! If a Thesis for Tumblr had just half the functionality of that ThesisWP has I would be on it! WordPress is in big trouble without focused, talented and independent developers like Chris pushing forward the bounderies of whats possible. Lets face it, WordPress was a revolutionary product. But 3.0 was hardly a revolutionary update, good maybe but definately not revolutionary!

    I would suggest in total contradiction to Matt's view, WordPress is actually relient on the third party themes and plugins community and would not be here today without them. How many WordPress sites do you know of that do not use any third party software to achieve their desired function as a site?

    The other issue I have with GPL maybe due to my lack of knowledge but… Matt stated the GPL lisence is 30 years old. Shit! and you think it is still relevant today? So when this lisence was put together nobody, not even the very first pioneers of the internet could have imagined this particular software and this particular situation. Has the GPL lisence been updated in the last 5 years? If not I really struggle to see how it could possible not be outdated and entirely irrelevant!

    Hey, maybe that should be how Matt resolves this? Instead of spending on taking Chris to court, how about investing with those legal buddies and coming up with a relevant to todays web world lisence. WordPress would make for a great flagship for the new lisence and Matt will have again revolutionized the open source software industry.

    Much love to Andrew and Mixergy.com for getting this disagreement away from sniping tweets and onto an excellent platform for the discussion.

  43. Ade Lack says:

    Oh… and Matt, thanks for the tip off that WooThemes are all GPL. I'm off to sell me some themes!

    Only kidding of course Adii, but I think my point is clear.

  44. Jacob says:

    Sue that jerk. I respected Chris until I heard this interview. What a prick. Why would you slander the guy who built the platform you are profiting from? Dude, chill out. Put your ego in check. Take an Ambien. Stop ruining your reputation.

  45. Matt Butson says:

    Eh, Im not too impressed. Headway is better than both.

  46. Jum10 says:

    One thing was clear: Chris is using the “I don't feel I have to if I don't want to” arguement and ignoring facts. It reminds me of Limewire, Pirate Bay, etc, who talked it all up but only understood one thing – a lawsuit. Limewire and Pirate Bay got slammed in court and they snapped right in line. Chris wants it both ways – wants to use the best product and run it on his terms. Sorry, when you use someone elses product, you use it on their terms.

    Sue him Matt. And one things Thesis absolutely sucks in is good-looking themes. So if Chris is so concerned about user experience, get on that.

    Please, Chris, stop making yourself the victim here: 27,000 installs at even $50 a pop ~ $1.5 million – all from a product you didn't develop.

    Nuff said.

  47. Ominous Bob says:

    Who gives a fuck. Mullenweg is a fucking tool.

  48. TCWriter says:

    Pearson's personal ethics are somewhat malleable; has he forgotten how he promised early Thesis buyers a “free” magazine theme, then later basically said “Sorry, changed my mind”?

  49. CRC says:

    Honestly, I don’t think anybody can say for sure what the end-result will be regarding this licensing issue. But I’m still a bit flabbergasted as to why there is this latent animosity/vilification toward Chris Pearson and his Thesis theme in the WordPress community. Had he only sold half a dozen themes, this wouldn’t have made a footnote in the WP blogosphere and everybody would’ve continued on their merry ways.

    The mere fact is that he’s a talented dev/designer who lucked out, entering the premium theme market when it ramped up and everybody hopped on the WP bandwagon. His combined earnings probably surpassed a year’s worth of Automattic payroll alone, but you know what? I don’t see any dev/designer pulling off that same stunt, as the WP market is becoming extremely saturated in this area (http://designm.ag/interviews/wordpress-theme-se…).

    Chris clearly dedicated a lot of time and resources into one product he wants to secure through a paywall and more control with more rights. But because Thesis has become a cash cow with 27K+ downloads, there is so much uproar about it. Again, had he only earned a hundred bucks or so, he wouldn’t be in the spotlight. Right now, he can strong arm people (http://blogigs.com/the-thesis-like-theme/) and while it’s rebellious, unprofessional and tacky, to say the least, as soon as Thesis shifts to GPL, this type of code lifting will happen again and he’ll probably lose any desire to advance the theme down the road. If he goes this route, he might as well give himself a pay cut now, since there is no ironclad guarantee his sales will increase otherwise.

    If you rally enough people to join a mudslinging contest, that attitude will eventually grate on you (http://bbpress.org/forums/topic/whats-happening…) much like it has grated on Chris. Yes, he lots of, if not too much, bravado, but there has been so much bad mojo when it comes to his Thesis theme and I don’t think he deserves all the negativity either – and I’ve never even used any of his work.

    I suggest we either censor ourselves and not mention Chris/Thesis/this GPL debacle and leave him alone, or Automattic should sue DYI Themes and put the nail in the coffin already. Leave it up to the courts to decide who’s right and let that set precedent for everything else, so we can all finally move forward and focus more on the development of WP/BP.

