Joomla Struggles with GPL Issues

By Deane Barker on June 30, 2007

Note: After you read this, make sure you read the first few comments for a considerable expansion of what I’ve written here.

GPL compliance issues are tearing Joomla! apart: There are some problems in the Joomla! camp. After they forked from Mambo, they decided to let companies develop and sell commercial proprietary, closed-source extensions for it. Many did.

Now, the powers-that-be at Joomla! say they made a mistake and they’ve changed their minds — extensions to Joomla! can no longer be closed source. They’ve asked these companies to release their commercial proprietary components to open-source.

[…] after two years of allowing proprietary plugins for the open source CMS, the group has decided to ask third-party developers for voluntary compliance with the terms of the GNU General Public License, under which Joomla! is licensed. Those developers are complaining that it’s unfair for Joomla! to reverse its position after “a bunch of companies spent millions,” according to one developer employed by a company that markets the proprietary extensions.

It’s a tough situation. I guess my question is this: what can Joomla! do if the commercial proprietary extension developers simply refuse? That’s what it appears many of them are going to do.

My opinion? Allow closed source extensions. Open-source and commercial proprietary software have to meet somewhere. You work through it and forge this interface or you suffer from not having it.

The president of one of the affected companies put it less diplomatically:

“The Joomla! core developers are very young. They don’t have a lot of real life experience. They don’t understand how things work in the real world. If you don’t compensate people in the real world, they’re not going to do it.”

I agree with the last part of it. Open-source is great, but there’s a distinct place in the world for commercial proprietary software.

Via CMSWatch.

Gadgetopia

Comments

  1. Arg! Where do I begin? Normally, when I see a blog on the Joomla! GPL issue, I read it and move along. But, this one is so laced with misunderstanding it would be a crime not to stop and clear up a few misconceptions.

    After they forked from Mambo, they decided to let companies develop and sell commercial, closed-source extensions for it.

    Mambo was (is) licensed using the GPL. Years ago, it was decided to allow third party extensions to use whatever license they wanted instead of complying with the GPL. This was “authorized” by Mambo via a Forum FAQ posting.

    Joomla! was formed when 100% of the core team left Mambo. There was never any “formal” forum posting authorizing this non-compliance to continue, but it was understood/accepted that it was still happening.

    Joomla! v 1.5 has not yet been released. Initially, it was generally accepted that this “disregard for the GPL” would continue. But, Joomla! is enormous now and the copyright holders started to realize that they will be unable to protect the Joomla! core given their lax attitude about license compliance with extensions. You can’t pick and choose who you allow to violate your license and still have credibility and strength in court.

    They looked around and recognized that other major GPL CMSs were enforcing the GPL with their extensions – Drupal, WordPress, Typo3, and Plone to name a few refuse to allow proprietary add-ons for their software. The copyright holders determined that they must correct these errors from back in Mambo time and start respecting the GPL.

    ?a bunch of companies spent millions,?

    I know that is a quote. But, let’s pause for a moment and look for the facts. Nope, No facts. Not that it matters – but – this is a good example of FUD. Next time, throw FUD out – don’t keep passing it on. Test it by asking WHO spent millions. I’ve asked – and have not gotten an answer. (Again, not that someone’s good or bad business decisions trumps someone’s copyright.)

    Open-source and commercial software have to meet somewhere. You work through it and forge this interface or you suffer from not having it.

    OK. You might want to get a bit more familiar with the GPL. Commercial means selling – charging money – hopefully, making a profit. If an extension is GPL-compliant, it is not restricted from being sold – support can also be sold – documentation can also be sold. There is nothing wrong with commerce. It’s cool. It’s okay. Money is GPL-compliant.

    The only requirement is that the extensions be licensed in such a way that the license is compliant with the Joomla! core’s GPL. This provides a large variety of of choices; but the license cannot be proprietary.

    +++

    Take a look at the projects I mentioned above — Drupal, WordPress, Typo3, and Plone. Ask those project leads whether non-GPL compliant modules, plug-ins, extensions are allowed. Then, talk to their third-party developers in those community. Ask them if they make money.

    They’ll tell you – NO propriety extension; YES developers make money.

    You’ll find that much of the fear is simply that. It’s a fear of change, of adapting, of the unknown. The Mambo, and then the Joomla! community has operated in a certain way for years. But, now, Joomla! is becoming more mainstream – it will be compliant with it’s license – just like these GPL projects I mentioned.

    This is a good thing. :-)

    I am certain – it will end up being the second major step forward for Joomla!. The first step was when the core source code was liberated for the community’s direction. The second is the creation of a viable and healthy open source ecosystem through embracing of the GPL.

    Sometimes, you have to dissect the sentences – to find and pull out the FUD – the natural human emotion and fear of change – you have to look at other similar situations – and ask yourself – why would the people who have refactored this code base for almost two years do anything that would hurt the project?

    Eben Moglen and his firm are legal advisors to Joomla!. It is obvious and visible that the Joomla! core team has indisputable success given hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Joomla! websites.

    These people are not stupid. They are smart. And, they didn’t make a mistake. They made a very wise decision.

