“GPL means that you can fork, but it doesn’t mean you can steal, and you know damn well what theft is.”
I should have said ‘doesn’t mean you should steal, and you know damn well what that is’ but the point is close enough. Forking in GPL is not only okay, it’s encouraged. Many of us get our starts forking and improving plugins. But there’s a difference between that and stealing someone’s work and presenting it as our own. That’s stealing, plain and simple. If you fork, you attribute. I have a plugin that started as a fork and ended up 100% re-written in a totally different way, but I still credit my original inspiration.
Because of the community.
Look, per GPL, taking someone’s plugin is not stealing it, in so far as taking the code goes. You have the right to distribute someone else’s code. And I don’t even think that taking someone’s copyright protected work is actually theft. What I do think is that is taking someone else’s work with questionable motives, and rebranding it as your own, is stealing.
Here’s the GNU’s take on Copyright ‘Theft’:
Copyright apologists often use words like “stolen” and “theft” to refer to copyright infringement. This is spin, but they would like you to take it for objective truth.
Under the US legal system, copyright infringement is not theft. Laws about theft are not applicable to copyright infringement. The copyright apologists are making an appeal to authority—and misrepresenting what authority says.
Unauthorized copying is forbidden by copyright law in many circumstances (not all!), but being forbidden doesn’t make it wrong. In general, laws don’t define right and wrong. Laws, at their best, attempt to implement justice. If the laws (the implementation) don’t fit our ideas of right and wrong (the spec), the laws are what should change.
I agree with their explanation, and think it’s valid, in so far as it goes.
Where it breaks down is the motive, as I mentioned before. If I buy a plugin or theme to use, I’ve bought it for the intended purpose. If I buy it to fork, I’ve bought it for another intended purses. If I buy it to sell as my own, now I’ve walked into asshole territory. Per the GPL, this isn’t theft and it isn’t stealing (again, forking is okay). But when you look at it dead on, you’ve taken someone else’s work, with the intent to profit from their work, without any attribution or credit or compensation.
In any other situation, that would be, clearly, stealing.
Theft is taking someone else’s property without permissions and with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. Obviously we’re not depriving the owner of the product when it comes to software, but we are intended to deprive them of the profits of their software, by circumventing their established ‘sales’ procedure. This works the other way, too. If I take someone’s free theme/plugin and sell it, I’m stealing from them as well. However. In both cases, if I’m not selling the product, but selling my support of it, I’m not stealing anything.
Stealing is presenting someone else’s works as your own, among other definitions, and taking without right or permission. When it comes to GPL, you have both right and permission to take, that is unquestioned. But again, once you start presenting this as your own, you’ve walked into asshole territory. You didn’t do the work, you didn’t write the code, and you didn’t do anything except copy/paste. That’s not coding. You’re being dishonest, and I feel you’re stealing.
It’s morally ambiguous and sticky for me to just say ‘this is stealing’ which is why I have to come back to the intent and motive. Am I doing this for altruistic reasons? Did the developer take a walk and abandon their work, and I’m simply keeping it alive? Did the developer reject my patch so I forked it? Or am I doing this because I resent them charging $85 for a plugin when WordPress is free? If it’s that last one, then I’m a thief, because my motive is to stick it to the other guy.
Separating ‘stealing’ and ‘theft’ is like undoing a Gordian knot. You can do it, but it starts bumping into all sorts of crazy semantics. That’s why, most of the time, we don’t bother. I have a very strong opinion on the subject of code-theft, and always have. I feel that the only way to keep the GPL going is to not only do what’s right, but mean it, and being a good steward of the community, be it WP or Drupal or even Expression Engine, means you have to do what’s right.
The right thing is to thank the guy who came first. Even an ‘Inspired by a snide comment by Ipstenu’ is being a good steward. You’ve encouraged me to do more by taking the time to recognize my effort. With that encouragement, I’ll go on to do more. It’s positive reinforcement at it’s best.