I’ve been reading a little on the debate over whether themes built on WordPress need to be GPL. It’s an interesting issue for more than just WordPress itself. In the history of the GPL there has been a lot of FUD thrown around where some were basically trying to give the impression that the GPL was ‘viral’ and would stretch beyond the boundaries of any software that you use to require anything so much as developed near it to be released under the GPL.
I’m honestly curious to see how this debate will play out for its own sake, because if all WordPress themes should be considered derivative of WordPress itself that’ll have some major implications for the WordPress community as a whole. Some people will probably leave and stop developing themes, and others will be happier than ever to work on things related to the software.
The bigger implications might be for the GPL. On one hand, if this really does turn into a lawsuit it could be an opportunity to get more definition for the boundaries of the GPL in court. The GPL seems to be pretty legally solid (though I say this as someone who is a definite non-lawyer), but the exact amount of clout it carries isn’t very clear since there isn’t much in the way of actual decision making by judges on how it should be interpreted.
The other issue is the implications that this could have for GPL products in general. This seems to feed nicely into the potential for fear-mongering along the lines of, “Look, you’ll work hard to build a project based on something and then when you start to make money off of it they’ll come back and take it away from you because of the GPL!” That’s not an outcome I’m particularly eager to see, since it could be harmful to GPL projects in general.
I’m not saying that I don’t want Matt to pursue this, though. I think the people who are most opposed to the GPL will grab onto anything they can get in order to make it seem scary and troublesome. You can’t just resign yourself to never enforcing the license because you’re too worried that someone might try to turn it against you.