  50. KB says:

    Did you miss the section where is explicitly says that only parts of a WP theme should fall under the GPL?

    Hmm, maybe that was in the section you labeled tl;dr.

  51. KB says:

    “Bottom line, if you are going to build your business on a given platform you must respect its license.”

    Bottom line, you're incorrect.

  52. Gavin says:

    lol he wants people to respect his licences but he wont respect WordPress's licence, what a fool

  53. I can't stand genesis. I use Thesis for a handful of sites but I think Headway is SLICK.

  54. Gavin says:

    I can only really see two outcomes in court.
    1) You are in violation of the GPL and so must bring the business into line with the GPL immediately.

    2) You have a successful product that relies on a GPL platform/code base, if you dont want to folle the GPL then remove all parts of the code that use the GPL.

    Either way, he has to change, not the GPL

  55. Ayn Rand advocated property rights– Copyright Protection falls under that. She never believed that one person could purchase a book from the library, make 100,000 copies and sell it for $1 or for free.

    Chris is not a libertarian, nothing close. Libertarians respect private ownership and property rights, as its foundation of philisophical and even political thought.

    When Chris talks about the economics of an “inorganic” addition to the WordPress market, he is so incredibly incoherent in basic economic terminology it was hard to follow. What I got from it was, if you have to do something for free the economy will fall. He is misguiding. If you are FORCED to do something for free, it will fall. And second, you can always move to another economy (From WordPress to Drupal, if he so pleased.)

    A revealing interview of the intellectual backing of Chris's non-response to GPL and basic Copyright law.

  56. I posted the following on a comment, but I think for clarification's sake, the point should be made.

    Ayn Rand advocated property rights– Copyright Protection falls under that. She never believed that one person could purchase a book from the library, make 100,000 copies and sell it for $1 or for free.

    Chris is not a libertarian, nothing close. Libertarians respect private ownership and property rights, as its foundation of philisophical and even political thought.

    When Chris talks about the economics of an “inorganic” addition to the WordPress market, he is so incredibly incoherent in basic economic terminology it was hard to follow. What I got from it was, if you have to do something for free the economy will fall. He is misguiding. If you are FORCED to do something for free, it will fall. And second, you can always move to another economy (From WordPress to Drupal, if he so pleased.)

    A revealing interview of the intellectual backing of Chris's non-response to GPL and basic Copyright law.

  57. Todd Libby says:

    Thesis is an over-blown, bloated piece of crap. Too much put into it to do too little. With that said, I could care less about what both sides are crying over. I will NEVER buy a theme that will make someone else money. Especially one as garbage as Thesis, from an egomaniac like Pearson. Only thing I can end this comment with is, they can both swallow their own pride and drown in it.

  58. Guest says:

    Since themes are uncompiled, there is nothing at all to prevent their redistribution, except a vigilant and sympathetic community of developers looking out for their own.

    How's Chris doing on that front?

  59. Guest says:

    Good point! So since Thesis uses the source code of the original program, it is a derivative work and under the GPL. Case Closed!

  60. Guest says:

    No, bottom line YOU are incorrect!
    Irrefutable FTW!!

  61. Guest says:

    It is SO annoying, rite? I am sooo annoyed!
    To end the annoyance, I just put Thesis on bittorrent. There! I fixed your licensing dispute!

  62. Guest says:

    GPL is 30 years old? That is WAY OLD? Like, how old is money? That stuff is OLD!!! Totally Irrelevant!!!

  63. Anthonybjack says:

    Get your copy of thesis 1.7 now for free on demonoid.com

  64. Thank you Andrew for bringing the to key figures in this ongoing debate together for a public discussion about how they are really feeling about this issue. I find far more value in this medium than trying to put the pieces together from 'passionate' tweets by fans on both sides.

    Personally I like you hope there can be a peaceful resolution in the near future as I think both Matt and Chris at the core are passionate about the same platform.

    best regards

  65. OMG this Chris guy has no idea what is he talking about. Clearly he hasn't read the GPL licence and has no understanding of how Free Software works. I say screw it, they should SUE him and they'll win for sure. Arrogant/egoistic prick.

  66. If Thesis is totally

  67. If Thesis is so independent of WordPress why didn't he just develop his own backend or build it on another CMS?

  68. Dale says:

    It's unlikely, but Chris, I want my $87 back. This interview underlines the manic, self-promotional crap that I've heard from Pearson before: After I bought Thesis, I subscribed to his twitter feed, then quickly blocked it, because he overshares and rants. And by manic, I do mean emotionally disturbed. He could have his premium theme revenue and show love to the WP community, but instead he obsesses on the WP dev team's “ideology,” which he seems to think is preventing his success. To get more business from people like me—people running WP business sites—he needs to provide actual support, and communicate his dev plans on time and in detail. To get more revenue through affiliates, he needs to care about and invest in quality interaction with users. Who goes into interviews so unprepared, with no numbers, and says crap like “I don't want to look that up right now.” Apparently, Chris Pearson.

