Wix vs. WordPress and what we can learn about the GPL

Wix vs. WordPress

By December 15, 2016

Wix vs. WordPress and what we can learn about the GPL

If you are part of the open source community, then you probably have been following the small feud between Wix and WordPress. On October 28, 2016, former WordPress CEO, Matt Mullenweg published an open letter to Wix complaining of Wix stealing code from WordPress iOS Editor.

Mullenburg comments, "If I were being charitable, I'd say, ‘The app's editor is based on the WordPress mobile app's editor.' If I were being honest, I'd say that Wix copied WordPress without attribution, credit, or following the license. The custom icons, the class names, even the bugs. You can see the forked repositories on GitHub complete with original commits from Alex and Maxime, two developers on Automattic's mobile team. Wix has always borrowed liberally from WordPress — including their company name, which used to be Wixpress Ltd. — but this blatant rip-off and code theft is beyond anything I've seen before from a competitor."

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress CEO

"If I were being charitable, I'd say, ‘The app's editor is based on the WordPress mobile app's editor.' If I were being honest, I'd say that Wix copied WordPress without attribution, credit, or following the license."

Taking from an open source project is not the problem in this situation. It is because of the GNU Public License of which theoriginal code was licensed under that makes this case tricky. The GNU Public License v2 gives freedom to distribute copies of free software provided that users publish the correct copyright notice and keep any notices that refer to the GNU Public License. Any project created with the GNU Public License code should be distributed with the same GPL license, in accordance to the terms and conditions of the GPL v2.

Wix CEO Avishai Abrahami responded with his own open letter that was rather informal and defensive, countering, "Wow, dude I did not even know we were fighting." Abrahami mentioned Wix's 224 open source projects available on GitHub. But his post ignored the fact that their Wix app for iOS and android was released as a proprietary entity with no attribution to WordPress, and even more seriously, to the GPL.

Avishai Abrahami, Wix CEO

"Wow, dude I did not even know we were fighting."

Abrahami even explicitly admitted to using a small portion of WordPress's project in the Wix application. Because the WordPress application itself contained the GPL, Wix is in violation of terms and conditions of the GPL. But Abrahami's cheeky response wasn't enough to mitigate the consequences of not releasing the entire code used in the project.

WordPress and Wix have a reason for open sourcing their projects—to share their open source software with the world. Being an active member of the open source community includes always complying with licenses whether you have one project or 224 projects. Noncompliance with the GPL is not a petty offense. If found in violation of the GPL, WordPress could attempt to pursue legal matters including copyright violation which could result in hefty fines or jail time. It would be in Wix's best interest to comply with WordPress and take Mullenweg's claims seriously instead of dancing around the issue.

One of the engineer's working on the Wix app, Tal Kol, published his own note about the issue. Kol acknowledged that it would have been easier to directly use the MIT-licensed ZSSRichTextEditor because it is more permissive than the WordPress GPL Rich Text editor of which it is a wrapper around.

The Free Software Foundation gives instructions on what to do if there is a possible GPL violation.

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