When WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg accused Wix of copying WordPress “without attribution, credit, or following the license,” Wix CEO Avishai Abrahami quickly shot back to refute the allegations
A major drama took place over the weekend involving mutual recriminations between WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and Israeli company Wix. It all began on Friday when Mullenweg accused the Israeli website-building platform of copying WordPress for its recently launched mobile app. According to Mullenweg, “If I were being honest, I’d say that Wix copied WordPress without attribution, credit, or following the license.” He added that not only are the icons and class names copies, even the bugs are the same.
A sense of Déjà Vu
As Mullenweg described it, after trying the new Wix app he had a sense of déjà vu because the Wix app was actually WordPress, a free content management system operating under the GPL open-source license. Additions based on content or software from WordPress must be distributed under the same conditions.
Wix stands accused of failing to honor the license terms and using code without crediting the source. Its new app, which allows users to receive realtime updates, to manage their online store, or to chat with visitors to their site, is not based on open-source code. Mullenweg urges Wix to “release your app under the GPL, and put the source code for your app up on GitHub so that we can all build on it, improve it, and learn from it.” He concludes: “If you want to close the door on innovation, Wix, that’s your decision to make, just write your own code. If you’re going to join the open source community, play by the open source rules.”
The next day, Saturday, Avishai Abrahami, founder and CEO of Wix, used the company’s official blog to respond to the allegations: “First, you say we have been taking from the open source community without giving back, well, of course, that isn’t true.” Abrahami included a link listing 224 projects on Wix’s public GitHub page, emphasizing that “you can see they are all dated before your post” and adding: “We have not checked if WordPress is using them, but you are more than welcome to do so, some of them are pretty good.”
Later in the post, in response to the allegations that the app was copied, Abrahami stated: “Yes, we did use the WordPress open source library for a minor part of the application (that is the concept of open source right?), and everything we improved there or modified, we submitted back as open source.”
Things began to get complicated when Abrahami added, “And by the way, the part that we used was in fact developed by another and modified by you.”
The plot thickens
Abrahami links to another post, written by Tal Kol, a Full-stack developer who joined Wix after it purchased Appixia, a startup Kol co-founded, for $10 million. Kol goes back several months, noting that it all started in June 2016, when implementation of the new app had just begun. The development team was looking for a rich text component because, “the one we use on the web (which is completely unrelated to WordPress) did not have a good port for native mobile.” Later, during the ReactEurope conference, Kol met representatives of Automattic, the company behind WordPress, and consulted with them. According to Kol, they suggested that he check out the rich-text component that they had developed, based, of course, on open-source code.
Since their rich-text component does not support React Native, Kol suggested collaborating with them and helping to create a component that would support it. They reacted enthusiastically. As soon as Kol had returned to Israel, he and his team began work on the new product and developed their own code, which they posted with the appropriate attribution. Kol personally tweeted a link to the component, even tagging it with #wordpress, but WordPress did not reply. Today, four and a half months later, WordPress CEO Mullenweg is accusing Wix of copying code without attribution.
Are you still with us? In plain English, what has happened here is that the original developer of the code posted it under MIT license. WordPress took it, made modifications to it, and released it under GPL license, which they are permitted to do according to the MIT license terms. Wix took Automattic’s code and released it again under MIT license, which actually contravenes the GPL license terms. Therefore, if Wix made use of this code, this is a violation of the license terms. Ultimately, the claims of both sides are certainly justified, but there is no doubt that things have been blown out of proportion. It is very possible that this was simply an innocent error by someone in the company who did not properly understand the licensing chain.
Attorney Jonathan Klinger, a digital human rights activist, is not sure that Wix violated the license in this case. According to Klinger, in principle, the GPL license states that all software that incorporates GPL components must also be released under the GPL. In the case before us, he notes, it is not clear if the text editor is an integral part of the Wix software or not. If it is an integral part, says Klinger, then Wix will have to release the entire code and not just the text editor’s code. If it is a separate part, then it is enough for them to release only the code for the text editor. He adds that the answer to this question usually takes dozens of hours of work by attorneys, and that in the end, the answer is not always clear cut. In this case, apparently, there is another issue, which is that the text editor was also released under another license.