Way back in 1999, when dinosaurs were roaming the planet, a friend of mine and I started off on a path that I’ve been lucky enough to keep walking for 14 years. As students of public policy, we were eager to use technology to provide individuals and organizations with empowering tools to advance the cause of building a more open and just society. From the beginning, we knew that open source software would be the necessary DNA running through our work’s blood.
Looking back at those early days, I’m incredibly humbled by the impact open source has had on my life and in our communities. Now, older and slightly wiser, I’m excited to continue down that same path. Our company’s flagship offerings (Non-Profit Soapbox and Soapbox Engage) heavily leverage open source software, giving us the headspace and time to focus on shaping software to best serve our community.
At the same time, I continue to find fulfillment in life by using my experience as a backdrop for evangelism of the open source communities that help us deliver services to those who need it most. While this has recently lead to many hours on planes and trains far away from loved ones, I feel nearly compelled (in a good sense) to work alongside the incredible people building the hammers and nails the world needs to craft more effective and equitable software.
With the strong debate in the Joomla world regarding the GPL, I’ve learned a lot about it. Just when I’m starting to get a handle on it, the Free Software Foundation officially announced the release of the General Public License v3 today.
Now the question is, what will the adoption rate of this new license?
In what has been one of the most demanding legal and technical thought processes I’ve seen outside a courtroom (before Paris went to jail), the Joomla core team and the Open Source Matters board of directors have unanimously agreed today that Joomla will remain under the General Public License (GPL). Speaking for this writer, I truly believe this will aid in the growth of the Joomla ecosystem and the open source ecosystem as a whole.
The words used by the core team will be parsed, snipped, and likely taken out of context in the days to come, but reading the treatsie from the Joomla.org Web site is a lesson in open source community building and professional diplomacy.
Starting with, “Joomla! is moving to ensure the future of the project by committing to compliance with the GNU/GPL licence,” the letter to the community includes the following sections:
When a community grows to this size, we all must look inward to see where our core values will lead us. In this case, the entire core team and OSM have spoken in unison, and in this project’s case, the values include compliance with the GPL.
Some people have argued that this is a “strict interpretation” of the GPL. I’m not sure what they mean, however, as this simply is the way the GPL was written. In fact, those providing legal guidance to our community on this issue, the Software Freedom Law Center, are the people that helped write the GPL.
What is left now is to see the reactions of the commercial developers in the community (of which PICnet is one). There have been strong voices on the opinions of the subject, even from Joomla developers that have been around for a long time. PICnet will do its best to lead by example, and in the coming months will be unveiling new options for organizations to acquire GPL’d Joomla! extensions.
I know that one concern that many third party commercial developers have is what they consider a veiled threat of legal action against them for violating the GPL by distributing non-GPL compliant Joomla! extensions. A quote from the forums today from core team member Louis sums up his position quite nicely:
What is ironic about the entire process, however, is that we’re talking about keeping the same license that is used in the wildly popular 1.0.x series. I know that I personally will be aiding in the effort to help better understand what GPL compliant business models can be made, especially in a community whose leadership has spoke so strongly today in support of it.
This is Day 1. I have a feeling our beloved GPL thread will be growing well beyond its 56 pages by tomorrow at dawn.
During the past few weeks, I’ve been privileged to get a first-hand lesson on the General Public License (GPL). Yes, PICnet is lucky to have quite a bright lawyer on staff, but even he was a little unclear on the GPL, open source, and copyrights. To be honest, I’m not sure there’s many people in the Joomlasphere that have much research knowledge and legal practice in the application of the GPL, so it’s a learning lesson for everyone.
Every once in a while, I get a little morsel of understanding, which I feel is good to share with the community. Today’s installment: who the heck holds the copyright to the Joomla code, and therefore, who has the right to replace Joomla’s GPL license with some other license? Is it the core team? Is it Open Source Matters? Is it free for anyone to change the license as they see fit?
Well, I should say that I’m neither a lawyer nor 100% certain of my following answers, but I believe my thoughts below might help in better understanding this market of ideas.
From my research, and what I’ve learned through listening carefully to the GPL talk at the Joomla!Day USA by James Vasile, Open Source Matters legal counsel and lawyer at the Software Freedom Law Center (you know, the group that actually helped create the GPL!), the copyright holders of the Joomla code are the committers of code to the project. That would mean the people we’d expect, like Johan, Louis, Andrew, and others (maybe even Miro!), own the copyright to their pieces of the code. I should say, they don’t own the copyright to the entire Joomla system, but rather to the code they’ve contributed to the project.
It’s pretty powerful that individuals can give their hard work to the project, still hold copyright, but agree to have it all licensed together under the GPL.
What does this mean? Well, in my mind it means that if Joomla’s license were going to change to another type of license, everyone who has contributed substantially (I use that word without full knowledge of its power) to the code base of Joomla would all need to agree that their copyrighted code could be licensed under some other license other than the GPL. That would seem like a hard feat, since it would require quite a few hands (including people no longer on the core team) to agree together to changing the license.
Moral of this story: based on my ever growing understanding and appreciation of the GPL, significantly changing the license under which Joomla is protected would be quite an effort.
Your thoughts are appreciated, especially from GPL lawyers (anyone, anyone?). I’m here to learn as much as you all are.