Forking has always been a contentious issue for any open source project. It refers to the ability for anyone to split GPL licenced code into a new project with the consent of the original copyright holder without needing to gain further permission or even notify them, and is a very useful feature if a developer has given up on the project and let it stagnate.
It’s also used when there’s a large disagreement between parties over the direction of a project, and in that case, forking tends to be less productive as it generally splits both developers and users between the two camps.
Very recently WooThemes has announced that in addition to hiring Mike and James (formerly of Jigowatt), they will be forking the Jigoshop code to produce their own version of an eCommerce platform. And while this is technically allowed under the GPL V3 licence, there seems to be some confusion we’d like to clear up.
- Forking the Jigoshop code base does not mean that Jigoshop ceases to exist, grow and evolve. Indeed we’ve got more contributors than ever before and have more new themes, features and plug-ins on the way, to keep building the brilliant momentum we’ve had since launch.
- Although James and Mike contributed to the core of Jigoshop, they were not solely responsible for it. We owe a lot of the Jigoshop codebase to the Github & WordPress communities and we thank you all for your contributions to the project so far.
- Woo’s bid to buy out the Jigoshop project grossly undervalued the business and didn’t come close to covering our initial development costs, not forgetting the planning, time and effort both the Jigowatt team and community put into the project.
- Woo then made to an offer to ‘collaborate’ which led to their decision to fork Jigoshop. What hasn’t been made public is that collaboration offer included conditions which would have given WooThemes full strategic control over the direction and development of the Jigoshop project in the future.
- References have also been made to the fact that Jigoshop will remain open source, and therefore the whole community will benefit from future development of either fork, which is true, and is ensured by Jigowatt retaining copyright of the project to be certain that Jigoshop (and forks of it) will always be licensed under GPL, and existing users will not find future improvements become unavailable because any copyright holder has decided to switch to a proprietary licence.
It’s perfectly within the rights and terms of the GPL licence for a project and code base to be forked, and there is certainly nothing to stop anyone from doing exactly that. Indeed, within GitHub, forking is also used as an alternative way of contributing to the original code by demonstrating an alternate approach.
However, when forking is done needlessly, it has a negative effect on both projects, as it splits the potential developer and user community, and it’s sad that this might happen when we are not only open to collaboration and partnership opportunities, but have always encouraged them. We’re completely confident in both our internal team, the amazing Jigoshop community of users, developers, designers and testers, and the fact that working together, all of us can create the best possible solution and maintain the great tradition of open source success.