*An update. The conflict appears to be over, with DIY adopting the GPL for its Thesis themes. 

If you’re clued in to the tech world, chances are you’ve heard about the ongoing war of words between Matt Mullenweg and Chris Pearson. Mullenweg is the co-founder of Wordpress.org, Wordpress.com, Automattic and VaultPress. Pearson runs DIY Themes, which develops the popular Wordpress Thesis theme.

Essentially, the feud is over whether or not Pearson’s Thesis should be operating under  a GNU General Public License, or GPL, since it’s a product that’s associated with Wordpress, itself a free platform running under a GPL. Currently, Pearson’s product isn’t available legally as an open source theme licensed under the GPL.Matt Mullenweg versus Chris Pearson

Mullenweg argues that since Thesis is used in conjunction with Wordpress, and that it’s whole existence is tied to Wordpress, it’s a form of derivative work and should run under a GPL. Additionally, it has been shown that large portions of the Thesis theme contain computer code that was copied directly from the core of Wordpress.

Pearson counters with the fact that his product is proprietary and that if he decides to run it under a GPL, he won’t be able to control who uses it and his revenue stream will dry up. For his part, Pearson also claims that 99 percent of the Thesis code was created without using Wordpress.

As a whole, the tech community is varied in its viewpoints. Some believe everyone is entitled to create and make a buck. Still others have been tweeting how Pearson is thumbing his nose at the very beast that feeds him.

Legally, the picture is quite murky. A recent debate broadcast on Mixergy saw the two go at it, each adamantly arguing his interpretation of the law. While legally the Free Software Foundation (FSF) hasn’t challenged Pearson’s right to keep operating Thesis outside the GPL, it’s still a possibility. Pearson is ready to go to court over the matter, something even giants like IBM have avoided at all costs.

I've noticed that people are turning this conversation into professional wrestling. They want a fight. They want showmanship. They want action,” offers Andrew Warner, Mixergy founder.

“But in reality, what we're seeing is two successful entrepreneurs with different approaches to business. And instead of looking for entertainment, I want my audience to search for business lessons.” 

Mullenweg seems to have a lot more support on the contentious matter. His influential stature has spurred on developers and other devout Wordpress users to publicly criticize Pearson and paint him as the bad guy. Meanwhile, Pearson claims that Mullenweg is using his powerful position to persuade Wordpress users not to use Thesis, thus costing him business.

All that said, SBR Forum offers the following tech prop odds: 

Will the Free Software Foundation or any other group take DIY Themes to court for GPL licensing enforcement in 2010?

Yes 1/2
No  8/5

Will DIY Themes relent on its own and distribute the Thesis Theme/Framework under a GPL license in 2010? 

Yes 5/2
No  1/3

Will Chris Pearson personally sue Matt Mullenweg for lost revenues, slander, or defamation in 2010? 

Yes 3/2
No  4/7

“This debate is going to get hotter before we have an outcome,” predicts Steve Ricci, SBR Forum Oddsmaker. “Pearson is digging in his heels and Mullenweg seems bent on getting his way. This thing could go to the courts.”

Currently, Ricci and the oddsmakers favor a court battle, as neither side seems close to conceding or compromising. Thus, we’ve also favored Pearson not to give in and operate Thesis under a GPL. And, while we have the NO side favored for the prop on Pearson suing Mullenweg, he clearly isn’t happy with the influence being wielded by the Wordpress co-founder.

This will be a landmark battle, one that will shape the open source landscape for many years to come. The question is, who will come out on top?

Where do you weigh in? Who do you side with? Comment now in the forum thread.

Got a prop question or suggestion? Email life@sbrforum.com