Copyright, Creative Commons, GPL, Licensing
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Automattic, open licensing and open data

The open spirit of WordPress

Everyone knows that the founders of and contributors to the WordPress software at wholeheartedly embrace the spirit of open source software. The GPL (the open source licence under which WordPress is licensed) sits at the centre of what they do and Matt Mullenweg, for example, speaks passionately about the GPL and champions the cause it represents (and those that defy the GPL’s requirements (or spirit) when the community thinks it applies (or should be applied) may, well, be frowned upon). Here’s an example of Matt speaking about the GPL:

From software to other creative content

Whilst copyleft has its origins in the software world, the open source software movement is now a subset of the larger world of open licensing and open data. Various licences and tools exist to enable people to share not only their software but also their creative content and other data on standardised terms that are quick and easy to put in place.

Automattic’s generosity

Not surprisingly given its founders, Automattic has always contributed back to the WordPress core and has always supported open licensing of software, consistently with its mission of democratising publishing. What may be less well-known is that Automattic also embraces open licensing of literary content. Considerable value can be locked up in such content and Automattic, consistently with its approach to a good deal of software, has unlocked quite a bit of it through applying Creative Commons licences to it. I thought it might be helpful to draw attention to this because, as Automattic puts it in its Privacy Policy, the company “spent a lot of money and time on [in this case, its privacy policy], and other people shouldn’t need to do the same”. Automattic repeats this sentiment in other content it has openly licensed for re-use.

Those not familiar with Creative Commons licensing might like to take a look at this helpful video commissioned by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand. It does a great job explaining what the Creative Creatives licences are about and how they work (and it too is Creative Commons licensed so you can copy and mash it up to your heart’s content):

So what content has Automattic openly licensed and on what terms? I’m sure I’ll be missing something but here’s a starter for 10:

  • the Terms of Service are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence (CC BY-SA 3.0);
  • Automattic’s Privacy Policy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 Generic licence (CC BY-SA 2.5);
  • content on Automattic’s Transparency site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence (CC BY-SA 4.0);
  • the Akismet Terms of Use are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike licence (although whoever prepared the page forgot to specify or add a link to which version of the licence applies); and
  • Automattic is placing various legal documents into a GitHub repository which are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence (at the date of this post, the documents comprised the Automattic Privacy Policy, the Terms of Service and the Legal Guidelines available at for those seeking information about a user or looking to take action against a resource hosted on  the network).

(It’s also interesting that, to “the extent possible under law, Automattic, Inc. has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to the declarative code that is necessary for function calls to the Automattic APIs as well as the structure, sequence and organization of the Automattic APIs” under the Creative Commons public domain dedication tool known as CC0 (pronounced CC zero). See the developers guidelines for the detail. This is different to the licensing of the kinds of copyright content listed above but it’s notable nevertheless.)

What this all means

Whilst different versions of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike licences have been applied to the different items of content referred to above, the key elements of this particular licence common to all versions are that it lets others copy, adapt and share the work, including for commercial purposes, as long as they credit Automattic and license their new creations under the same terms. Note that the obligation to license new creations on the same terms only applies where the person making the new creation shares that creation with others. If a licensee makes a new creation purely for personal purposes, the obligation to share alike on the same terms does not apply. In this regard the licence is like the GPL is for software.

(Incidentally, Automattic might like to make all of the licences consistent by updating the older versions to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence it uses on its Transparency site 🙂 This isn’t a big deal but the latest Creative Commons 4.0 licences are better and more user-friendly than their predecessors. Just saying. Happy to help if need be.)

Anyway, this is all great stuff on Automattic’s part. The terms, for example, could be a handy starting point for those setting up their own WordPress platforms running on WordPress multisite. The same can be said for Automattic’s Privacy Policy where an organisation’s handling of personal information is similar to that of Automattic. Hell, a developer has even tried to make life easier for people by releasing an Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy plugin that, to quote the plugin’s page in the repository:

“Puts your own information into a version of Automattic’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy … that have been modified to exclude specifics to Automattic (like mentions of “JetPack”, “”, and “VIP”) and have more generic language that can apply to most any site or service provider, including single sites, subscription sites, blog networks, and others.”

Beware of cookie-cutting

Being a lawyer, I should say it’s important to appreciate that you cannot necessarily cookie cut, say, the Terms of Service or Automattic’s Privacy Policy and assume they’ll be fit for your own purposes. In all likelihood that will not be the case as your own operations and requirements need to be considered, your own handling and treatment of personal information must be assessed and your overall circumstances are unlikely to mirror those of Automattic. In addition, if you’re not based in the United States, the privacy laws that apply may be significantly different to those that apply to Automattic.

That said, great stuff

All that said, the fact remains that Automattic’s release of these legal documents (or “legal mumbo jumbo” as Automattic calls the Akismet Terms of Use) under a Creative Commons licence is great stuff and may, at the very least, help some people and organisations avoid or at least reduce their legal bills. That seems to have been the case for one fellow who blogged this:

“Liberally riffing off’s terms of service to produce similar for the J-School. Thank you Automattic for your support of Creative Commons.”


Thanks to Thomas Hawk for sharing his photo of Automattic HQ under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 (Generic) licence.


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