Monday, August 18, 2008

Has the Number 10 website breached the GNU GPL?

The story about the copyright on the Downing Street website seems to rumbling along, but something else has potentially now come to light. Not only does it look like they breached the Creative Commons License by failing to attribute the theme code of the site to the original designer, I'm now starting to wonder if they may have breached the GNU General Public License under which Wordpress is released aswell.

The basic principle of the GPL is that the code is free to use but if you modify it or customise it in anyway [and redistribute it*], you have to release those modifcations back under the GPL. I raise this because word reaches me that the company behind the Number 10 site, New Media Maze, have essentially said "its not just Wordpress" (which is not what was being said before) and there allegedly now claims that Wordpress has been modified for security reasons.

Under the GPL those changes [if you consider New Media redistributed them to Downing Street*] ought to have been released back into the community for review, and/or possible inclusion in version braches for the Wordpress source as it continues to be developed. The question is, has it? I guess that only New Media Maze will be able to confirm this, but given that they've used Open Source code then their changes are Open Source too.

It's also been brought to my attention that Downing Street are trying to claim that their copyright is for the content only and that the design and code (which is what, in essence, lays out the content) is not. Seems like they're trying to brush the issue of the original theme designer under the carpet, it is quite embarassing after all.

Open Sourcerer has noted ome other interesting stuff over here.
Update: * Insertions to keep the GPL pedants at bay.

13 comments:

Tony Kennick said...

Under the GPL those changes ought to have been released back into the community for review, and/or possible inclusion in version braches for the Wordpress source as it continues to be developed.

The GPL doesn't require that. It requires you to supply the source code to any modifications to anyone you supply the software to, but not necessarily to the community at large. Someone should put in a FOI request to find out if they got it.

Shug Niggurath said...

The whole thing is nothing much more than a good laugh which lays bare their cavalier attitude to honesty.

Looks to me more like they assumed open source meant 'free' rather than 'free to share'. I wonder too whether they thought they were being trendy and modern.

GPL Fan said...

"Copyleft applies only when a person seeks to redistribute the program. One is allowed to make private modified versions, without any obligation to divulge the modifications as long as the modified software is not distributed to anyone else. Note that the copyleft applies only to the software and not to its output (unless that output is itself a derivative work of the program); for example, a public web portal running a modified derivative of a GPL'ed content management system is not required to distribute its changes to the underlying software."



wikipedia link



Here's 50c, go buy yourself a clue.

Edward said...

Why did Number 10 not use puffbox.com which designed the website for the Welsh Office using Wordpress? You would have thought that Gordon may, by now, have heard of the concept of economics of scale, or at the very least been able to extract some sort of discount for repeat government business.

Actually, come to think of it I wonder what sort of open, transparent and accountable bidding process was undertaken for the design of the Number 10 website? I feel an FOI coming on. :-)

Anonymous said...

The GPL doesn't require that. It requires you to supply the source code to any modifications to anyone you supply the software to, but not necessarily to the community at large.
Indeed. It's a major problem from which the GPL suffers: the nature of "software" has significantly expanded since 1989, and web applications, not to mention SaaS, frequently don't have a "distribution" element for the code (though there have been intruiging claims that it could go both ways with client-side code such as JS in otherwise static content). The flaw wasn't even fixed in GPL 3, despite ample opportunity and clear necessity - very disappointing of the FSF, but what do you expect of them? Anyway, dizzy, be a bit careful not to accuse people of copyright violations when they haven't! Boy who cried wolf etc. (and the other copyvio is bad enough, let's not get distracted).

Anonymous said...

This is true the GPL only requires source code access for redistribution, not changes for your own purpose.

It is perfectly valid under the GPL to keep your own changes closed so long as you don't try to give or sell those change on and keep it closed.

I can't believe I'm actually defending this lot!

Anonymous said...

Oh I've just thought that it also depends on how you interpret the GPL.

For instance technically the designers modified the code and are redistributing it to their clients... i.e. Downing Street. If you interpret it that way, indeed the code must be released.

The Open Sourcerer said...

Hi Dizzy, thanks. Your post got me thinking...

http://www.theopensourcerer.com/2008/08/18/more-on-number-10/

dizzy said...

Two quick notes. First I did not say they had breached the GPL, I asked if they had. Second has pointed out it depends on whether you see the design company as a distributer and I was refering to New Media Maze when I posed the question.

purplepangolin said...

If they have provided modified software for a client to host the website with their own provider, then they are obliged to provide the modified source so that the client can take on the maintenance, or get someone else to do it. They are not obliged to release the source to the community. However, the client would be able to if they so wished.


Where it gets more interesting is if the provider is just selling a hosted service using modified GPL code. As they are not providing the code to a client, they are under no obligation to release the modifications to anyone, which I think is anonymous's point @23:05

The Open Sourcerer said...

I doubt very much it would be Gordon hacking the PHP; if it was hacked of course. Therefore it seems reasonable to assume that New Media Maze did the hacking and sold the resulting "website" to #10.

That is redistribution. Their hacks, if any, would be GPL and need to be available to anyone.

purplepangolin said...

@the open sourcerer

They are only obliged to provide the modifications to their client, not to the community at large. They are not able to constrain their client from releasing them to the community at large should the client wish to.

Anonymous said...

@purplepangolin

Actually again that depends. Section 3 says you must provide the source code along with any binaries and also under the conditions in sections 1 and 2.

Section 2 however states that the source must be available at no charge to ALL third parties.