  69. Jimbo says:

    WOW, amazing interview. Best I ever read.

  70. Joss says:

    Matt – “Sorry, I'm just trying to finish my sentence”


    Chris Pearson is insufferable!

    He thinks that the GPL is restrictive and unethical…

    …but without it he'd be just another geek developer, hating the world because he had no money.

  71. Ade Lack says:

    Yep, money is old. But it is constantly evolving too. Coinage and bank notes are constantly being taken out of circulation and new iterations being added. The first I can remember in my life time here in the UK was the 1/2 pence coin. Now long gone and rightly so, it would be completely irrelevant today, we just don't need it! Or more recently the 2 pound coin, not previously needed ( the 1 pound coin and 5 pound note was fine ), today is very common.

    How about the Euro? 30 years ago simply no need for it. A recent addition to the worlds currencies, a necessity because of the changes in Europe and it's laws, as well as the evolution of world trade.

    I dont know the GPL inside out, has it evolved in the last five years? Or is it outdated and now a bad tool for the purpose it was invented?

  72. Sctld says:

    This “built on top” phrase is a red herring. When it comes to copyright (and the GPL is enforced through copyright laws), what matters is whether or not Thesis is a derivative work of WordPress, not what's underneath or who's on top. If Chris' statement that Thesis doesn't inherit anything from WordPress is true, then in what way can Thesis be said to be a derivative work?

    If I write a programme for Linux, am I required to release said programme under GPL?

  73. Singpolyma says:

    Matt is almost right. Thesis doesn't have to be GPL, but it does have to be under a license that gives uses the same freedoms. It could be ISC or any other compatible license. Chris thinking it doesn't apply to him is laughable, and he should really look at things like the ZFS problem.

    Matt, if this keeps up… yes, lawsuits are ugly. But licenses need to be enforced or they're just hot air. Team up with SFLC and crush him. You can't make him change the license, but you can put him out of business.

  74. Jum10 says:


    I guess one has to also ask, hypothetically, would Chris have been as successful using another CMS platform? I don't know too much about all the various options out there but WP seems to be the leader so it would be fair to say he wouldn't have been as successful.

    It's simple minded when someone says “I'm following what's best for me” and doesn't consider the legal implications. Isn't this what people who make pirated copies of DVDs say? Or people who add their own words to a speech they just plagiarized?

    Chris might build a decent product but he lacks any moral integrity.

  75. Peter says:

    what precisely is lacking in WP?

  76. Jeffro says:

    New versions of the GPL have been written aka GPLv3. WordPress is and will highly likely always be GPLv2 because in order to change the license, Matt would need to contact everyone that has ever contributed code to the core of WordPress and ask them for their permission to have the license changed.

    For anybody that thinks Thesis can not stand up without wordpress give me a break!

    Why don't you give me a break. That's about the dumbest thing I've read in a long time. WordPress is not dependent on any third party plugin or theme. Sure, the third party community is one of the pillars for success for WordPress but it's not dependent on any of it in order to function.

    Also, you need to at least understand the freedoms that are granted to end users by using software licensed under the GPLv2. What Chris is doing is building a product that highly involves interacting with GPL licensed software and if the courts can determine that it's a derivative work, than by law, that license should be passed down to the theme as well. Chris thinks he can lock people within his own walled garden with his Pearson license but that's not how it works. You don't build on top of or work with software that is GPL that grants freedoms and then take those freedoms away.

  77. Stevo64 says:

    In the end nobody's “opinion” will matter on this topic. It seems likely that after years of litigation the courts will decide that WordPress can not force others to offer their own code under GPL but that since code like that in Thesis does depend on the GPL-licensed code within WP in order to be operable, Chris will probably lose the legal argument. Thanks to Andrew, Matt and Chris for discussing this in such an open forum; hate to see it go to court, but in the end, establishing actual legal precedent seems to be the logical outcome.

  78. concrete5 says:

    Wow, interesting stuff. As much as Chris might have come off poorly in this interview, I think he's actually right, assuming that Thesis doesn't include a copy of WordPress. The GPL is all about distribution, so if I can go pay $50 and download a functioning app called Thesis that includes a copy of WordPress, Chris is clearly in violation of the license.

    If however I have to go get WordPress on its own, then install Thesis on top of it, I believe Thesis is actually honoring the letter of the license (if not perhaps the intent.)

    If that doesn't sound right to you, lemmie ask you this : does every application you run on a linux box have to be GPL? Nope. Does that application require linux to run, and in some ways “extend” it? Yup.

    Push comes to shove this is not a new complaint about the GPL. It really comes down to how you see “freedom.”

    If you’re for the GPL, you believe freedom is a fragile flower that has to be protected. “This started as free, we’re going to make sure it says free with all our impressive powers.”

