James Farmer and WPMU DEV respond to accusations of copyright infringement

49 Comments

James Farmer, the CEO of WPMU DEV/Incsub, responded to Joost de Valk’s accusations and cease and desist in a blog post this weekend. In the post Farmer responds to de Valk’s claims, as well as to the comments on this WPCandy post and various statements on Twitter.

Farmer’s post includes their timeline of the events that transpired, beginning with WPMU DEV developer Ulrich Sossou creating the plugin for them:

We assign a new-ish developer – Ulrich Soussou [sic] – to the project. He provides a series of alphas and betas, we test, check the code on them and then publish a beta to WPMU DEV, this process continues, at one point later on a request is made to include a feature like the one on wordpress seo, he does it, it’s well received.

As it was already a beta, and it worked well, we didn’t double check his code at that time… big mistake!

Sossou has since apologized for his role in these events in a blog post on his site.

According to Farmer, shortly after being notified by de Valk of the issue, the code was “completely rewritten” and approved to be listed on WordPress.org. After this he says they notified de Valk by email and heard back:

Joost responds by email that we are ‘probably still violating [his] copyright’, he never tells us where or how though :/, and that ‘A cease & desist demanding you to take down the plugin is already on its way through a courier, to your US and AU addresses… I suggest you take it down and we talk after that and see how we solve this.’

After the news went up late on Friday, WPMU DEV’s Aaron posted a response which Farmer quickly removed because he wasn’t prepared to officially respond. Farmer also said:

Well, as far as I can see, we screwed up by trusting someone too much, and as soon as we discovered that that trust had been breached, we fixed it.

Then I, as the CEO, screwed up, by not emailing Joost about it once we’d sorted it to personally say sorry and grovel a bit (I’ve since done that, but he hasn’t responded)… although, in fairness to us, our CTO did exactly that right at the time, and given he’s in charge of code that kinda makes more sense.

Farmer goes on to question de Valk’s motives in sending the cease and desist and blogging about it, and to describe what WPMU DEV/Incsub employees do for the WordPress community.

You can read all of Farmer’s statements on the WPMU.org blog.

49 thoughts on “James Farmer and WPMU DEV respond to accusations of copyright infringement

  1. Ryan, I didn’t see that you had written this report but responded to James Farmer’s post in a comment in your older report on this story. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to repost that comment here as this post is clearly the most appropriate place for it:

    ———

    Wow, James Farmer, wow.

    Joost never asked for his code to be stolen, you forced him to go to a great deal of trouble and expense to defend his GPL right to be credited. He raised the issue on the 26th of May and you spent a week doing precisely nothing, forcing him to go to the extraordinary length of hiring a lawyer and sending a Cease & Desist request across the world to you in Australia.

    The C&D made an incredibly reasonable request: that you credit him as the author of the parts of the plugin which were stolen from him, at which point, under the GPL, they would no longer be stolen. Simple. He did not ask for money or anything else to which the GPL does not entitle him. No code had to be rewritten, no money had to be paid, you simply had to fire up your text editor and add his name.

    Your initial posted response to the C&D was seriously ill-judged and, wisely, you deleted it after just a few hours. Remarkably, having had some time to mull it over, you have now somehow managed to post something even less appropriate and less graceless than your first non-apology. Is Charlie Sheen doing your PR?

    In an astonishing new low for a company that has already been limbo-dancing its way through the WordPress world for years, you suggest that Joost has a psychological disorder! Again, he did not create this situation, he made a reasonable request that you respect his GPL rights and gave you plenty of time to comply. You could have spent a couple of minutes adding his name, entirely settling the matter, and happily continued running your plagiarism farm, knowing that the vast majority of WordPress developers will not have the money, time or energy to call you out on your shady business model, but something in your psychology caused you to foolishly and arrogantly ignore him, the same bad judgement that is now driving you to keep making the situation worse.

    From a business perspective, your refusal to man up, accept responsibility and issue a simple, sincere and straightforward apology, is incredibly self-destructive because it draws continued attention to the dirty little secret underlying your business: the conveyor-belt manner in which you hastily churn out knock-off plugins screws your customers. Look at what this controversy has exposed: you hired a young, inexperienced coder in Benin, Africa* and ordered him to write an SEO plugin – a difficult and time-consuming task even for experienced developers. When he magically drummed up a fully-featured plugin, you did not even bother to compare the code with the leading existing SEO plugins, an obvious precaution if a company were in any way serious about not stealing code.

    As Joost pointed out after you ignored his original complaint, the problem with this rapid duplication model is that your paying customers get stuck with forked plugins that are frozen in time. Even if you did respect the GPL and properly credited developers for their hard work, you still end up with a massive collection of plugins that are stuck at the point at which you copied them, bugs and all, no longer receiving the ongoing care, attention and deep knowledge that the original developers can give their plugins.

    Obviously, to keep raking in those subscription fees, you must continue the fiction that your small company is somehow not only matching the combined efforts of a developer community of thousands but is also managing to do it so much better that it justifies a subscription, I understand that. What makes no sense is why you insist upon treating the developers, whose creativity, expertise and hard work you are taking a free ride on, with such open disdain. You are like a shoplifter who, instead of remaining inconspicuous, spits at the security guard as he runs out of the store, with frozen chickens tumbling from his trench coat.

