I want to publicly and sincerely apologize to Matt Mullenweg, lead developer at WordPress, for creating any misperception, posting misleading information or making statements that may be perceived as defamatory — the very thing I was objecting to in my post in the first place.
It was far from my intent.
My post seems to not only have pinched a nerve, but also as more and more comments poured in, I reread my post several times and saw that my points were either potentially wrongly communicated. So let me officially clarify. First, the story:
Sherman Hu is not only a friend, but he's also a fine marketer, a savvy businessman and the creator of WordPressTutorials.com. And I love what he's done.
He offers hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of videos, tons of articles and a cool community of people who want to learn how to make the best use of their WordPress blogs. Commercial or not.
I'm also a member of his site, and his videos have helped me greatly. And I highly recommend them. But apparently, WordPress doesn't.
The folks over at WordPress have sent Sherman a cease and desist letter, asking him to change his domain name as it was a violation of WordPress' trademark by using the word “WordPress” in it.
I'm far from being an intellectual property lawyer, but the premise of it all seems to be to protect WordPress' brand, good name and image. Matt stated that the purpose was to remove any perceived association or endorsement of sites he considers “scammy.”
(And a website with the same name in its domain can indeed be easily seen as an endorsement or in association with the other.)
I absolutely love WordPress. It's the best blogging platform I've ever used, and I recommend it highly. And I love Sherman's videos, too. They're absolutely fantastic, and they've helped me out a few times to customize my own blog.
And I'm all for Matt and his team attempting to protect their rights.
But something about this whole situation frustrates me somewhat. The story is a little complicated and talked about on several blogs.
But the I issue I have is with the approach WordPress took.
Some argue that the trademark in this specific case protects the software or the name of the business, but not training materials. And others argue that WordPress is open source, and therefore falls under a different jurisprudence. (Or “fair use.”)
Again, I'm not a lawyer. And that is arguable on many levels, and falls in a category I'm definitely not well-versed in. But the issue, here, is not about trademarks per se. It's about something else.
First of all, I can see why Matt is doing this.
He's trying to protect the value of the WordPress brand and, according to Matt, “stop scammy and snake oil” sites. That's commendable. Especially since WordPress is open source and such an awesome blogging software that can be misused and abused by a few unscrupulous people.
Clamping down on scammers is one thing. (Goodness knows the Internet is filled with scammers, spammers and snake oils, including some of them selling unethical uses of WordPress.)
But to clamp down on a site that sells tutorials is another. And up until recently, only two tutorial sites have received notices — and not the very scam sites they are targeting in the first place.
That may or may not be a point of contention, and I don't necessarily agree with that tactic. But I'm sure there are ample reasons Matt and WP have done so.
What makes me question this situation is the approach they took along with side comments they made on other blogs.
For example, according to Michael Campbell's blog, WP is quoted to have said that they find “affiliate marketing distasteful.” On other blogs, Matt has said that the two sites in question were targeted simply because they “look scammy.”
That's a strong statement. But what's even stronger is the fact that Sherman is said to be “taking advantage of a lack of good documentation in Open Source community software.” This infers abuse. And I don't particularly agree with that.
Sherman is a respectable individual. By the same token, I commend WordPress for protecting their rights. But to enforce those rights on websites that use a trademark simply because, apparently, they appear “scammy” is not a great move. And can easily be misconstrued.
I don't think what WP did was wrong. But I don't agree the manner in which it was done. That's just my opinion. But admittedly, this seems a lot less venomous than Weblogs, Inc.'s Jason Calacanis accusing PayPerPost.com of being a “cancer” to the blogosphere.
To some who haven't followed the story and look at the whole situation with the limited information they have (as I have at first), WordPressTutorials.com is not only taking advantage of WP's lack of documentation but also offering a product that could eventually be offered by WordPress (specifically the company behind it, Automattic), who may want to cash in on the tutorial market potential.
According to Matt, though, this is not in the cards.
But it's hard not to come to that conclusion when the only two sites that got slapped since the installation of WP's trademark policy (which was several months ago) are WordPressTutorials.com and WordPressVideos.com — two tutorial sites. Not software, not services and certainly not scams.
(Matt and WP may have indeed gone after other sites since then. But up until recently, this wasn't the case.)