    If you’re against the GPL, you believe freedom is a force of nature. It may not look that powerful at a glance, but it’s gonna win in the end. It’s like entropy. It exists, it will win. It doesn’t need your help, all it needs is your awareness and faith, and sooner or later it’ll come out on top.

    It really is too bad that Chris can't find a way to come out in the moral high ground here. It is strange, WordPress is the big funded player here, yet somehow Matt comes off looking like the underdog who is being wronged.

    You can read more about our views on this as an open source CMS that picked the MIT license for EXACTLY these issues over here on our OWN WordPress blog:


  79. Ton of typos and misfires on that transcript. This glaring one:

    “Matt: Wait. For one, the GPL is on a flimsy license.”

    Should be: “Matt: Wait. For one, the GPL is *not* a flimsy license.”

    Huge difference in what's being said there.

  80. djchriscruz says:

    Wow that was entertaining!

    I was about to buy thesis for my girlfriends blog but I'm just going to find another theme for her. Chris's arrogance just turned me off from buying the theme and supporting him. Its crazy how he considers himself to be one of the top 3 people in wordpress history. If he believes people are that dependent on thesis then he should just build his own CMS.

    He's like a teenager threatening to move out on his own but still wants to take his car that the parents pay for.

  81. He's a very considerate, hard-working guy.

  82. I think he has a different point of view. My goal was to let each guest express his point of view. Not to find one person right and another wrong.

  83. What I always see from him is passion.

  84. If one person got to talk more than another, it's my fault since my job was to give each man an opportunity to speak.

    But I don't think Chris or Matt talked more than the other.

  85. Thanks. Great catch.

    I have the full transcript up on Google docs, where readers edit it. It's very hard for transcribers who don't know the issues to get the transcript more than 95% right. For the last 5%, I need the audience to help out.

  86. snowleopard_nw says:

    the Thesis guy is wrong. And he comes across as a bit of a dick. It sux for him, since in order to make more money, he rightly wants more control over his product. By the GPL doesn't allow it. Maybe wordpress should have been licensed as Lesser GPL, to give people like Thesis more freedom, but it isn't. And legally, Thesis should be abiding by the license. Is wordpress going to sue? No, probably not, but they could, and if they did, they would win.

  87. snowleopard_nw says:

    they should take this to court, just to get some clarification for the GPL.

  88. Michael says:

    Or build his own CMS?

  89. Viktor says:

    Thanks Andrew for this program.
    I was about ready to buy my new theses from DYITThemes because I like them.
    But now after I listen to the points that Chris presents in his defense I am a little hesitant about buying DYIThemes.
    It seems that Chris expects from people to respect his license but when it comes to others he gets a bit defensive.


  90. xbaez says:

    Good interview and the think is simple, developers should respect the license instead of their ego … in other way i'm sure Chris will figure out how make thesis profitable with GPL license, is a great opportunity

  91. Katie Pitt says:

    It's simple he should respect the wordpress license, not because of the law but because it's the right thing to do. The fact that Chris then wants other people to respect his license is ridiculous. I would love to see him sued, but in a way I hope Matt and the wordpress community don't lower themselves to that petty level.

    Thanks Andrew for this interview, it really has opened a lot of thesis users eyes.

    Chris is no doubt a passionate person but then in other parts of the interview he says “I don’t really care” and “I’ve found peace with it”. I think what this is all really about is Chris trying to find what he stands for personally and unfortunately for him he is doing that very publically. “All that matters to me is how I feel inside” and “If it doesn’t it doesn’t. I don’t really care.” these kind of statements are completely out of touch with someone who cares about their community/userbase.

    Although I could be wrong and it was very hard to argue against all the facts Matt had with just 1 lawyers opinion and his own personal stance, in that respect though he should take his own advice and if he is going to say something back it up with something solid.

  92. Joni says:

    If nothing else happened, I learned about Concrete5! I'm a web designer/web developer always in search of the be-all, end-all of CMSs. This might be the one. So far, I've spent 5 minutes in it and already have lots of content up, the kind of content my clients ask for. And the ease, so far, with which this content can be created is stunning in its simplicity. I plan to promote it heavily. (Testbed is up at http://concrete5.mytestbed.com) :)))

  93. Joni says:

    NP, Andrew. I may have a distinct advantage in that (a) I am an English major; (b) I am a 30-year legal secretary; (c) I am a 10-year web designer/web developer; and (d) I have ears like a she-wolf. :D

  94. concrete5 says:

    Wellllll…. maybe not. If you think of whatever function calls he has in his theme as WordPress IP that he's providing a derivative of, then he does have to honor GPL. Conversely, he could create his own templating abstraction layer that basically just wrapped any of WordPress's clearly written stuff in some functions that Chris has clearly written. Then he could release THAT as LGPL as some sort of “theme management layer”. If he was really smart he'd create some actual value to that layer by making the theme work via a switch for another CMS like Joomla, Drupal, or concrete5 – which of course is awesome and MIT license. Then he'd have a stand-alone piece of software which interacted with one LGPL layer which let it work with different CMS's as I/O systems…. which kinda feels like what he thinks he has… it also sounds like a huge waste of energy and technically pretty difficult to pull off, let alone manage.