    Why, exactly, are you waging this war?

    —————

    * In a reply to my original posting of this comment, Andrew Nacin raised a concern that I appeared to be blaming Ulrich. I have not edited the text above but would like to make it clear that Ulrich made a relatively small, understandable and entirely fixable mistake. He has apologized unreservedly but is not the one who refused to amend the mistake once it became apparent and is a victim of James Farmer’s attempt to whitewash the real issue: his parasitic business model, which hurts both his customers and the WordPress eco-system as a whole.

  2. If it was anybody else, they’d probably skip under the radar or get away with claiming it was a mistake, but when you run an entire business based on selling products people can get better versions of for free elsewhere, then you are basically setting yourself up as a target and shouldn’t be surprised to land yourself in poop when you do something wrong.

    • Hey Ryan,

      You’d better back that up or remove it, or else we really will have to bring in those lawyers.

      What I’m seeing here, and on the other post, are a lot of folk saying ‘this is just like them’ / ‘it’s not an isolated incident’ / ‘they do this all the time’ and yet I don’t see a single example.

      It’s just not ok to go around slandering a legitimate business like this, and if it takes suing your ass, and the others, to demonstrate that, then that’s what it’s going to take – shouldn’t be too hard for my AU guy either.

      So, please either back up or retract your comments, or we’ll be in touch – the same options on the table for anyone else who wants to unreasonably defame us.

      James

      • Meh. I’ll ask Ryan to remove it then. This isn’t a fight I’m interested in being involved with.

        I did misread the post slightly admittedly. I thought it was saying that 100% of your plugin code was original, which is clearly not correct. I haven’t noticed anything which wasn’t attributed correctly though.

        I had a bunch of your plugins stored on disk from when I was a customer of yours. I’ll try to find them, and if I can I’ll send you an email with information about the ones I considered to be a direct copy of another plugin. I didn’t see any big drama in that though. They’re all attributed anyway so I assumed you guys were open about it. It’s also possible you have removed/changed those plugins by now as I oonly have old code that I downloaded quite a while ago.

          • I’ve requested the comments be removed.

            I’m not here for a fight. I assumed what I wrote was correct actually. Am still looking into whether I am or not right now.

          • I retract my comments then. I can’t immediately prove them, so I possibly made a mistake. I shouldn’t post things as facts if I can’t immediately back them up.

            The comments will hopefully be removed shortly, but I don’t have control over that unfortunately.

      • Seeing as these comments are backed up I might as well be famous too. Maybe I can even get a C&D. What Ryan said was wrong, but an immediate threat with lawyers… yeah that doesn’t really make me want to ever be a customer of WPMU…

      • What he said wasn’t slanderous, and wasn’t libelous either. As a once paying customer of WPMU.org, he’s done enough research into the situation to form his own opinion, which he’s entitled to express per the first amendment rights of our nation. His statement also wasn’tmade with reckless abandon of the facts, nor was it of malicious intent of his statement being proven false but written regardless.

        In the future, if your ultimate concern is in-fact the reputation of you and your business, don’t threaten anyone; Have your lawyer send their letter and quietly go about your business. The back and forth only perpetuates more argument, and further tarnishes your public image.

  3. WPMU DEV is a fly-by-night opportunity seeking enterprise that doesn’t check code sent in by random developers and can’t control their staff from posting responses. I think a business model that markets to newbie WordPress users who’d rather pay money than spend time getting involved with the community is disgusting. But even worse is a company that thinks they can also attempt to screw the developer who originally produced the plugin. WPMU DEV should be wiping their brow if all Yoast is going to do is send a cease and desist letter. Personally, he should be seeking monetary damages.

  4. My favourite part of his new post is when he publicly questions whether Joost has a personality disorder.

    Reputation management. Your doing it wrong.

    *facepalms*

    • Lol, he called us all, collectively and directly ‘assholes’ – all I said was:

      Does he have an ulterior motive?

      Promotion of his SEO plugin? Money? Some sort of narcissistic personality disorder?

      I have no idea.

      If I wanted to say he had a personality disorder, I’d say ‘Joost is a *****’ or similar 🙂

  5. I think this is the 2nd time on two months I’m heavily disappointed in WPMU. I have a lot of respect for some of the bloggers working for WPMU, and contributing to the BuddyPress and WordPress community.. but somehow as soon as you (James) start to get involved and feel the need to defend yourself, I get a bad taste in my mouth. First it was this and your comments towards loyal customers, and now this.. really?

    I’v been following this situation over the weekend and as an outsider all the steps that have been taken by WPMU to resolve the situation have been bad ones.

    When something like this happens all you can really do is accept your failure. Make a public apology. Try to compensate Joost properly and do your best to try and earn back the trust of your customers. Instead of doing this you decided to first write a rushed post full of BS and blatant self promotion.. It was a smart move to remove that.. too bad a lot of people already read it, and became even more annoyed..

