In case anyone missed it Matt just announced that the WordPress trademark has been transfered to The WordPress Foundation. My question is how will the new trademark policy affect the name of this site as well as the yet to be decided domain name?

Permission from the WordPress Foundation is required to use the WordPress name or logo as >part of any project, product, service, domain or company name.

-The WordPress Foundation

  • 1
    I sent a mail to the SE team, asking for their and/or a legal opinion.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 20:18
  • There's always the possibility to get allowance under different terms by the foundation I'm pretty sure. So probably nothing to worry about at all.
    – hakre
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 21:13

4 Answers 4


I don't think the GPL compliance will be a problem, but the commercial nature.

Your project is non-commercial in nature (it can make money to cover its costs or contribute to non-profit entities, but it cannot be run as a for-profit project or business).

Stack Overflow Internet Services clearly wants to make money from these sites (in the long run), so indeed, we should not use WordPress in the product or domain name. But we already knew this for the domain name, and I assume the site name will be the same as the domain name. In the byline, we can use the WordPress trademark again. So I still think this won't be a problem.

  • I doubt that trademark is that strong to forbid using it for related projects. But IANAL, you know the deal.
    – hakre
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 21:08

This does cause some problems. In the past, the only real requirement was that we not use "WordPress" in any top-level domain names. The new trademark policy, has a specific statement that disallows its use with anything related to StackOverflow or StackExchange:

Your project neither promotes nor is associated with entities that currently fail to comply with the GPL license under which WordPress is distributed.

SE/SO is not GPL ... it's run on a closed-source platform overseen by a for-profit, venture-funded corporation. That means we won't get permission to use WordPress in our domain name ... and I question whether or not we can still technically call the site "WordPress Answers."

  • 1
    I don't think fail to comply with the GPL license means everything you create should be GPL. Instead, the way I understand it, if you extend WordPress and you should cover this under the GPL, but you don't, then you can't use the trademark. Imagine I create a theme, call it Dissertation, but then don't GPL it: that's when I can't use the trademark.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 5:32
  • Agree with @Jan. We're not distributing WordPress or any themes/plugins, so we're not "failing to comply with the GPL." I believe that line is intended to discourage endorsement of those breaking the license during distribution.
    – user66
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 10:58
  • @EAMann - We probably won't get to call it WordPress Answers. Currently the high vote is query_posts.com: meta.wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/1/… Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 10:33
  • On that note, I've added my vote for queryposts.com ... :-)
    – EAMann
    Commented Sep 13, 2010 at 14:56

In general with the comments on @EAMann's answer I agree with both @Jan and @Adam Backstrom; there shouldn't be a problem. The GPL's requirements are only triggered upon code distribution and since StackExchange is not distributing it's own code the GPL issue is really a moot point.

HOWEVER, and this is where it could get really interesting; the code that people write on StackExchange (like the code each of us have written when answering questions) could come under dispute. StackExchange is requiring all content we contribute to be licensed cc-by-sa and it doesn't appear that Creatives Commons is directly compatible with GPL (which pointed to a potentially even broader concern; more on that in a bit).

As all of us know Matt Mullenweg has taken made a very visible stand with regarding to the licensing of themes and plugins. Matt has asserted that themes and plugins are derivative works of WordPress and thus must be bound by GPL v2. If we take that on face value (more on that in a bit) then we have a situation where code distributed with a CC license much also be licensed via GPL, but the two are not compatible. What to do?

It gets worse. The code found on WordPress answers can now not be used in plugins or themes because, according to Matt, they must be GPL. But GPL is likely not compatible with CC. So we have a rock and a hard place.

Now the easy answer is to just have both the WordPress Foundation and StackExchange look the other way. One reason there are no court cases to speak of involving the GPL is IMO because by its very nature there's very little monetary value that can be derived from the software (when you compare to proprietary software) that nobody wants to pay to litigate it. So looking the other way would be easy and the chance of a lawsuit from a 3rd party would be next to nil IMO, although IANAL.

However, and here starts the wildcard: Matt and his inner circle have not embraced WordPress Answers. I initially mentioned the idea on the wp-hackers list and they were, shall we say, less than supportive of the idea (bordering on hostile.) At 47 years old I've been involved in a lot of software communities before WordPress and I've seen the pattern repeat. You have an idealist like Matt who has great instincts and organizational skills and they rise to a significant level of success and generate immense goodwill and lots of fan. However as time moves on they instinctively start to protect "their turf." And my gut tells me that Matt and team view any website that supports WordPress as being "their turf" and thus see it as competitive even if it's actually great for the community of users (as I believe WordPress Answer is.) In this theory anything that might be viewed as competitive with WordPress.org will have a bull's eye on it's back, especially anything that turns out to be wildly successful as I believe WordPress Answers has already proven itself to be.

So there is a potential that Matt may take a stand against WordPress Answers in the same way he took a stand against it his very public campaign against Chris Pearson's Thesis. Matt used the tremendous influence he has generated since founding WordPress to pressure Chris in the court of public opinion and he won. Somehow the community pressure on Chris combined with the threat of an actual lawsuit was enough to get Chris to change his position after saying he never would. So if Matt chooses to view WordPress Answers as the enemy there may be real problems ahead.

