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Joomla 1.5 Licence: No More Forks?

Published on Friday, 08 June 2007
Supposedly, the licence of the entire Joomla! core product is up for review. There have been repeated threats against commercial developers by one of the project managers of Joomla!. So not all is well in the one of the leading open source projects. There have been rumours of developer walk-outs and over a thousand posts on the thread regarding the question of Joomla!'s licence status. The one thing I'm left wondering is why in God's name have the project managers of Joomla! remained silent to the wider community about patents?

If you dig around hard enough across the infrastructure of the Joomla! oligarchy, you'll see a few hints of a new product that will be integrated into Joomla! 1.5 Stable. That product is called Clearance, and supposedly is a GPL tool to enforce copyrights and patents. It was specified as a Joomla! Summer of Code project for this year, but with near half a dozen developers listed, I very much doubt Google would be sponsoring Joomla! with a swag of interns on one particular project as it would negate the intent of the Summer of Code.

But that then leaves the question. What patentable material is actually available for Joomla! ? As the copyright is held by numerous volunteer designers and developers, both inside the current teams and outside of it, who benefits from holding a patent to Joomla! and/or any specific part of it's core code ?

Johan ? Louis ? OSM ? The Software Freedom Law Centre ? Microsoft, who seem to be on a patent hunt at the moment ?

As far as I can tell, as the current copyright is distributed across OSM, the Core and various Working Groups in terms of code/design/development, it dilutes the strength of any patent claim as there is no way of differentiating who owns what particular piece of code. In open source code, there really shouldn't be any differentiation because it is a collaborative effort. Or as Linus Torvalds says "All bugs are shallow" Merely because you, as part of the development team, factor in bug fixed code from the tracker doesn't automatically make it your copyright, especially when someone else may have gone to the time and effort to provide bug fixed code to make your product work correctly.

This is the same dilemma posed by Miro when it tried to venture capitalise on Mambo with the MamboMX framework. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. Considering Joomla 1.5 is likewise being marketed as a framework, it all depends whether people have learned from the collective history of Mambo and Joomla!.

It also doesn't benefit the wider community, over a hundred thousand of them. The first step in allowing change or reformation to happen is to provide some buy-in, and having the issue of patentable material in Joomla! dip 'under the radar' at the same time as licencing doesn't help the wider community understand the path the project managers of Joomla! are taking the product. The community use, love and customise this product, to the point of needing commercial component support for their work and being locked out of the legal and financial benefits for their copyrighted work across the Joomla! ecosystem just harms them.

So there is a fork in the road. What choice is there when patents may be starting to be asserted for Joomla! ?

And just to leave people thinking on the consequences of a patent tool, would this mean Joomla! could no longer be forked as the patent tool would indicate an assertion of merchantable copyrighted non-derivative software?

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