Are WordPress Themes & Plugins Auto-GPL'd?

Dan recently linked to a post commenting on the ongiong discussion within the WP dev community (theme designers particularly) as to whether themes or plugins to WordPress automatically inherit the GPL license from WP as derivative works, and if so, what that means for people trying to make a living selling their themes.

Beagle has an interesting take on the subject, although I think his reasoning is a bit shaky (not interested in arguing that issue, though). I think it might be more interesting to consider the opposite side of the coin of his point, which is that it doesn’t particularly matter whether the GPL (and some of its restrictions, etc.) flows through to “premium” (dumb term) themes until someone starts acting as though it does.

In other words, the only opinion on whether the license and redistribution requirements inherntly apply to all WP themes is the opinion of a judge in a theoretical lawsuit which a theme seller would need to bring against someone who is redistributing their themes for free or for pay – either would be within their rights if the GPL applies.

It isn’t that Matt or other GPL advocates have to “force” the non-GPL-ers into complying with the GPL, but rather the non-GPL-ers who would need to attempt to stop the people who are acting as if the GPL applies.

Since this hasn’t happened yet, if I were a theme author, I would be exceedingly hesitant to build my business on the assumption of which way that ruling might fall. Basically, they’d just have to wait around for someone to try and redistribute their themes (which I’m sure is more likely to happen the more popular the theme gets) and then incur the significant costs (time and money) to try to bring that person into court and force them to stop, with no guarantee that the law is on their side.

Of course, if you go too far down this conversation, the “premium” theme authors will inevitably respond with some variation of “how do you expect us to make money then?”. I would submit that that’s a seperate issue, but one that I’m not terribly interested in and actually doesn’t have any bearing on the issue at hand anyway. No one has some sort of fundamental right to make money writing themes, so props to you if you can do it, but don’t try to use the potential inability to do so as an argument on this licensing issue – it isn’t relevant. The GPL doesn’t prohibit anyone from making money, but it doesn’t guarantee that they can either.

In case it isn’t clear yet, I lean towards the side of WP themes & plugins being inherently GPL’d because of the way they derive from WP itself. I’d really love to see this truly tested in court just to put an end to the ongoing discussion about it though.

And don’t even get me started on the alternative approaches I’ve heard some theme / plugin authors talking about. They generally fall into the “The theme/pluign is GPL, but I’m going to make money from it by…”

  • “selling support” – Nightmare time sink. I’m highly skeptical that this is a viable option for most theme / plugin devs, just due to the large amount of time required to offer it and the low prices most people would be willing to pay.
  • “selling updates / upgrades” – OK, you get the base package as GPL, but then you pay a subscription to get updates and upgrades. This falls apart under the same logic – if the plugin/theme is GPL because it is derived from WP, then the updates/upgrades are GPL because they derive from the GPL plugin/theme and can therefore be freely redistributed once obtained by one person.
  • “selling services that are used by the GPL product” – This is the one I would think has the most promise. If you can distribute something that needs to communicate back to your server as a part of its core functionality (think Akismet), then you could theoretically charge for that service access, while keeping all your distributed code GPL. The main problem is that most plugins / themes have no legitimate need to call back to the server, and you need that dependency on a service that only your server must provide in order for this to work. It can’t be communicating with the server *only* forĀ  license-checking, since that checking code could then be ripped out and the plugin/theme could be redistributed again without it.

Your thoughts?

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Stop Motion Video With Tilt-Shift Photography

This is so cool looking. I like the song too.

Larger video available at the link below;
I suggest watching it there.

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

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Watchmen Review Revised

OK, so my initial thoughts on the film have been tempered over time, mostly due to reflecting on the reactions of other people, some of whom have read the original story and some who have not.