    I imagine going into court with that, and a bunch of javascript and CSS that everyone knows isn't derivative would be pretty compelling. Glad I'm not that judge. ;)

    I don't wish legal action on anyone because its a tremendous waste of time and energy, but it would be interesting to see the GPL get more case precedence.

  95. concrete5 says:

    awww, shucks – thanks!

    Private message frz on concrete5.org and I'll get you some stuff.

  96. Niclas Lindgren says:

    I think you need to consider what your statement actually means. All things running on WP, the content is running on WP. What is data, what is a plugin? The website built, is that GPL too? The websites you make for your clients are now all GPL? What does it mean to run on something? What does it mean to be data? Could you make a PHP plugin that makes Thesis data? Why is data not derived, it definitely needs another piece of software to becomes what it is to the end user?

    This isn't simple, it is extremely complicated and can have vast implications. Just because Matt takes some strange high morale ground does not make him better. Nor does Chris ego has anything to do with the facts were are presented with.

    The issue is the issue, and it needs to get clarification and become a fact, I think this is what Chris wants more than anything, he wants to know the truth of the matter. Matt wants something else not entirely sure what, but feels that GPL of all plugins is important, I wonder if he wants to protect the freedom of Thesis users or himself. It would be moral high ground to protect thesis users not so much if it is himself and his core dev team.

  97. rdk4845 says:

    Wow! Chris Pearson can't have a normal disagreement with someone. I was hoping to hear a good debate. Chris could have done much better defending his stance if he weren't so arrogant. I believe he has turned off a majority of listeners to his product.

  98. Stephen R says:

    Overall, I have to agree that themes are not automatically “derivative works” under copyright — the standard on which the GPL depends. This article describes the distinction nicely: http://perpetualbeta.com/release/2009/11/why-th

    That being said, it has been reported that the Thesis theme does in fact contain sections of code copied from WordPress core code — modified and inserted into the Thesis source files — and therefore the other point is moot in this case. Thesis is undeniably a “derivative work” if it contains WordPress code (not calls to WP functions, but actual code from within WordPress functions copied into the Thesis code.)

    So Chris, your ginormous ego aside, I agree with you on principle; but the reality is that you need to remove all WordPress code from Thesis, or you are in fact in violation of the GPL license.

    (To all — See for yourselves. Go track down a copy of Thesis, and do a quick search for “WordPress”. You'll see code comments stating plainly that such and such is lifted straight from WP code. Oops….)

  99. You're right, WordPress is completely reliant on third party themes and plugins so that the community can get the functionality that it wants… But do you think that functionality would be available to everyone if it wasn't licensed under GPL?

  100. First time I've heard about this issue, but from what I gathered, Chris doesn't abide by the WP license “because I don't want to”. That doesn't sound like a good argument to me.

  101. Jennie says:

    Hmmm, an arrogant narcissist suffering from delusions of grandeur. I'm with Matt on this one…

  102. I think Chris has a point. Just because Matt has a calm mannered way about him doesn't mean that what he is doing right now is right. I am amazed at the number of people tweeting about deleting Thesis and asking for a refund, like the fact it isn't GPL is news. If they cared so much then why . . . oh well.

  103. TCWriter says:

    For most people, Pearson's unqillingness to abide by the WordPress license *is* news. Everybody should respect his license, but because he doesn't “want to” – he doesn't have to respect the preexisting WordPress license?

    I'm a big believer in the WordPress community and have recommended (and used) Thesis, but those days are gone – at least until Chris does the right thing.

  104. Ben Cook says:

    I'm trying to embed this video (in WP 3.0) but for some reason it's not working for me. Any ideas?

  105. Dlong says:

    Maybe, but he came across very badly in this interview. And talking over Matt is not considerate.

  106. But TCWriter – it has not yet been proven in Court that the license is enforceable apart from in Germany to my knowledge. The GPL's GNU lawyers say it's so watertight they can enforce it without going to court. It may well be that the GPL's definition of “derivative” is flawed. And in that light, Chris's attempts to stand alone against it may be considered valiant. We run a freely available open source GPL compliant WordPress plugin, which earns us nothing and consumes hours of support time. Some people can be quite unbelievably rude in their demands that you provide them functionality now, for nothing. Which they may well be using on commercial blogs. I'm just sayin' – I see it from the small developer's point of view as well. I respect that Chris has the guts to try and stand up for what he believes is right but I am also fearful for him. I agree though that he can be arrogant and sometimes his twitterings are a little too hostile for my liking . . . he's not perfect, but in my opinion he is not wrong now.