BTW, I think Matt did himself some damage by pressuring Chris in the manner that he did. Nothing he can't repair but there are now more than a few people who ask whether Matt really is as benevolent as they used to think. If Matt were to go after WordPress Answers I think his reputation and that of WordPress would take a much larger hit than it did with the Thesis/GPL fiasco.

StackExchange OTOH could just say "to hell with this" and drop WordPress Answers. They don't need WordPress nearly as much as WordPress can benefit from them, at least IMO.

Or StackExchange could choose fight on principle and if so I'm almost positive they would win. To support his opinion that themes and plugins must be GPL Matt references legal opinions on the matter from the Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center that supports his position. Of course Matt quoting FSF and SFLC on interpretation of the GPL is similar to Republican US Senators quoting the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute as authorities on what should be proper US tax policy; all four of those organizations are advocates for an ideology so their opinions are by definition biased. We can't take the FSF and SFLC's opinion as fact; it will only ever be resolved if the issue were to make it to court (and I have a friend who is a very high profile IP attorney and having discussed the issue with him he believes that in fact a court would not find themes or plugins to be derivative works of WordPress and thus not required to be distributed via GPL if it were ever to be litigated.)

Then there's another angle, and this is probably the most relevant. StackExchange has a rock-star team of investors) and Automattic's has significant investors and I think they would get together and put an end to any nonsensical dispute between StackExchange and WordPress. The investors likely didn't step in when Matt went after Chris Pearson because Chris' company wasn't VC-backed. But Joel and Jeff are different than Chris; have a dream team behind them and are not likely to come off half-cocked in public as Chris did. So I just don't see the WordPress Foundation choosing to battle StackExchange to support Matt's position on the GPL.

Which brings me to the first point I said I'd revisit and that is the issue with CC and GPL not being compatible permeates all the programming sites in the StackExchange network. If this hasn't come up before it probably will and this I'm pretty sure StackExchange will have to address it. And it seems to me that they could do so by simply changing their policy and start dual licensing cc-by-sa for content and GPL for code and require all users to explicitly opt out or have their content removed.

Anyway, I had no idea I was going to write so much. If you made it thus far, thanks for reading.

Hope this helps.


  • Very interesting observation, but I think this still poses no problem for this site. The way I read the text, non-compliance with the GPL makes you fall under the "All other businesses"-group, that can still use the name, but not in the product name. Can we generalize this to other sites, like blogs, that write tips about WordPress, but don't explicitly state that all code they use in their articles falls under the GPL?
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 19:51
  • The Stack Exchange Meta already contains a question regarding the use of code you found on Stack Overflow in your own project. Of course, we could use the expertise of a real lawyer, but the general idea was "don't copy from SE sites, but learn from them and write your own code". Individual users could add a notice to their user pages that they also license their code under the GPL, or we could ask that the license for all (new) content on this site is both GPL and CC.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 20:15
  • "I initially mentioned the idea on the wp-hackers list": I assume you are talking about the Proposal: StackOverflow for WordPress and Wordpress StackExchange is ready threads? I read them just now, and while I can understand their point of view, they are indeed not very supportive to this site. But as you also mentioned: either way, it will be better for WordPress developers.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Sep 13, 2010 at 15:03
  • @MikeSchinkel one thing that should be noted: GPL only kicks in upon distribution. So the code on this site only matters insofar as its GPL or not if the theme/plugin etc is being released for distribution. (I realize you already know this, but most people don't understand GPL fully so I thought it should be said). Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 1:37
  • I think this is overly over-rated. In no way can the wordpress foundation control code postings on third-party sites. That's not what trademark is about. I read Matt's words more like something he wants to see it rather than this is something to be taken in reality.
    – hakre
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 21:11
  • Hi @Jan - Thanks for finding that link on Meta. Yes, it was a shame out unsupportive there have been, but frankly I'm really glad that StackExchange provides another outlet. It's open-source, after all, and by definition not controlled by any company. Commented Sep 15, 2010 at 8:43
  • @hakre I agree with you, but the key takeaway was Matt's assertion that themes must be GPL and the subsequent campaign against Thesis because it wasn't GPL. Who knows what Matt will go on the warpath after next? Commented Sep 15, 2010 at 8:46
  • @MikeSchinkel Very good points. I guess we will just have to wait and see how this plays out.
    – Chris_O
    Commented Sep 15, 2010 at 15:43
  • @MikeSchinkel - Hey well, first of all the trademark needs to be passed over. It still is not. So there is a policy but the foundation does not have the trademark: hakre.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/…
    – hakre
    Commented Sep 16, 2010 at 19:21
  • @MikeSchinkel Take a look at this question on Meta Stack Overflow that addresses some of the GPL vs cc-wiki issues.
    – Chris_O
    Commented Sep 18, 2010 at 3:27

The terms relating to products goes back at least 4 years to my knowledge as Toni mentioned it in my comments then... the first time WordPress were cracking down on trademark infringement. The current trademark policy is being looked on as draft.

  • Tony is automattic and not the wordpress foundation. So tony can not speak for the foundation and has nothing to do with the policy announced on wordpressfoundation.org.
    – hakre
    Commented Sep 16, 2010 at 19:22

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