How is it that a lawyer becomes wrapped up in WordPress? What makes a lawyer explore legal issues that can arise through application of the open source licence that governs its use? What makes a lawyer want to analyse a range of legal issues that can arise through personal and commercial publishing using the world’s most favoured CMS? The answer is simple: a maturing passion for WordPress. Yes I’m a lawyer (sounds like a confession doesn’t it) but I’m also a keen WordPress user and have been for a long time. I thought I’d tell my story to enable readers of WP and Legal Stuff to understand how this all came to pass.
Blogging and RSS fever
I have vivid memories of coming across blogging and RSS in 2004. I was working in Frankfurt, Germany, having transferred there from London, England (and I’d transferred there some time earlier from Wellington, New Zealand). For some reason, the freedom and immediacy of personal publishing and the distributive power of RSS captured my imagination, so much so that they wouldn’t let go.
I was a lawyer at the time (as I still am), which I guess makes my story a little unusual, at least back then. Back then, in 2004, few lawyers had heard about blogging and the mere mention of RSS would make most lawyers’ eyes glaze over. I was working in a large international law firm, where promoting one’s legal knowledge and expertise was an important element of the firm’s marketing strategy, but getting an article published involved a lawyer, a marketing department and the techies who managed the firm’s website. My colleagues were friendly and talented people but the number of heads involved in getting an article out the door was mind-boggling and meant inevitable delay and inefficiency.
I could see blogging and RSS being powerful tools for lawyers. I wanted to write about it but I was concerned that my firm might disapprove. Being a newish father with a young family, I didn’t really want to rock the boat. That may sound strange now but, back then, there were very few lawyers publishing their own content online on blogs separate from their employers’ main websites. There was a handful in the United States but very few in Europe and certainly none in the larger law firms.
Feedmelegal and Pharmablawg
So in September 2004 I decided to start blogging anonymously through a blog I called feedmelegal. I started off using Typepad. I wanted to “add another voice to those lauding the potential benefits of [weblogs, webfeeds and related technology], but purely in the context of the practice of law and the sharing of legal knowledge with clients, potential clients and, to some extent, the public generally; and to suggest how such technology [could] be put to advantageous, competitive and ethical use by, among others, lawyers and their clients.” From that point forward, I started blogging about blogging and RSS, with topics such as “The significance of webfeeds for lawyers”, “Weblogs: A primer for lawyers”, “Legal weblogs/webfeeds: Which international law firm will deploy first?” and “Blogging and legal risk”. I kept this going until November 2005 which was shortly after my second child was born and shortly before we moved from one country to another. In the meantime, in around February 2005 I’d started another blog, this time using Squarespace, on pharmaceutical legal issues, called Pharmablawg (I know… that ‘blawg’ word never really took off…).
My discovery of WordPress
It was after using Typepad and Squarespace that I got stuck into WordPress in earnest. I’d discovered WordPress in 2004 or 2005 but it wasn’t until late 2005/early 2006 that I kept reading about WordPress and discovered how easy it was to set up your own installation of WordPress and how flexible, even back then, the software was.
Almost every site I’ve built since then has used WordPress. They include a legal news aggregation site, a lawyers’ association website, a charity website, barristers’ websites and websites for my own and others’ development and marketing. I’ve even built an online contract generator using WordPress and Gravity Forms (that particular generator produces HTML output) and I’ve built another one using a combination of WordPress, Gravity Forms, Zapier and WebMerge (that one produces fully formatted Word output). (I’ll write a post about that in the future.)
I’ve benefited from the generosity of the WordPress community, attended WordCamps, purchased many commercial themes (the first being one of Brian Gardner’s Revolution themes) and plugins, learned a bit of HTML and CSS along the way, listened to hundreds of WordPress-relevant podcast episodes and paid developers to tweak sites and build plugins for me. I followed WooThemes’ development closely, was a fortunate early purchaser of a lifetime developer’s licence for Gravity Forms (what a buy!) and am fascinated by Matt Mullenweg’s recent emphasis on WordPress as a platform. This all culminates in my long-held view (shared by millions of others of course) that WordPress is a fantastic CMS.
Turning now to the legal side of things, I’ve considered a range of legal issues that can arise in connection with one’s use of, or development of themes and plugins for, WordPress. I’ve also witnessed a good number of spats. There have been spats between the founders of WordPress and theme/plugin developers (usually around the requirements and spirit of the GPL), spats between theme/plugin developers and users who have quite lawfully exercised rights conferred on them by the GPL, and spats between well-known plugin developers over alleged copyright infringement. I’ve seen the WordPress founders soften their stance on commercial themes (at least those fully released under the GPL), I’ve seen theme and plugin developers being puzzled by GPL requirements, I’ve seen the likes of Envato and others adopting a split licence for WordPress themes and I’ve seen both theme and plugin developers applying licences that, on their face, are wholly inconsistent with the GPL. I’ve discussed such matters with theme developers and I’ve thrown my hat into the ring on a few occasions.
I mention all this to demonstrate my knowledge of WordPress and passion for it. To confess passion for a piece of software probably sounds a little bizarre (no doubt Rowan will call me a “WordPress zealot” again) but, like millions of others, I love WordPress and the community that’s developed around it. Why? WordPress and its community truly made me appreciate the power of open source software and the generosity of the open source spirit. WordPress has opened my eyes to alternative business models, it has made me explore a range of open source legal issues and it has let me dip my feet and even knees into an industry which, had I been born a few years later, I’d probably have pursued in preference to law.
It is this history and my passion for WordPress that gave me the idea for writing this blog. I’d like to bring disparate legal threads together and help WordPress developers, designers and users navigate the legal issues that can arise through their varied uses of WordPress itself, WordPress themes and plugins and a range of other things. Some of these issues are unique to WordPress or specific theme shops, plugins or services while others can arise with any GPL-licensed software or any self-publishing. My goal is to cover as many WordPress-relevant legal topics as I can, in a single place, to give WordPress developers, designers and users as much of a one-stop-legal-shop as I can. I hope it helps.
If you’d like me to consider any particular issue, don’t be afraid to Ask me a question. (You’ll appreciate, though, that I’m not providing legal advice on this blog.)