Matt Mullenweg and Chris Pearson are two of the biggest names in the WordPress community — the former is the guy behind WordPress itself, whereas the latter is the owner of the popular WordPress theme framework, Thesis.

Of late, both have found themselves in the midst of a heated discussion, with each of them trying to prove the other wrong. It all began with a domain name.

What is it All About?

Both Matt and Chris have had their differences in the past. Back in 2010, Matt openly criticized Chris because Thesis back then did not adhere to the GPL model.

Of course, this disagreement over licensing was something that Matt was right about: technically, themes and templates related to a GPL software need not be fully GPL, but morally and ethically, there is no ground for non-GPL templates or themes to have anything to do with a GPL software.

That said, the matter probably rested there. Five years forward, the controversy has once again risen, and this time, the differences are related to a domain name.

Back in 2013, a domain name vendor, named Larry, approached Chris, asking him if he were interested in buying Thesis.com — Chris offered $37,500. The deal fell through.

However, nine months later, the same domain name seller approached Chris once again: this time, he had proof that Matt had expressed interest in the domain as well. Once again, Chris failed to capitalize, and Matt bought Thesis.com for a handsome $100K.

According to WP Tavern, Chris sought a legal remedy, but lost the cybersquatting case against Automattic. This means Thesis.com now rests with Automattic, and as of now, it redirects to ThemeShaper.com, Automattic’s theme division.

And as a backlash, Automattic have recently filed a petition for cancellation with the US Patent and Trademark Office, claiming that the Thesis and Thesis Theme trademarks of Chris should be cancelled. Details here.

The Controversy Ensues

It obviously did not end there. Chris Pearson published a rather vocal and passionate explanation of his stand, wherein he questioned Matt’s decision and intentions behind the purchase of the Thesis.com domain name, and went as far as wondering whether Automattic were operating with a selective bias on their mind!

According to Chris, it is well known that Automattic are quick to react if anyone uses “wordpress” anywhere in the domain name — yet, Matt saw nothing wrong in buying a domain name that was based on someone else’s trademark!

Matt has been responding to comments on Chris’s blog post, and so far, his major complaints have been that Chris exhibited literally zero regard for GPL and its terms, and that Thesis.com was not essentially a domain name that could pertain only to Chris’s theme framework. In other words, for $100K, Automattic are claiming that they have bought what is otherwise a cool generic one word domain name.

Viewpoints

So, where do we go from here?

As far as I see it, both parties have had their share of faults in this.

First, Chris did indeed not fully respect GPL back when this issue first surfaced, in 2010. In his recent blog post, he went as far as saying that he “was a jerk”. Full points for this confession, but even today, Chris is trying to patent something that otherwise should not be patented: a color picker, for instance. So if one were to talk on ethical grounds, as bad as Matt’s registering of Thesis.com might be, Chris too is not flawless.

The actions of Matt, on the other hand, might seem questionable as well. It is quite obvious to everyone involved in the community that Thesis.com is more relevant to Chris and DIYThemes, than it is to Matt and Automattic. For what it’s worth, Automattic have never been known to be in the business of purchasing cool and generic domain names (Jetpack has a .me domain name, for crying out loud!). As such, having Thesis.com redirect to ThemeShaper can actually be termed a cheap shot.

Still, what Matt has done is not illegal either. Technically, he has a right to purchase a domain name if he can afford it, and redirect it or use it, as per his needs. However, morally and ethically… well, that is up for debate. 

Conclusion

The issue is still far from over, as both Chris and Matt are justifying their respective stands.

For now, the first thing Chris should do is actually consider respecting open source and GPL. DIYThemes, much like many other theme shops out there, relies on WordPress, and open source, and refusing to respect GPL does not cast Chris in a good light.

Furthermore, the best way forward for Matt would be to either publish a blog post titled “I Purchased Thesis.com Because…” and explain his recent purchase without referring to the incidents of 2010, or to sell Thesis.com back to Chris (possibly for $37,500, the price Chris originally quoted to Larry the domain guy).

Speaking of that, in all of this, Larry seems to be the only one who has profited. The WordPress community is surely not going to profit from this tug of war, because both Matt and Chris are respected names, and they have done a lot to make the WordPress community as awesome as it is today!

What do you think of this Thesis.com controversy?