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Woothemes forks Jigoshop - is this ethical? (blogforprofit.com)
12 points by badgergravling on Aug 26, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments

I'm an advocate for OSS in many circumstances, but you have to understand that one of the consequences of open-sourcing your software is that things like this can happen.

I can't tell if the blog's author is upset so much about the fork as he is the idea that someone other than Jigowatt is making money off of this plugin. The whole Git and GitHub ethos has certainly removed a lot of the stigma once associated with forking.

I agree. I certainly don't see anything wrong with forking a project if the licence allows it.

Of course, I never understood why there was a stigma attached to forking in the first place.

This article is a bit unnecessary.

There's nothing wrong with forking, and it's clearly allowed under the GPL licence, and is legal and above board.

But there are good reasons for forking - for instance, if the code has languished for ages, and there are forks which split the potential development and user community. There's always two sides to every story, and I'm involved with Jigoshop, but certainly Jigoshop/Jigowatt supported a team of developers to work on a project which resulted in two of the team leaving just as the stable version was about to be released, there was a low offer of acquisition of copyright of the product, and an offer of collaboration which had certain conditions attached to it, so would not have been workable, and forking is being used as a business mechanism, rather than a method of evolving the software

I fail to see why I should be outraged about the forking of any OSS project whose license specifically allows forking.

I agree completely. All I can see here is people generally misunderstanding the whole purpose of licensing.

OSS licenses might be about ethics in spirit but in practice it's about law. Releasing something GPL and crying foul when someone forks it is akin to being outraged and then admitting that you "didn't really read the contract".

Totally agree, not to mention its very hypocritical considering WordPress itself a fork of B2. It seems to me that people are happy to embrace GPL when it suits them, but condem it when it doesn't suit... When you build on an GPL product you accept the freedom it provides, both good and bad.

There's nothing in the law that says you can't walk up to a child with leukemia and say "HA HA! You're dying!".

The reason for this is because unrestricted free speech is very important, and some day it may become vital for you be able to speak in a way that hurts people's feelings. Therefore they do not restrict emotionally hurtful free-speech in the law. (except in cases where it overlaps with other considerations...but don't lets get too bogged down here.)

However I think we can all agree that it would be an incredibly shitty thing to do.

Software licenses in that respect are like the law. They are there to lay out practical matters. The reason for allowing forking is because the ability to do it in certain circumstances is important....if a product is abandoned or what-have-you, a fork can save it.

However, just like hurting someone's feelings forking is something to be avoided unless truly necessary. (obviously this is somewhat subjective). In that regard, the blog author is 100% right. Forks are stigmatized (in some communities) and this is how it should be for a variety of reasons both practical and social. Forking without a good reason is something of a Jerk move.

Some people seem to think if you release under a fork-permissive license it somehow welcomes all fork-related behaviour and I think it's a shame. I would say this is no more true than publishing your phone number is an invitation for mean-spirited prank-calls. Sure they will happen, and one should expect them (or at least not be surprised), but that's an entirely separate question from whether or not they are a morally or socially acceptable thing.

I would note however that I'm not familiar with this particular situation at all, and it could be the forkers DO have a good reason. In that case it's unfortunate, but that's the reality....sometimes you want or need to take a project in a certain direction and the project founders won't cooperate. In that case I would say a fork is justified.

I don't even think the bar for "justified fork" should be very high, but it's definitely higher than "the license allows forks"...and I think we should always fork reluctantly. It should be viewed as the slightly less desirable option.

Not only does the license allow for this, but aren't the people doing the fork for Woothemes the core authors of Jigoshop?

> In the last couple of months, Jay & Mike have been responsible for the development of Jigoshop, an exciting new commerce plugin for WordPress, as part of their previous employment gig at Jigowatt. We have decided to continue the development work on a forked version (that’s the Wikipedia link if you’re unsure what forking means) of Jigoshop, which will now be known as WooCommerce.

So yes and yes. The comments actually clarify the situation a little bit beyond that (apparently this fork was their last resort):


Hi. Just to clarify, Jay and Mike were important members of the team, but not the sole developers involved, either internally, or from the wider development community.

And the prospect of forking was mentioned throughout any offers, which were not close to being acceptable for a variety of reasons - http://jigoshop.com/blog/2011/08/26/our-forking-views/

I'm not sure I see your point. Retaining talent is a problem for all software businesses. If a key product of yours depends on a small number of people who can be recruited, well, you should have been doing more to make those people happy. It seems specious to complain that Woo didn't offer enough money for your business when the real kernel of value in your business was on the market ready to be hired away.

We've lost awesome, awesome people from Matasano to better paid roles elsewhere; some of those people even compete with us now. We're not going to whine about it. I'm glad I got to work with them at all.

If you don't want anyone to fork then don't OSS it no? Unless you have laws stopping people nothing else will. Surely finger waving won't help. I don't like what is happening but If it was me I wouldn't have OSS'd the project. Just that risk you take.

I really don't see morals ever stop anyone from trying to make a buck on the internet. Spammers, Mac defender scams, Big copy cat companies (you know, the guys that just go right out and wget your entire site recursively), Groupon (had to throw that one in), or whatever else you got. Nuts I tell you.

I hate to say it, but no one is going to remember you for OSS'ing or even forking a project. So it can go either way for both groups.

In the end people are only going remember the one that make the most noise (functionality, service, even drama). If woo takes off then people will quickly forget Jig.

Seriously, who remembers b2/cafelog? You know, it was a project later forked into something called WordPress. I'm sure you all know WordPress!

From a quick scan of http://jigoshop.com/licence/ it looks like it's licenced as GPLv3. Unless I'm misunderstanding something fundamental about how the GPL works, any fork is going to have to be published under the same licence (or can they exert proprietary control over the specific changes they make after forking?)

Assuming the former, and that the new fork must also be GPLv3, I can't see there being a huge problem, the original devs can always merge in features from the fork into their version (although it sounds like they've been hired to work on the fork anyway)

What does this achieve other than a rebranding exercise?

Just a thought: we're talking about WordPress plugin code here. Anyone ever tried to collaborate on and add features to code like this: https://github.com/jigoshop/Jigoshop ?

Any value judgements aside, it is just very hard to touch this kind of PHP spaghetti without breaking it, let alone add functionality unless you completely own the code.

From a software engineering point of view, isn't reusing components considered a Good Thing?

It seems logical to fork instead of reinventing a whole bunch of functionality (this assumes you are adding new functionality of your own, not just rebranding which is pretty sleazy).

Anyway, it _is_ under an open license so... what did the Author expect?

It's interesting how most comments on this thread have no issue with the fork, yet most of the comments on the blog post are very much against the fork. (Strange considering they are mostly from the WordPress community).

Maybe it's because there's more of an awareness here of how much the developer ecosystems we all depend on are built from Other Peoples Code.

From the languages & compilers to the frameworks & API's, every day we stand on the shoulders of giants who made it all possible (written on a machine running a commercialised fork of BSD).

That's true, but it's also the case that unecessary forking can lead to confusion and potentially damages both projects by splitting the support between them.

After all, is it Open Source, or Free Software ;)

(written on a machine running Windows, sat next to a machine running Ubuntu)

I think many people are jealous of WooThemes because they are doing a lot of money selling WordPress themes, succeeding where many people have failed.

It's perfectly ethical. Is it socially acceptable seems to be the question.

If Woo didn't have luck with their own product, will they do well with this codebase? A lot more goes into running a project like this than just the code.

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