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My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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A Follow Up To My Accusation Post

I recently wrote that "GPL Zealots Are Killing Open Source". This prompted heated discussions on the NZOSS mailing list, as well as a couple responses to the blog entry itself, including by Matt Mullenweg, the WordPress guy himself. I remain by my original stance, though it appears I must clarify or expand on my thoughts a bit.

Several people on the NZOSS took ombrage at the statement itself. They see themselves as GPL Zealots and did not appreciate my accusation. Fair enough. My issue is not with all GPL Zealots. Let’s examine what that word means, anyway. defines it as:

a fervent and even militant proponent of something

The same source also defines it as:

a member of a radical, warlike, ardently patriotic group of Jews in Judea, particularly prominent from a.d. 69 to 81, advocating the violent overthrow of Roman rule and vigorously resisting the efforts of the Romans and their supporters to heathenize the Jews.

Ok, lemme guess here. Those people who identified as GPL Zealots after reading my post most likely see the first definition as the correct one. The second definition seems hardly to apply. We’re not talking about a religious group, we’re not talking about Romans, nor Jews. Taking some free license (pun mayhap intended) with the definition, let’s re-write it:

a member of a radical, warlike, and ardently patriotic group of netizens, particularly prominent since the early 2000’s, advocating the total overthrow of proprietary software and vigorously resisting the efforts of Microsoft and their supporters to anihilate Open Source Software.

That was a bit tongue-in-cheek. And, before you take offense, it was not meant to offend you!

The thing is, there are these people who are supporting GPL but who are having a rather specific view of it. Some of these people appear to be confused about what the GPL is. There is confusion about the difference between commercial software and proprietary software. They see the Free of Free Open Source as meaning "no cost", instead of "freedom". It feels like for that group of people, commercial GPL application are just as evil as proprietary software.

It is a fanatical stance that I cannot agree with.

And so I will say that it is not GPL Zealots that are killing open source, but it is those people who are taking that very limited view of it.

In response to Mark Harris, I was not saying it was the fault of the GPL. The GPL is what it is, a license. It is inanimate and while one may think it is a bit passé, it does not act, nor does it think (as an aside, I can’t help laughing a bit when people talk about respecting the "spirit" of the GPL). No, Mark, my previous post was not an attack on the GPL, but on the misinterpretation of the license. And I’ll add that I think your entry is a very good one.

Many have said in response to my post that Mullenweg can do what he wants on his site. Of course, it’s his site! But he admits himself in several places that many of the themes removed fully respected the GPL as well as the original posting rules! They were removed because they linked to sites that had commercial material (some of these GPL themselves). Mullenweg has total and absolute right to do what he wants. He can post rules on his site. Then go and remove hundreds of themes, even though they respect the posted rules. Then once there’s been enough uproar, change the rules on the site. That is his right. And it is also his right to say that he’s done it because he wants to respect the spirit of the GPL.

While all this is happening, I wonder about consistency. All that uproar about themes, yet, plugins are untouched. Are they next on the agenda?

It has been said that this was not about GPL, but simply an internal decision of WordPress to do a bit of clean up. Unfortunately, I can’t see it that way. Matt’s been on about supporting GPL and the spirit of the GPL long enough that this latest action can only be tied to it.

So, no, it is not the GPL’s fault. It is the fault of a member of a group of people that take a particularly narrow and restrictive interpretation of the GPL. And I continue to say that these people will kill Open Source, because by their actions, they are making it next to impossible for commercial GPL developers to make a living.

"J’écris, persiste, et signe,
Je m’appèle,
Nicolas Steenhout"

5 thoughts on “A Follow Up To My Accusation Post

  1. Actually, I tend to agree to a reasonable extent with your retranslation up the top. I tend to think that proprietary software does do significant harm to society, and would like to see it relegated to pretty much a niche status. I’m just lazy enough that the inflammatory adjectives don’t really apply to me so much – I’m not really much of an activist :)

  2. Nic, this is the open source development process in action. It’s all about evolution. If one project fails to meet the needs of its ecosystem (i.e. the commercial and non-commercial entities which depend in some way on it), then those entities will move to a different project. It has little to do with the GPL. I, for one, don’t consider myself a GPL “zealot” because of the inappropriate religious connotations related to that word, but rather an “exponent”. I believe, as a commercial open source business person, that the GPL is an excellent basis on which to build. Also, I’m afraid I don’t understand the humour in the “spirit” of the GPL – I think that the spirit of the GPL can be summed up as “share and share alike”. People may be able to find “legality hacks” which circumvent the GPL. Those sorts of hack provide incentive for GNU to come up with new versions of the license. If people breach the spirit, then the community has every reason (an obligation, even) to give those people notice that the community finds their behaviour unacceptable. I can’t comment on Matt’s specific issue, but as you and others have said, these don’t seem to be related to the GPL…



  3. Did you make this template yourself? its really great! maybe you could make it available for download? :)

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