I think I may revise my initial recommendation to suggest that you should see the movie only after having read the book (even though I know most people won’t bother). I now realize that I may have been taking too much for granted in basing my appreciation of the story on things that I was aware of by way of familiarity with the source material. It is now apparent to me that someone without that prior knowledge would necessarily have a very different experience, since they can only digest the parts that the movie version presents.

Here are two notable highlights that I encourage everyone to read that give a good perspective that may be missed in standalone movie viewings:

[1] Gareth explores how the missing pieces in the movie (at least that’s part of the reason) can lead you to miss the point of the message on “heroic violence”. I mentioned a bit about changes I had heard about in this regard in my comment on Alex’s blog, but I forgot to come back and touch on that in my review. In short, I agree that you definitely are not meant to view characters like Rorshach as “good guys”; rather you’re supposed to be disgusted by the lengths that they go to in pursuit of their cause, or at least be upset with yourself if you do find yourself rooting for them.

While I actually think the movie may have dulled this to some degree by making Rorshach (and the Comedian, to some extent) a bit more palatable by way of amping up the brutality in some of the other characters which were not portrayed that way in the book (namely Dan and the Silk Spectre), I believe that further reflection must challenge us to question why (as a society) we don’t seem to be repulsed by this sort of thing. On the contrary, we root it on in most cases, as far as entertainment goes. Even when the author of the story is intending to push you over that edge and make you question yourself and who you’re attached to in the story (and why), it doesn’t seem to come across too easily. It’s easy to blame this part on the failing of the movie to carry forward that aspect of the story as faithfully as it should have, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

[2] Tim explores this aspect of it very well in his post on the nature of vigilantism. An excerpt:

Rorschach is a parody of a type – a type that remains resolutely resistant to parody. No matter how far the creators go in order to paint the vigilante in an unflattering, belittling, comical light, as long as the essential motivation of the urban vigilante remain untouched, the appeal can’t be diminished. Rorschach is dirty, destitute, delusional, traumatized and dumb, and yet we still want to identify with him. We still want – we still desperately need the freedom to condone his actions, despite their reprehensible nature.

Anyway, sorry that this post was a bit more of a downer than the first one. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed the movie a lot; I’m just not quite sure at this point what I would think of it if I didn’t have the advantage of having experienced a lot of back-story aspects that flush out the story and intended subtle messages so much more fully.

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Well, I saw Watchmen last night, and the short summary is that I was very pleasantly surprised.

I went into the movie anticipating that it would never be able to live up to the story it was adapting. In its original form, it was such a thorough and highly regarded body of work that I could not imagine how they could squeeze it all into a single movie (even a long one) and a series is not really an option for telling this tale.

I could only assume that in the hands of a Hollywood team attempting to make it palatable to a mainstream audience that the movie will need to be “successful” (financially), such trimming would be awkward and bound to chop out important aspects that would just ruin it for the die-hard fans. While there was definitely a *lot* taken out, I have to say that it was done much better than I ever imagined it could have been, and I was generally satisfied with the results.

Since I’m sure you will find many avid comic fans ranting about all the discrepancies and inconsistencies found in this translation, and since I’m not interested in dwelling on them here, I’ll take a pass and skip over those in this review. There is also a multitude of layers of depth to be dug into in terms of subtle meaning and message, many of which found their way from the original story into the movie, but I’ll also avoid rambling on too much about those, since this thing is going to be long enough as it is.

Let’s start with the surface: visually, it was perfect, as can be expected from Snyder after 300. His rich colors painting the backgrounds and skillfully framed comic panel-esque shots in 300 were probably my favorite parts of that movie, but in Watchmen he chose a more subtle and a bit darker approach, which suited it comfortably. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack they picked for a lot of the scenes, even though it was a bit surprising at first.

As for the quality of the adaptation, while much was (and had to have been) left on the cutting room floor, I thought it admirably stayed true to some of the core aspects that made the story great. On the one hand, it is a satisfying murder mystery / adventure story, yet as it unfolds you discover that it’s actually deconstructing the super hero genre right before your eyes.