Personally, these tutorial sites are much needed, too, since WordPress — by their own admission — deeply lacks usable tutorials or documentation. (Currently, their tutorials are comprised of a strictly written Codex without any graphics or multimedia, which is pretty hard to navigate let alone understand, and with a language that can be quite intimidating for the newbie).
That said, there are hundreds of sites with the word “WordPress” in it. And some of them ARE indeed outright scammy, like comment-spamming software and such.
So, why didn't they get a notice, too?
Admittedly, someone pointed out to me that there are 167 such domains. Many are owned by WordPress, others are community sites, and some of them are potentially questionable.
But that doesn't change the fact that, up until recently, only tutorial sites got them. And when WP was questioned about this move specifically on one particular blog, Matt commented they might send a letter “to those sites, too.”
As you can see, this makes their approach seem a little suspect. But here's what really irks me, though. According to Campbell, the folks at WordPress said this interesting tidbit:
“If Sherman Hu [WordPressTutorials.com] or Brandon Hong [WordPressVideos.com] had spent their time contributing to the Codex or support forums instead of trying to sell WP snake oil and taking advantage of a lack of good documentation in Open Source community software, I bet they would have made a lot more honest money by now.”
To say that “contributing to the Codex” (a tutorial site to which the public freely contributes) and to the “support forums,” all for free without being paid for their specialized knowledge, will help him make “honest” money is a tad presumptuous.
(Considering that WordPress' own tutorials are hard to understand, at least for me — and I've been online for over ten years — it is indeed “specialized knowledge” in my estimation.)
Nevertheless, this can be seen as insulting to a lot of people.
Specifically, it may be insulting to direct marketers, small businesses, entrepreneurs and, yes, copywriters. Because this statement seems to be inferring that the practices of legitimate businesses are dishonest.
I completely understand that Matt may simply want to stop the use of the trademark “WordPress” on a site to prevent what might appear as an endorsement. Especially a site that does not reflect WP's standards or image.
However, something Matt said recently lit a lightbulb in my head. Let me quote Matt directly, who said in comment #19 at Andy Beard's blog:
Whether they are spammy or not, their sites look *exactly* like the people selling “mass posting” to “thousands of niche WordPress and Blogspot blogs” software, which is spam.
Therefore, WordPress' contention is the fact that Sherman Hu's site uses salesletters. Yes, those very things we copywriters get paid handsomely for.
Moreover, to pick on two sites of a very specific nature, who are completely different and far more respectable than the very sites WordPress claimed they were going after — and by the same token apparently ignoring other sites that are indeed scams and snake oils — seemed a little weird to me.
(Am I wrong for feeling that way?)
See, up until now, they didn't go after the ones that were scammy. They went after the ones that “look” scammy. (Specifically, those that “look similar” to scammy sites, since many of them use salesletters, too.)
As a copywriter for such sites, my aim here is to defend not only Sherman and his business model, but copywriters “of my ilk” who write for them, too. From my vantage point, it seems to me that businesses targeted by WP were those who sported long-copy salesletters.
That may or may not be the case. And in Matt's defense, I originally made some misleading statements, such as confusing “trademarks” with “copyrights,” and making assumptions. (For that, I apologize.)
A sidenote to all this is, I felt that a free, open-source software would be a little more flexible in this area than a large, profit-based company like Microsoft who may want to protect its image as it may harm their commercial value.
But the appearance is that WordPress is singling out a legitimate business supporting free, open-source software, which shouldn't fall in the same category than those who abuse the software for downright illegal or unethical purposes.
That's just my opinion, but I digress.
If Matt is against the use of affiliate marketers and long-copy salesletters, which “appear scammy” (not only to him but, in his estimation, also to others viewing the site), this could present a potential problem that Matt felt justified in protecting.
That's not only acceptable but also completely understandable and commendable. He has every right to do so.
If I were in Matt's shoes, with the same goals and apirations as WordPress, I would have done the same. (But admittedly, I would have approached it differently.)
However, whether I agree with him or not on the idea that such sites appear scammy is not the real issue, here.
I made this point NOT because I wanted to support Sherman as the focal point, although I do. I've posted because I'm a copywriter writing for such seemingly “scammy” sites, and this therefore can be equally perceived as people like me being lumped into the same category — or, like WordPress, as endorsing true scams and snake oils.
