Fail: Automattic CEO takes on WPMU

Duncan Riley

Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg has once again highlighted the gross conflict of interest between his commercial interests and involvement in by wishing that WordPress development team WPMU would go out of business.

WPMU, run by Edublogs founder James Farmer, offers a range of free and paid services, including WPMU Dev Premium, a subscription service which offers members exclusive WordPress templates and plugins. The site runs a yearly plugin contest, offering prize money to the best plugins submitted. Plugins entered in the contest must be released under a GPL compatible license, complying with the arguable claim by Matt Mullenweg that everything that is built on top of WordPress must be offered under the GPL.

WPMU contributes a lot back to the WordPress community, including plugins, code and free templates, but the problem for Mullenweg rests with that fact that some parts are offered under a paid model. In a comment he left on Weblog Tools Collection, Mullenweg writes that "It would be nice if someone entered in the contest plugins that do everything theirs do," referring to the paid plugins offered by WPMU Dev Premium.

Whether you agree with Mullenweg's thoughts on claiming everything offered on top of WordPress should be offered for free and under the GPL is a moot point, because Automattic profits from WordPress day in, day out, and the company competes with WPMU. What we haven't mentioned so far is that the WPMU team also own and operate, a free and paid blog hosting service that competes directly with, Automattic's flagship service.

I've said previously that you can't have it both ways: you either believe people shouldn't be able to profit from WordPress, or you do. Mullenweg as the head of says one thing, then does the opposite at Automattic, creating a conflict of interest that some might fairly argue is being exploited for commercial gain.

James Farmer's full thoughts on the issue on the WPMU blog here.