  107. Toby says:

    Both Chris and Matt come across well, as respectful of each other and both have valid arguments. Chris has a good point that GPL is not in harmony with an efficient, economic system. Nodoby denies that some fantastics thing have sprung despite being GPL: Firefox, Wikipedia and WordPress. However, capitalism is an inherent requirement for significant progress in most fields. Just like Google discovered how to start financing their growth, using Adwords (and a flotation) to enable them to become one of the most prolific innovators of useful products and services in the world today, WordPress and Thesis should both be able to find more effective ways to finance their growth while complying with GPL – just Google “how to monetize website/freeware” for hundreds of strategies. It seems clear that “Donate” is not an overly effective generator of revenue.

    What will happen to all those who've already bought Thesis, if it goes GPL? Will we get our money back? It would seem unfair not to, but it would seem far less fair on Chris who has built something amazing and frankly deserves every penny he gets. Likewise, Matt and the likes of Jimmy Wales, etc deserve far more for the contribution s they have made to the world and it seems unfair that GDL prevents capitalism from rewarding them in proportion to what they deserve. Chris, Matt and Jimmy all deserve to be extremely wealthy indeed, why do Bill, Steve, Larry and Sergey get to keep all their profits, but you don't!

  108. rocknblogger says:

    Just a quick point Toby. You can charge for your product under GPL, so just because he adopts it does not qualify anyone for a refund.

  109. rocknblogger says:

    I have to agree with Joni, all I can say is WOW!!! It took me 5 minutes to install Concrete5 (http://i581.photobucket.com/albums/ss256/rocknb…) and another 15 to fully understand how it works. I'm pretty confident that I can get a live site up and running with content in under 30 minutes:-)

    This could be the easiest CMS I've ever seen, awesome job guys. On my way to create a real site now, just have to figure out which domain to use:)))

  110. Zzkt says:

    Haha, Matt makes millions from free themes & plugins. Of course he wants it free.

    And Chris is absolutely right about the GPL. If he makes his theme GPL I'll be selling it for $5 along with 10,000 other sites within 5 minutes.

    WordPress and Matt's GPL is a total joke, and it's the reason why nearly all of the free themes and plugins suck.

    With a few exceptions they're broken, unusable, unsupported – and that's not because the guys writing them aren't talented. It's because they have no financial incentive to maintain or improve them.

    So all that's left is students, people who are practicing their coding, and losers with no social life. They code for free because they have no other option. And they don't do a very good job.

  111. Tomh says:

    Uh, yeah, Chris should destroy his business and give his intellectual property away free…for “respect”? I take it you don't make any money doing WordPress but that's no reason Chris can't.

  112. Django says:

    WordPress would sue in a minute if Matt thought he'd win. He won't.

  113. Damien says:

    His point of view is that he doesn't want to be incovenienced. By the way, Why do you offer an embed code that is non-functional? You helped me waste 20 minutes messing with it. I have a feeling, like Chris, you like to borrow but not share.

  114. Damien Riley says:

    BTW Disqus takes some getting used to.

  115. Ray Gulick says:

    After listening to the interview, I've concluded Chris Pearson does not have a “position” other than “To hell with everyone else: I will do whatever I want.” That's his entire argument. Everything else he says is misdirection and/or BS.

  116. And here we have the new “Jerry Springer” of the Internet; props to Andrew Warner!!! ;-)

    j/k, after listening to that I couldn't resist! :-) :-) :-)

  117. Suing should be the last line of defense when it comes to pretty much anything. The legal system isn't for solving every stupid problem people have. It's for when problems don't get resolved.

    Matt's company is now the largest blogging platform in history. He's clearly doing something right. It's a good move for him to voice his opinion. And it's good to do that before suing someone.

    At this point it's clear that Chris is arrogant and doesn't care for GPL. If that's the case, then the only way to enforce it is to bring to court. Matt has asked clearly by contact him privately as well as on this show. Chris doesn't care.

    If Matt were to sue, he would do so not for himself but for the entire open source community. Thesis would be torn into pieces.

  118. Raju says:

    especially since he thinks 99% of Thesis is his own code. Now, coding the rest 1% shouldn't be too tough, isn't it?

  119. Nospam says:

    Just wanna say that if Matt is gonna talk about “respecting GPL” then the WordPress better unobfuscate all of their code – because in case you didn't know there are some small parts that are designed to prevent all WordPress users from changing it.

  120. Which file(s) / line(s) are you talking about? If they are there then that can be solved.

  121. janetti ! says:

    It shouldn't be a matter of putting someone out of business. Like what concrete5 said, it'd be interesting to see some legal precedence here.

    But it would be good to see Thesis opened up. From the transcript, Chris said –

    “Right now, tons of people are still profiting from my work and doing extremely handsomely. We have a lot more plans to enable these economies to develop around Thesis in the future… I do not want people making money off my good name and my good product, undercutting me, selling me for less out in the wild, and having the legal authority to do so. That’s a poor business decision if you ask me.”