    It’ll be good; you wait and see.

    Thanks! Amy :)

  2. Amy, while I appreciate your posting here and I understand all your points, don’t shoot the messenger. Go read the Linux.com article I quote and see if you get any other impression than the interpretation I have presented here.

    And I understand the GPL quite thoroughly, thanks. But you and both know that the relationship between GPL and commercial companies making money for selling GPLed products is tenuous at best. Yes, it happens, and I’m sure you’ll throw out tons of examples, but it’s not easy and this truth is self-evident: if you let people charge for code, you’re going to get a whole new class of people willing to write it.

    I don’t use Joomla!, so I can’t say this with too much authority, but I took a look through some of the commercial extensions on the market, and they look quite good. They look very professional, very polished, and with companies behind them anxious to support them.

    In short, they look like something people would gladly pay for. There seems to be a thriving market for aftermarket, commercial Joomla! extensions. Joomla! is really starting to jump ahead in the market, so I just can’t help feeling like you’re going to shoot the horse when you’re starting to gain a length.

    We can talk about this for 30 minutes or 30 days, but I will never waver from this point: allowing commercial extensions to an open-source project is a good thing. Period. If you have licensing conflicts with this, change your licensing model.

  3. I’m about to launch three separate sites all using Joomla, after playing with the various most-popular options (Xoops, Drupal, Mambo). Is this a mistake?

  4. I can’t see that any of this — no matter which way the debate goes — would make using Joomla a mistake.

    In reality, this debate affects very few people, and the two options for resolution are (1) keep it as open as it is now, or (2) make it more open. There’s nothing in play that would make it more restrictive.

  5. Deane –

    GPL means – commercial is fine but proprietary licenses are not fine. You can sell. Selling is commercial. Please do not misuse the words commercial and proprietary. That’s a primary concern I have with your original post and this response.

    The difference is staggering.

    I took a look through some of the commercial extensions on the market, and they look quite good. They look very professional, very polished, and with companies behind them anxious to support them.

    These are excellent extensions – both the open source and proprietary! Frankly, we never spoke to quality earlier. But, I agree completely with you! Joomla! has GREAT extensions.

    In short, they look like something people would gladly pay for.

    Exactly! People pay for them now – and will continue to pay for them in the future. You are building the right case. Licensing will not change that.

    We can talk about this for 30 minutes or 30 days, but I will never waver from this point: allowing commercial extensions to an open-source project is a good thing. Period. If you have licensing conflicts with this, change your licensing model.

    We might have to talk about this for 30 days – lol – I’ll keep working on it until I can convince you to stop using the word “commercial” instead of “proprietary.”

    Yes – you can sell (commercial) extensions for Joomla!. I won’t waver from that point, either. Selling extensions does not conflict with Joomla!’s licensing model. (BTW: this is not my licensing model – I am not a copyright holder.)

    Deane – one last thing, and this is to ask you to please show respect for the Joomla! core developers and their rights.

    They do not ask for any money for their software. They choose to license the CMS using the GPL (like Plone, Drupal, WordPress, Typo3). The new version of Joomla! is refactored – nearly two years of work – it uses a Model View Controller application architecture and it is amazing.

    Eventually, they will have the framework – the API – completely detached from the CMS. At that time, it sounds like they plan to license the framework using the LGPL. That will loosen things up significantly for those who choose to use this powerful tool to create and license applications liberally, including proprietary licensing. So, stay tuned sports fans for great opportunity with the Joomla! framework.

    However, the Joomla! copyright holders have determined that they must enforce the GPL with the CMS, given advice from their legal counsel (look up Eben Moglen and see what type of credibility he has!), given the example of other fine projects like Drupal and WordPress and Plone and Typo3, to require extensions to the CMS be GPL-compatiable.

    It is their work – it is their choice. They don’t ask for money. They only ask for conformance with the GPL. That is all. Obviously people are free to disagree with this decision, but no one can deny, it is certainly their right to license their software in a manner of their choosing.

    People should pay developers for software. It doesn’t matter if the software has been liberated using the GPL or not. People who do good work, deserve compensation. I think that is the point we all agree on – and it gives much hope to continue to make this work for everyone for the future.

    Mark – Joomla! rocks. There are a number of really great open source CMSs out there. Check out http://opensourcecms.com/ for a listing of many, many excellent free (as in liberty) CMS applications that you can test drive online.

    All the best, Deane! (Mark, too!) Amy :)

  6. I’ll keep working on it until I can convince you to stop using the word “commercial” instead of “proprietary.”

    Fine: allowing proprietary extensions to an open-source project is a good thing. I have edited the original post, though please note that I did use the phrase “closed source” in several places, which is more or less the same as “proprietary.”

    Deane – one last thing, and this is to ask you to please show respect for the Joomla! core developers and their rights.

    You kind of walked away from this statement, but your bringing it up at all concerns me a little. I’ve worked on open source, I’ve even started an open-source project of my own. This has nothing to do with respect.

    Eventually, they will have the framework – the API – completely detached from the CMS. At that time, it sounds like they plan to license the framework using the LGPL.

