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Borrowing Code Under The General Public License

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There has been a lot of debate over the last year regarding themes and the General Public License (GPL) which WordPress uses. Many theme designers were initially reluctant to switch to GPL however I believe that most designers support it now.

The WordPress community has obviously benefited from the thousands of plugins which have been released via the General Public License too though there has been less discussion about some of the minor problems which have arisen because of it. Dalton Rooney spoke about this yesterday in his article ‘Attribution and the GPL’. Dalton has released a number of themes and plugins for WordPress (for free). He noticed recently that a new plugin called Easy Gallery has borrowed code from his Portfolio Slideshow plugin. By borrowed I mean stolen as his code was copied and used in the Easy Gallery plugin without author attribution to him.

Dalton notes that ‘attribution is not required by the GPL’. I’m not an expert on GPL however I have always been under the impression that attribution is a major part of GPL i.e. that you should always give credit when you modify the work of others. The preamble section of the license states that:

Also, for each author’s protection and ours, we want to make certain that everyone understands that there is no warranty for this free software. If the software is modified by someone else and passed on, we want its recipients to know that what they have is not the original, so that any problems introduced by others will not reflect on the original authors’ reputations.

I am not sure what can be done about developers who don’t give credit to other developers when they use their code, though at the very least I believe that if it is reported to WordPress and shown that code has been copied without attribution, the plugin should be removed from the official WordPress plugin directory until a credit has been given to the original author.

I am 100% behind Dalton on this and I encourage all of you to support him on this issue too. Theme and plugin developers are the heart of the WordPress community but there is no doubt we sometimes forget how much they contribute to WordPress and perhaps take them for granted (cheesy I know!).

If you have time, I encourage you to comment on Daltons post on his blog or the discussion he has started on WordPress regarding the issue.

Thanks for reading :)


Links: Attribution and the GPL | Borrowing/Use of code without attribution

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Comments (2)

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

Yeah I’m not 100% sure either as the license as I don’t come from a legal background; so a lot of that page makes no sense to me.

Though I have followed a lot of discussions regarding GPL and the main point always brought up was that you had to attribute the original author.

I’m not sure what the best way forward is. I’ve no doubt that other developers have had code copied without any credit being given. It’s obviously something that WordPress can’t check actively i.e. they can’t check the code of every plugin added to the directory. However, I do think that if it’s code has shown to have been copied without credit, it needs to be removed from the directory until credit has been added.

I do think it would be good if a standard practice was agreed.


Comment by Dalton says:

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the post!

Interesting that you picked up on that section in the preamble. I assumed that only applied to forks where one particular version of a piece of software could be mistaken for another one which has been modified by someone else.

I had noticed that Section 7 b, which discusses additional terms (acceptable for use with the license, but not actually part of the license) to include

“Requiring preservation of specified reasonable legal notices or author attributions in that material or in the Appropriate Legal Notices displayed by works containing it”

Which suggested to me that attribution is actually outside the scope of the license.

I think your probably right that someone at the WordPress Plugin Repository would probably pull the offending plugin if I asked. I actually don’t mind so much – it’s a pretty minor offense and I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that it was accidental. I am more interested in using this as an opportunity for developers to agree on a standard practice and spread that information to those who might not understand it.


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