As I noted over on Alex’s blog, this story was originally presented in the context of a comic book culture that was dramatically different than what we have today. Those of you who are old enough probably remember most “capes & tights” stories as the happy-go-lucky (even campy) type of approach taken in the original incarnations of the characters that we are familiar with. In the mid-80s, this world was about to be blown wide open and (for many of the classics) take a darker turn, as well as give rise to a vibrant independent scene which would delight and enlighten those of us comic fans to a wider world of storytelling potential that the comic medium is capable of. Anyway, it’s an interesting contrast / parallel to today’s recent boom in popularity of super heroes in the movies; perhaps the “comic book movie” needs a similar degree of boundary-box-breaking.

As the world of the Watchmen unfolds, you begin to realize (more quickly for some characters than others, and each in their own way) that literally every single person who devotes themselves to a life of masked do-gooding isn’t the pure, shining example of heroism that you may expect, but rather has deep, psychological issues that have motivated them into pursuing this line of “work”. “Under the hood” (the title of Mason’s book), they are all pretty twisted in one way or another. It’s no accident that the only one with true “super powers” (John) is also the least “human”, and it’s a causal association. Or take Adrian, who is arguably the second most “powerful” of the group (he lacks “powers” but is regarded as the most intelligent man alive and has trained his body to the upper limits of physical potential), is also therefore detached enough from humanity to be capable of the vision / psychosis necessary for what he ends up doing.

[ spoiler below ]

Speaking of that, it’s a classic twist that I’m certainly glad was translated well into this story. The climactic final scene is abruptly shaken from the realm of fantasy when he announces that he isn’t the classic comic book villain. He didn’t just waste his time explaining himself to them to give them a chance to whip something out of the old utility belt and save the day, but rather the whole thing already went down before they even got there – it was already over.

[ end of spoiler ]

Anyway, there’s probably much more that could be said here, but I figure no review would be complete without addressing the one thing that probably everyone who has remotely heard anything at all about this movie seems to be obsessed with… yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Let me first say that if I did have one gripe about the stuff that was lost in the translation, it might be the fact that a considerable amount of the back-story for the various players was removed (due to time constraints, I’m sure), and I think it may have lessened the impact of this one particular point, which is very probably lost on most of the audience (or at least the crowd of giggling teenagers).

During the full story, you see more flashes back to the past in John’s life. While some of them are still present in this version, it may not have been enough to make it blatantly obvious that from the time of the “incident” until the present day, if you rearrange his appearances into chronological order, there is an intentional progression. John originally is relatively “well covered” (for a super hero costume), and as time passes his costume “simplifies”, eventually to the point of vanishing altogether. It is a perfect symbol of his gradually loosening grip on his own humanity; as that fades away from him, things like shame and concern for appearance naturally do as well. So, no, it *isn’t* gratuitous.

Long story short: I liked it. The changes that were made didn’t bother me much at all, and in the end I believe they made the story better for this current audience. I recommend it. BTW, if anyone’s interested in reading the original, they can borrow it from me anytime.

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Superbowl Day

As most of you know, I’m not much of a football fan, and to be quite honest, I don’t even like “watching it for the commercials”. Is that last-century advertising/selling model dead yet? I think it could be, but it sure seems to have a few last gasps left in it… maybe a post for another time.

Anyway, I just went back and watched the half-time show since I like Springsteen but didn’t see the game except for the last few minutes since it just happened to be on at J&R’s house. Not the best show Bruce and the E Street Band have ever done, but I always like watching them because even through this particular over-hyped presentation you can get a feel for how much they love playing this music, and there’s something to appreciate there.

“Is there anybody alive out there?” – such a good question, on so many levels… for this particular audience, for our culture, for us personally. Or am I reading too much in? Maybe Bruce was just pumping up the crowd, eh? :-)

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Appreciating Discovery

Radiolab recently did an episode exploring the inherent joy and wonder found in the process of scientific discovery. I usually enjoy this show, but I thought this one was especially good.

