09.20.17

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WordPress Demonstrates That Facebook’s Patent Strategy is Deterring/Alienating Developers

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Patents at 11:27 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Yeah, I’m going to fuck them in the ear”

Mark Zuckerberg, President and Founder of Facebook (source)

Summary: React is being dumped following Facebook’s attempt to restrict distribution/derivatives using software patents

HAVING spent years covering Facebook’s patent strategy, we recently came to see its troubling licensing issue resurfacing again in the media (it’s actually fairly old news, but Apache’s intervention brought that back from the dead). There’s a lot more about it in our daily links; we considered that mostly a software issue rather than a patents issue.

This week, however, things got a little ‘hotter’ for Facebook because one of the main project that disseminated React said that it would cease doing that. In a sense, Facebook is killing its own projects/products with software patents. The subject was covered not only by WordPress and its founder but also by technical media yesterday and the day before that.

As US media put it:

Facebook is in the middle of a fraught battle. No, it’s not over the pernicious tide of fake news surging onto our newsfeeds, nor is it about privacy issues on the platform. Rather, it pertains to how the social media giant deals with the open source community, the code it releases to the world, and one cool piece of software called React.

Put simply, React is a JavaScript library that makes it easier for developers to write sophisticated front-ends. It was built by an engineer at Facebook, and in 2013, Facebook released it to the developer community under an open-source license. This isn’t unusual; tech companies release open source software all the time.

Facebook used a license derived from the popular BSD license, which is used by other popular open source projects. But here’s the problem: Facebook also threw in a few other clauses, which many developers and companies are finding to be problematic.

British media put it like this:

Automattic, the developer of the popular content management system WordPress, has decided to stop using Facebook’s React.js library, citing legal concerns.

WordPress’ founding developer Matt Mullenweg explains the decision by noting that Automattic has used React since 2015, when it put the code to work in the “Calypso” update that emerged in 2016. At the time, WordPress’ legal people felt there was no problem with React and developers liked it so much they planned to use it again in another big update called Gutenberg.

[...]

“Automattic still has no issue with the patents clause,” he writes, “but the long-term consistency with 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.”

A Microsoft propaganda site, as one might expect, blames “Open Source”, but actually it’s the fault of software patents (not “Open Source Licensing”). David Ramel’s spin does not merit much attention.

Facebook will find out the hard way that the community has little or no tolerance for these patent traps. Software developers loathe software patents.

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