    He's aiming to create a micro-economy around Thesis while evangelizing against the WordPress GPL license, without true knowledge if he's in legal violation.

  122. Danny Brown says:

    Exactly mate – WordPress can survive without Thesis. As far as it stands at the minute, Thesis can't survive without WordPress (unless it moves to Drupal or Joomla, or builds its own platform).

    So…. where's the argument?

  123. Danny Brown says:

    Disqus is a pain – stick with the native WordPress comments and enhance that instead. :)

  124. Danny Brown says:

    Sorry, he comes over as arrogant, and seeing first-hand how he can treat customers enforces that.

  125. Danny Brown says:

    Matt is so right. The Headway developers sell their theme with an open developer license, where they can use the dev option on any theme they want – there's no restriction.

    They're successful and they also protect their copyright – something that Thesis could do if they did things properly.

  126. Danny Brown says:

    Just a request, Andrew – in future, please stop guests speaking over the other. You're the host and you can control that – Pearson overstepped this numerous times.

  127. RealLiberty says:

    Aren't “property” rights to non-property (i.e. expressions) just government interference? Giving monopolies to people to use a symbol (trademark), text (copyright), or even ideas (patents) with the force of a gun is not libertarian – not even close. If I “take” a copy of your book you still have it. It's the government stepping in and creating monopolies (now some will argue that the good outweighs the negative but it's still taking away freedoms).

  128. TookSomeIPLaw says:

    He might be wrong but unless he took WordPress, changed it's content, and then sold that the GPL doesn't apply. Test cases have shown that software that alters other software is not a violation of copyright as long as the patch doesn't include any of the original software (so you can mod games).

    Chris doesn't come across well here and argues rather poorly but I'm not sure he is wrong. If he makes an add-on that doesn't copy any of WordPress' code then copyright (or copyleft) simply does not apply – he has not copied anything.

    To make this clearer, take the following:
    1) Person A writes a detailed document (containing no code) about how to create WordPress plug-in software. Nothing in the GPL restricts person A from doing this and the result isn't covered by GPL (just as an article reviewing WordPress in The New York Times isn't covered by WordPress just because the journalist who wrote the article downloaded and used WordPress).
    2) Person B takes this document and builds a WordPress plug-in based only on the document (having never used WordPress or agreed to the GPL).

    In the above, it is 100% clear that person B is not violating the GPL as he has never entered into a licensing agreement; he is also not violating copyright as he did not copy any code from WordPress. Take out the person A person B bit and, to me at least, it seems like this is what Chris did.

    I'd be surprised if this gets taken to court – it seems a fairly weak case. Given that the FSF and others have not hesitated to sue other violators (like Cisco as mentioned) Chris seems to have the position that is more likely correct (though he expresses himself very, very poorly).

  129. AnnoyedAtAll says:

    Really, when I write a Windows app do I need M$ permission to sell it? Of course not, same with WordPress the platform. As long as themes don't copy code from WP there's not a legal leg to stand on which is why there's been no lawsuit.

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  131. kaiser says:

    Scott, it seems you haven't lost your humor in the last month ;) Should go and chat with you guys more often.

  132. Nile Flores says:

    I am not sure how much Chris can respect from a developer standpoint. Take the example he wanted to present… If you build a music script / platform, and then you make one that complies with WordPress, that part that complies (a plugin to bridge the two) should be GPL.

    My own two popular scripts on Hotscripts got over 60K in downloads and one guy put a short URL plugin using the concepts of my script and applied it using WordPress. The codes for actions and filters were clearly there. My own scripts are GPL… he honored both.

    When I build a WordPress theme, I always build with GPL in mind because I know my client is going to alter it and might even share it with a friend or give it away. It is not Thesis whom WordPress should thank… it is Thesis who should thank WordPress, especially for the way that the roundabout coding still uses WordPress.

    There are people who have brought WordPress to far more people than Thesis or Chris even back from the b2 days.

  133. Allan Branch says:

    Observation: Chris sounds like a ranting maniac and Matt is cool and calm.

  134. Steven Pignataro says:


    I think the people from WordPress need to brush up on there FAQ on the GPL.

  135. iroshan says:

    That,s right

  136. LegalNovice says:

    Simple solution. If Matt really thinks that Thesis, or any other company/theme, violates the GPL, just code future versions of WordPress stop functioning with it. Think of it like Akismet for GPL violators. It would be fairly easy for a pro to hack around the code, but imagine the nightmare to a GPL violater of having to help thousands of non-technical users reconfigure their site every time WordPress offers an update. WordPress has more teeth in this than they think. I don't know enough about the law to know who is right, but it does appear that Matt could certainly force Chris' hand.

  137. Aphrodite says:

    This is a non sense debate. I read all. But in that case, what about those soooooo many plugins out there which are just gateways to totally locked systems !!! e shops, booking systems, calendars, classifieds and so on…. Oh yes the plugin is GPL and free but dosent not give you anything but the acces to the promoted systemes included or plateform !

