WordPress Delay Release Due To Legal Concerns About Facebook Licence
The company behind WordPress.com, Automattic, has taken the decision to stop using the React.js library, developed by Facebook, citing legal concerns about patents.
WordPress has used React since the 2015-16 “Calypso” release of the software, thought to account for some 25% of the world’s websites. At this point, the legal team at WordPress had no problems with the library and the developers loved it – to the extent that they planned to use it in their next big “Gutenberg” update.
However, since then the Apache Software Foundation has banned the use of React in any of its projects, stating that it “includes a specification of a PATENTS file that passes along risk to downstream consumers of our software imbalanced in favour of the licensor, not the licensee”. That particular specification regards Facebooks’s own patents and is intended to protect the network from what it perceives to be “meritless patent litigation”.
Founding developer Matt Mullenweg, also a founder of WordPress.com, say’s he’s never really been satisfied that Facebook’s licence “would be resolved in a way we were comfortable passing down to our users”. As a result, the team behind the Gutenberg release are looking for an alternative to the React framework and Automattic is actually so concerned about it that they intend to re-write the older Calypso release without it, too.
“It will likely delay Gutenberg at least a few weeks, and may push the release into next year,” says Mullenweg, and while it was not an easy decision to make, he believes that delaying Gutenberg and re-coding Calypso is worth it.
“Automattic still has no issue with the patents clause,” he says, “but the long-term consistency with the core is worth more than a short-term hit to Automattic’s business from a rewrite. Core WordPress updates go out to over a quarter of all websites, having them all inherit the patents clause isn’t something I’m comfortable with.”
He goes on to say: “I think Facebook’s clause is actually clearer than many other approaches companies could take, and Facebook has been one of the better open source contributors out there.”
“But we have a lot of problems to tackle, and convincing the world that Facebook’s patent clause is fine isn’t ours to take on. It’s their fight.”