On Forking Code

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about GiveWP, the new plugin that allows you to easily donate with a WordPress site.

I want to first preface this with saying that I have respect for what Matt and team at Wordimpress are doing with it, I just don’t agree with it, and thats OK. I can respect the GPL, but I certainly don’t have to like it.

For those that aren’t privy, GiveWP is a fork of Easy Digital Downloads. So in other words, they forked the codebase, renamed it, and are offering it as something else. To sweeten the deal, they’re selling similar addons that EDD is selling.

It’s so similar that they’re getting credit for the work. The code quality that GiveWP is being commended on, is thanks to the work that Pippin and his team have done on Easy Digital Downloads, not GiveWP. The code quality is from the thousands of dollars Pippin has spent on EDD, not GiveWP.

I did my due diligence, and on my cursory search, the code is pretty identical.

I respect open-source, but there has to be a line that’s draw in the sand. Are morals and ethics thrown out when it comes to things like this?

Because it’s called GPL, it’s not called “stealing?” Or because it’s for donating and it’s a good cause, that makes it OK? What if I wanted to use it to make a porn film, to gather funds for. It’s not ok then? Or because the author makes a lot of money, then it’s OK?

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s either OK, or it’s not, there can’t be an in between “gray” area if we’re to be taken seriously as developers using WordPress. If we want to grow as a space that’s validated, we need to seriously be thinking on how to better enable business to succeed, not set them up to fail with a licensing model that allows anyone to take as they please.

I find it extremely noble of Pippin to not mind, and to even help promote. However, it’s easy to not care when your business is generating a quarter million dollars a year in revenue and you’ve “made it.” Would I care if someone forked Aesop if we were making a quarter million a year? Hell no, why would I? Of course it’s for the community, but at the end of the day, our goal is to make money. Any business that tries to tell you otherwise, simply won’t last.

But if I’m still trying to make it as a business, I’d be pissed. We’ve poured nearly 10K into our free plugin as a way of giving back to the community and building our business. What right does does any person have to take that and make it theirs and try to profit? Because GPL? But if you’re still struggling to find your place as a business, and your business model operates off of the GPL plugin you built for the community, and someone takes this and creates their own model, how is this OK?

So don’t label it GPL? Then get ousted by the WordPress community because you’re not building software that enables anybody to rip it?

The whole thing makes me really un-easy. I knew GPL before stepping into this, but the stark reality of it really hit me in the face yesterday. And now it’s causing me to wonder if building a business in the WordPress space is even worth the time and investment due to instability within licensing models.

After all, would you build a house on sandy soil?

I think it’s time for us to start looking at a new licensing model for WordPress dependencies. A model that still enables forking, but also empowers business’ to work together to help grow each other. A model that allows for adaptations, but with restrictions on how it’s re-delivered. A model that protects original creators, but still allows for adaptations of the codebase. I might be a bit crazy, but I think this could work, and I’m now starting to spend some time looking into just how to create and present a new licensing model. If we don’t, we’re going to continue to see this pop-up, and the next time the original creator might not be so forgiving.