    I dont use thesis, but many other payed themes or plugins. What we buy is the GARANTEE of updates and professional support. So many plugins or great themes are not professionnaly usable, because not updated or just abandonned by there authors.

    The wordpress core and its hundreds of contributors cannot be compared with extensions or themes. If you want professionnal service, gpl or not, you have to pay for it !

    He wants all gpl ? Ok so I want all plugins from Lemonde (using wordpress), the whole code for ecwid-shopping-cart, and so on.

    Is there any legal issue there ? So go on to tribunals ! They are made for that.

  138. Amber Shah says:

    Holy crap, Chris Pearson is a total douchebag. I don't know how Matt didn't jump through Skype and strangle him but he has so much composure – very impressive.

    Shall we recount Chris' arguments:
    You can't make me, na na boo boo
    The end.

    Matt didn't just release his code for fun, he released under a license that is an agreement. If you don't agree, then don't develop for WordPress. It really is that simple.

    Under Chris' argument (if you can call it that), ALL intellectual property that Chris can get his hands on is his to use however he wants. That is beyond ridiculous and years of IP law proves that's not true.

    Furthermore, if Thesis is so revolutionary and stands alone as it's own product (as Chris claims) then why does he even need to use WordPress at all? Oh wait, that wouldn't work because Thesis is built into WordPress. And that would mean… he has to follow the GPL. You know, except if he doesn't want to.

  139. Amber Shah says:

    You can ask multiple questions but that doesn't mean there aren't straightforward answers. This may be confusing to someone who hasn't worked with open source software before, but it's very clear to those of us who do and have any respect for IP. My guess is actually that you know the answers to those questions so I won't bother answering them, but just because Chris can cloud the issue to people who are not lawyers or programmer's who've worked in this space does not mean it's not cut and dry. He's stealing code by using it in a way that's not consistent with the license. It's theft for profit.

  140. Amber Shah says:

    I think you need a re-read of the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand supported complete and total intellectual property rights.

    There are multiple examples in her works that show this but the biggest one is where the government takes Rearden's metal formula in the name of “innovation”. That sounds earily familiar to something I just heard about how Thesis is pushing forward innovation in WordPress and what a shame it would be to let that go to waste just to follow the license.

  141. Amber Shah says:

    This is the best argument I've heard on the other side. Chris definitely needs to hire you as his spokesperson because boy does he sound like an idiot when he talks. I'm still not sure you're right but at least it's a fighting chance (compared to the nonexistent argument supplied by Chris).

    Even if your example is correct, that's not what happened here. Chris stumbled upon WordPress and developed for it without reading (or caring) about the license. He did not have some third party document detailing the spec – he looked and worked directly in the WordPress code. Ignorance or not caring is not a legal defense.

  142. Amber Shah says:

    Even if it were true that Thesis is adding things that are “lacking” in WordPress, which many don't agree, it's irrelevant. You are not allowed to steal something, even IF you make it better.

    Let's say you're an artist and you put your painting up for display for free in a building. I come in, paint in a corner and then walk out with it and sell it. You say, hey there, that wasn't nice or legal. That was mine and you just took it and sold it. Are you overreacting?

  143. Jennie says:

    Whether he has made it better is a moot point and one which many would disagree, and is regardless, an irrelevant argument. It still does not make it right to take something from someone and use it in such a way that is against their wishes.

  144. Terence says:

    OK, I have poked through the tweets, read the posts, listened to the debate bubbling away in the background, and now I have heard both Chris and Matt put their respective sides of the argument. So I now hold, what I would consider to be, at least a semi-informed view on the issue.

    I can see both sides of the disagreement, but I have to say, I think Matt's line of reasoning is the better informed, the most public spirited and the one which has already and would continue to benefit the online community the most.

    Chris way over-estimates the importance of Thesis to the WordPress community, and his position in that community. Somewhat speciously, he uses this inflated estimate of its worth to argue he should not be subject to a license that was in place long before he built Thesis and upon which he was entitled, in fact as a businessman, obliged, to read and understand before so doing .

    I am also astonished at how rude, boorish and over-bearing Chris was in trying to dominate the debate, and had I known his views and understood the issues a little sooner, I would never have bought Thesis.

    I wish I could keep my temper in check, as Matt did, but I know myself better than that. So I tried to think what I could do to help, instead of just getting mad, and this is what I decided.

    Because of the overriding benefit to the online community, even though he will surely prevail; I don't think Matt should have to put up his own money to fight a law case to prove the validity of the GPL which is, in effect, on our behalf.

    Therefore, if you have bought a version of Thesis from DIY Themes (Chris Pearson’s company), or from any other website, you can click this link now and join the Thesis Class Action Suit list at [http://eepurl.com/J0Mp], and let’s see how many people agree with Matt.

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