    Perfect. Wonderful. Remember the “change your licensing model part” I ended on? (Sorry, that was a bit snarky…)

    However, the Joomla! copyright holders have determined that they must enforce the GPL with the CMS, given advice from their legal counsel

    Under the current license, sure, I suppose they have to.

    It is their work – it is their choice. They don’t ask for money. They only ask for conformance with the GPL. That is all. Obviously people are free to disagree with this decision, but no one can deny, it is certainly their right to license their software in a manner of their choosing.

    Amy, I wasn’t denying anyone’s right to license their own software. I was merely pointing out my opinion than another way of licensing it might be advantageous for the project. It’s your software, license it however you like. (Although I still don’t think you can do anything about the existing proprietary extensions that refuse to go GPL…)

    Since we were having this debate, I took another look at Joomla! I’ve looked at it in the past, but never really cared for it. I may have to reconsider, as some of the things I saw (and — he he — the availability of proprietary extensions) looked quite nice. My church uses it, I think.

    Anyway, regardless — good debate, and the next time I’m down in Omaha, I’ll buy you and your husband dinner in Old Market and we’ll call it square. V Mertz has a killer NY Strip.

    Huskers suck. (Sorry, that was snarky too…)

  7. Deane,

    You were brave to take the Joomla “family squabble” online. Personally, I don’t know why there was such a big uproar as the GPL is pretty clear that the modules should also be GPL. (Though I’m completely confused with some of the mumbo jumbo lawyer talk in the GPL3 ).

    I think the litmus test of what is GPL and what is not GPL is pretty clear (at least in my head).

    If a third-party program is dependent on another GPL program (such as a module that can only run on Joomla) then that third-party program must be distributed under the GPL license.

    If, however, a third-party program can run independently from a GPL program (such as the SMF forum software being integrated into Joomla), then that third party program can have a non-GPL license. In that case a module acting as a “bridge” would be created with a GPL license that allowed both applications to work together.

    In my mind, this really isn’t a commercial, propriety, open source, free software debate…but a choice in licenses. Joomla was founded solely under the GPL so I don’t think commercial third-party contributers have a right to complain…all they had to do was read the bloody thing…

    -Bryan

  8. I think the litmus test of what is GPL and what is not GPL is pretty clear (at least in my head).

    Yeah, I’m prepared to concede this point. So, Amy, I agree — the modules need to become GPL. Though I still think you’re going to have a tough time getting someone to release their code given the tacit acceptance to date.

    However, this also leads me to say that they should LGPL the whole shindig, then, so that people can make proprietary extensions. Of course, I have contributed exactly zero lines of code, so this easy for me to say…

  9. Huskers suck. (Sorry, that was snarky too…)

    Man, ain’t that the truth? ;-) Please do contact me when you come to Omaha – it would be totally cool to meet you. Thanks for your patience with me – and for covering the Joomla! story. BTW – I am just a community member – it’s not my software to license. I respect this site and wanted to help clarify some of the issues, if at all possible. As you have correctly indicated, misstatements are everywhere! But, even your willingness to hear me out – I think we got there! So, much MUCH thanks! :-)

  10. Move along, nothing to see here – I (and many others) have already proved that non-gpl licensed code can be deployed with Joomla.

    First off:

    http://forum.joomla.org/index.php/topic,186705.0.html

    And the silence was deafening….

    Even with the above the solution was rock solid, but wait… :

    http://jcd-a.org/component/option,com_smf/Itemid,28/topic,349.msg4411/#msg4411

    My gosh, how can it be that I look at the license for a few hours and can understand it, while the FSF and OSM have been playing with it for years, yet still haven’t got a clue, didn’t the General Secretary of the FSF actually author the license? This doesn’t compute… RS, RS wherefore art thou RS?

    This is a non-issue, FSF and OSM tried something and failed dismally. It would be quite funny, but the fact is that they have effed up a good platform and lost all credibility.

    AmyStephen, I am seeing you sprout the same ignorance where ever you post. Please learn about programing and the GPL before commenting further… thats the last piece of advice I will to you – normally I ignore such as yourself, but you seem nice and well meaning so…

    And lastly:

    http://jcd-a.org/component/option,com_smf/Itemid,28/topic,550.0/

    Joomla has just lost another fulltime coder, in fact Open Source has lost a “comrade” as well – my code will now be proprietary and encoded. My code will interact with GPL code legally as well; I can now enjoy the best of both worlds, have my cake and eat it too hahahahahahaha!!!!!

    Pandora’s box anyone?

    TTFN :)

  11. Lobos –

    Appreciate this “you seem nice and well meaning so…” All the best, I wish you well with your journey! It’s very obvious that not everyone likes the GPL and it’s best for each of us to find an environment suitable for our needs. It sounds like you, too, have reached that conclusion.

    Take care! Amy :)

  12. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand GPL, but from reading it through my understanding is that YES, a company can charge for it BUT there is nothing stopping the recipient of the software from distributing it (in modified or original form) without charge thus undermining the commercial company that originally created it, just as Joomla forked Mambo and took it away from it’s original creators Miro Inc.

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