    I was hoping that a official post would be more modest in nature, actually taking the time to handle the situation properly, but you actually somehow managed to make it worse.. Meh

  6. I just don’t get it…
    WPMU is getting attacked when they have tried to make this right..
    In ANY company where there is more than 1 person involved these things “can” happen and sometimes do.

    De Valk should have been trying to settle this behind closed doors instead of building a linch mob to attempt crucifixion.

    this in my personal opinion is De Valk using this situation to get free press…
    BTW wonder what Matt Cutts view is on De Valk stuffing his domain in the sitemap of every site that uses his plugin.. isn’t that a FORM of SPAM..

  7. Aggressive public threats, vulgar language, personal attacks, and apologies wrapped in reasons why there’s no genuine remorse; Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I vote comments on this topic be turned off, because it’s only going to get worse.

    P.S.- I’d put the comments in moderation rather than delete, and settle things privately.

    • OK, WP Tavern’s shut, Automattic have taken over WTC, and now Automattic are trying to dictate commenting policy here too? If this trend continues I will have to start blogging again.

        • Did anybody ask for your advice effecting to my right to express my opinion?
          Do you see anybody advising you what to do with comments at /johnjamesjacoby.com?

          • JJJ is free to express his.opinions, but only as long as he doesn’t infringe on my right to do the same. That’s the key. Freedom comes with responsibilities. Now, if you are not getting the difference between merely expressing an opinion and calling to limit everybody else’s right to do the same, then we better drop this discussion right now.

          • You’re clearly missing one extremely important point of information:

            This isn’t your site.

            If the fine folks at WP Candy decide to turn comments off, that’s their right, which doesn’t infringe on any of yours.

          • JJJ,
            I remember that this is not my site and that is why I wasn’t the one venturing advice to WPCandy about when to turn off comments – YOU were. I only questioned the wisdom and appropriateness of your advice. So who’s missing one extremely important point of information?

  8. In response to Joost’s (Yoast.com) uncontested assertion that WPMU DEV “… copied large chunks of code… Not just a couple of lines, hundreds, probably even thousands of lines were used…”, James Farmer, CEO of WPMU DEV, appears, to me, to have engaged in:

    – justification
    – indirect, name calling – suggesting Joost, who was wronged, might have a “narcissistic personality disorder”
    – inappropriately timed self promotion
    – and most recently legal threats.

    Q: I wonder, why would anyone want to do business with James Farmer and WPMU DEV?

  9. If we take GPL seriously these kind of problems will not come up and I’m very much concerned as a new WordPress developer because these kind of things threaten WordPress community and also pose risk to my livings.

    Hey! I got to know that one plugin in WP.org directory is using my plugin documentation and code without anykind of attribution I’ve started a discussion in WordPress forums about this but not got a satisfactory reply Link to forum discussion – http://wordpress.org/support/topic/plugin-bibs-tweezfollow-button-please-dont-remove-copyright-notice

  10. All actual wrongdoing aside, I think we can easily see just how dangerous it is to air out dirty laundry in the public space. What could have been taken care of in private has escalated beyond a simple copyright matter and morphed into the essence of doing basic business and following “the golden rule” online.

    That said, review of all of the comments thus far is starting to put James in a bad spotlight (at least to me), no matter whose fault it really was in the beginning. Snark, legal threats, and other seemingly-overly-defensive-statements only seem to be making the problem worse. Sure, Joost called a few names here and there too, but he seems to be keeping to the private side now.

    At this point, as an outsider, I could care less who started it, but how it’s finishing is really making a statement.

  11. Oh, how I wish Mr. Farmers threats were actually practical; Threatening (international) legal action on all the folks accused of WPMU defamation is like farting in a tornado and hoping someone smells it.

    • Exactly, If it was me. I’d just say bring it on and see if he actually does anything about it. Highly unlikely though it is.

    • I like peace! Let there be peace!
      │▒│ /▒/
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      │▒ /▒/─┬─┐
      │▒│▒|▒│▒│
      ┌┴─┴─┐-┘─┘
      │▒┌──┘▒▒▒│
      └┐▒▒▒▒▒▒┌┘
      └┐▒▒▒▒┌┘

  12. Folks, I hate to see this kind of stuff. It’s exactly the kind of bad tone that can permeate and destroy a community based on open source software. There is a role here for Matt and Automattic to demonstrate leadership and assist resolve the situation without a public mud slinging match. I’m sure both sides have valid points – it’s always the way in any heated debate.

    Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to try to resolve this like adults without all the hoo haa.

    Me being Naive? Probably yes.

  13. Mr Farmer I had no idea who you were, or that you ran WPMU prior to reading this. But after seeing you threaten people with law suits after being caught for copyright infringement, here on this blog, I will make it a mission of mine to tell everyone in my community to steer clear of WPMU.

  14. From what I know, as a WPMU Dev customer, I am extremely grateful for their contribution to WordPress and cannot live without their plugins. Did they make some mistakes in handling this issue? Yes. So fix it and let’s get this over with so we can all build better stuff for WordPress.

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