For those of you who knew Van Craft, you owe it to yourself to listen to this episode.

[ Direct link to the MP3 ]

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Blog Weirdness

My apologies for today’s outage here.

Also, that annoying trend of duplicate posts showing up from my other content sources and cluttering up your feed readers should be taken care of; that shouldn’t happen ever again.

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The Spirit – Movie Review

We saw this last night and I actually really liked it. I’ve heard in passing that there are some bad reviews floating around, although I haven’t actually bothered to read any of them – I generally don’t find them very applicable to my own tastes. I can totally imagine that it wouldn’t be as fun for most general audience viewers, since the reasons I liked it are probably not very commonly appreciated by most movie-goers.

The first of the two main things I thought worth mentioning here is the humor. I was cracking up several times as they poked fun at some of the elements often found in these types of stories, making caricatures out of some of the common characterizations and plot points.

The second (and more important) aspect for me is the Sin City-esque digitally enhanced cinematography that (successfully, IMHO) attempts to capture some of the better aspects of the original medium (comic books). The tweaked, toned-down, or even ommited backgrounds, details, and colors can often allow for an artistic focus that doesn’t come through in “normal” film-making. The framing of the motion parts of scenes around a particular still (or almost still) shot or pose also supports this “focusing”, calling back to the panel layouts in the books. I wish that more comic-based movies would employ these techniques; I feel that they enhance the experience substantially by melding the good visual story-telling techniques that are part of what make the source material so enjoyable.

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iTunes Question

OK, I should clarify that this post is an honest question, and not intended to be an Apple-bashing session, despite the fact that I do enjoy doing that from time to time.

So Emma got a new iPod recently, and initially she was using Martha’s computer to sync with iTunes, since the kids computer (until yesterday) was Linux only. In an effort to kick the kids off of Martha’s laptop, I went ahead and reconfigured the kids computer to dual boot Linux and XP, so that Emma can manage her iPod from there.

Here’s where the problem comes in: the fresh XP install of course has no songs on it yet. So I figure it should just sync all the songs that are already on her iPod once I set it up to sync to that computer and it should be pretty easy, right? Not quite.

Now, I understand that I need to “authorize” the new computer to load all the purchased songs (even if I don’t agree with that philosophically), but that’s not really the big issue. I was able to copy the few DRM’d songs purchased from iTunes that were on the iPod fairly easily, using the “Transfer Purchases” menu selection (I think that’s the right name – don’t have it in front of me right now).

Ironically, the problem came in for all the other (non-DRM’d) songs that were on the iPod. These were other songs which had been ripped from CDs, etc. The issue was that there was no apparent way to import those songs onto the new computer, outside of manually copying them from the computer they were originally on and re-adding them to the library on the new computer. This just seems ridiculous to me, since they were already on the iPod and not copy protected.

Is it just me, or is there something fishy about iTunes supporting the easy copy/import of DRM protected music from the iPod but *not* supporting unprotected music in the same way, since it should be even easier? Of course, I feel that this is intentionally designed to drive users towards making sure all their music is purchased from the iTunes store so they can avoid this problem.

Perhaps I’m missing something though. For all you iTunes users out there, is there another way to do this that I missed? Specifically, I want to know if there’s an option to transfer non-iTunes purchased content from an iPod onto a new computer, in a manner similar to the “Transfer Purchases” feature, without doing a manual file copy then import on the new computer.

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Biking to the office

Rode my bike to work again today.

I almost turned back this morning after seeing a thick cloud of fog (about 25ft. visibility) roll in, which usually is not a good compliment to riding along the side of a long and semi-winding road that cars tend to drive fast on.

I decided not to chicken out (or use that for an excuse) and it blew over after about 5 minutes. My legs are sore, but I think I’m going to try to make a habit out of this, along with eating better.

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