That's why I felt such a need to defend it.
For instance, Matt did accuse Sherman of being a “snake oil” salesman on another blog. And that's a fact. A bit harsh, but he's entitled to his opinion as I am to mine.
That said, while I agree that I was completely wrong on some counts, I don't agree with the approach WP took, especially considering Matt's ancillary comments he made on other blogs.
On another subject but related, I certainly don't agree with Matt and some of the blog commentors who, in support of the open-source movement, said legitimate businesses who saw an opportunity to offer a needed product as “taking advantage” of (i.e., abusing) the community, or of being greedy.
To jump into a market that has a need, and create a product that serves it because there is clearly a lack that people are desperate to have filled, to me is not being greedy at all.
It's being opportunistic.
Especially when a great, free, open-source product like WP desperately lacks usable documentation and support, and the wait to fill that lack by the open-source community can be agonizingly slow. That's an opportunity waiting to taken advantage of.
And profited from.
But I understand how some people can erroneously perceive this as being greedy. Especially when real scams, spams and snake oils pervade the Internet.
But to call a legitimate business whose profit-mindedness motivated them to create a product that fills that lack (and even supports the software) as being abusive of the open-source community is a little harsh, if not denigrating, in my opinion.
Sure, scammers are just as opportunistic. But Sherman is not a scam. Far from it. And his business model is certainly not a flagrant abuse of open-sourcers, either. Saying so is going too far, I think.
(And in here I'm referring to commentors on blogs, and not necessarily Matt or WordPress.)
Some people commented that I never read the GPL or GNU licenses. I have, in fact. Because, as businesspeople, my wife Sylvie and I often create much-needed, in-demand products that people are willing to pay for, and we want to do so without stepping on any toes or ignoring the hard work of some brilliant people.
While many open-source projects do allow others to make money off of them, this is not the case of making money off of an open-source product in and of itself. It never was.
(In here, as an example, I'm referring to people who modify open-source software and repackage it for resale, such as WordPress SEO packages and the like, without any consideration or credit.)
And it's not even about making money off a trademarked name per se. It's about labeling those who do make money legitimately as potentially being scammers, leeches or whatever.
Just to be perfectly clear, I'm not against WordPress' wish to protect their name and their image, as would any sound business.
And I don't have a problem with someone saying that WordPressTutorials “looks” scammy, either (although I do in a way, but it's irrelevant here).
And I certainly don't have a problem with the fact that WordPress doesn't want to be seen as an endorsement of such sites.
What I have a problem with is the approach taken and the motives behind it based on the side comments made about sites that “look scammy” (which to me also includes the copywriters who write for them).
The approach WP took without first checking with these sites or offering them an olive branch (such as offering some alternatives if they wish to keep the domain name), can be seen as a bullying tactic.
Again, it's the perception and not necessarily true. And maybe they have offered alternatives, but I don't know that. I can certainly ask Sherman if this is so, as he is indeed reading this blog — as is Matt Mullenweg.
But more importantly, making blanket statements (as some people have) about sites of that nature in the process, and even stating that such sites are “taking advantage of Open Source community” and “not making honest money,” is a little insulting.
I'm not only a copywriter, I'm also a businessperson. And yes, I do take offense that some people accuse people like me who create and sell needed products related to the open-source market as abusive of the community.
In fact, this seems to have turned into an open-source vs. for-profit debate. I didn't want that, although I do have my views on it. I think that some open-sourcers have elitist attitudes and do take issues a bit too far, as do some businesses who go too far by greedily profiting from the shortcomings of others without any regard, credit or consideration.
But ultimately, in this particular case, the point I want to make is that, by stating that creating a complementary, supportive and non-competing product, without having selflessly contributed to its development or support, is abusive or dishonest, seems a bit far-fetched to me — if not philistine.
Post-Scriptum: Some have pointed out that my initial statement about the two site owners being of Asian descent — which was simply a statement of fact and not an opinion — seems to have implied racism. I sincerely apologize if people saw it that way as I certainly didn't want to cause harm.
After all, I didn't want to be accused of doing the same thing I objected to in my post, which is to lend to a stereotype, such as one that all salesletters are scams. Again, it wasn't my intent to mislead or misdirect, and I deeply and sincerely apologize for any perceived slight.