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The Difference: WordPress Foundation and Automattic, Inc.

There’s been a lot of confusion surrounding Automattic Inc., the WordPress Foundation, WordPress.org/WordPress.com and everything else in between. So much so that most people unfortunately use all of it interchangeably which is the wrong thing to do.

I want to clearly state that there are distinct differences between all of them and that it’s worth knowing what you’re talking about when you start jumping into the muddy waters that is licensing, the GPL, ownership, and developing a WordPress-centric business.

At the center of all of this is really the WordPress Foundation so by establishing this we can clearly take a look at the rest of the organizations.

The WordPress Foundation

The WordPress Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity organization with a legal name as WORDPRESS FOUNDATION with an Employer Identification Number (EIN) of 20-5498932 and a mailing address as follows:

660 4th Street

Box 119

San Francisco, CA 94107

United States

Where the Principal Officer is Matthew Mullenweg (Matt for short). They have cited the Mozilla Foundation and the creator of the GNU GPL license as sources of inspiration:

The point of the foundation is to ensure free access, in perpetuity, to the software projects we support. People and businesses may come and go, so it is important to ensure that the source code for these projects will survive beyond the current contributor base, that we may create a stable platform for web publishing for generations to come.

As part of this mission, the Foundation will be responsible for protecting the WordPress, WordCamp, and related trademarks. A 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the WordPress Foundation will also pursue a charter to educate the public about WordPress and related open source software.

We hope to gather broad community support to make sure we can continue to serve the public good through freely accessible software.

All projects of the WPF must meet the following criteria:

  • The software should be licensed under the GNU Public License.
  • The software should be freely available to anyone to use for any purpose, and without permission.
  • The software should be open to modifications.
  • Any modifications should be freely distributable at no cost and without permission from its creators.
  • The software should provide a framework for translation to make it globally accessible to speakers of all languages.
  • The software should provide a framework for extensions so modifications and enhancements can be made without modifying core code.

There is currently little known information about the following:

  • Total Assets
  • No. of Board Members
  • No. of Full-Time Employees
  • No. of Part-Time Employees
  • No. of Volunteers

All of this information is publicly available so no privacy is being breached here.

WordPress Logo and Trademark

The WordPress Foundation also received a very large donation by having the ownership of the WordPress trademark under their care via Automattic. As stated in their announcement blog post:

We are pleased to announce that Automattic has made a remarkable and generous donation by transferring ownership of the WordPress trademark to the WordPress Foundation. We’re honored to accept this donation, and to preserve and protect the trademark in the years ahead as a keystone part of the Foundation’s mission to ensure that WordPress is around and thrives for generations to come.

It is highly unusual (to say the least) for a company to give away a trademark worth millions, and this move by Automattic is extremely generous and community-minded.

Matt has posted about the decision to donate the trademark on his blog, and our official trademark policy is posted here on this site.

Thank you, Automattic! The Foundation will do its best to safeguard this legacy.

As such, the WordPress Foundation owns and oversees the trademarks for WordPress and the WordCamp names and logos. The policy for usages is as follows:

  1. We’d like to make it easy for anyone to use the WordPress or WordCamp name or logo for community-oriented efforts that help spread and improve WordPress.
  2. We’d like to make it clear how WordPress-related businesses and projects can (and cannot) use the WordPress or WordCamp name and logo.
  3. We’d like to make it hard for anyone to use the WordPress or WordCamp name and logo to unfairly profit from, trick or confuse people who are looking for official WordPress or WordCamp resources.

You must get permission to use the trademark if you want to use it in any project, product, service, domain, or company name. The following criteria is in order here with which permission will be granted:

  • The primary purpose of your project is to promote the spread and improvement of the WordPress software.
  • Your project is non-commercial in nature (it can make money to cover its costs or contribute to non-profit entities, but it cannot be run as a for-profit project or business).
  • Your project neither promotes nor is associated with entities that currently fail to comply with the GPL license under which WordPress is distributed.

You cannot use WordPress or WordCamp as part of your domain name which many websites do. It’s worth noting that they have expressed explicitly that the intent is not to limit commercial activity:

Please note that it is not the goal of this policy to limit commercial activity around WordPress. We encourage WordPress-based businesses, and hundreds of them are thriving while in compliance with this policy (Automattic, CrowdFavorite, and StudioPress are a few examples).

Finally, the abbreviation “WP” is not covered by the WordPress trademarks and you are free to use it in any way you see fit. You can find more information here.

Taking Donations

Like most 501(c)(3) organizations, WordPress Foundation does take donations to support software projects, protect the WordPress trademark and fund a variety of programs. Some of these include:

  • Video recording of WordCamp presentations
  • Live and/or video workshops on how to use and develop for WordPress
  • School mentorship programs to encourage interest in WordPress/open source development
  • Improving documentation about how to use and develop for WordPress

More have been discussed for addition. You can learn all that you need to learn about 501(c)(3) organizations and their reporting practices and requirements here in the comprehensive Compliance Guide.

Automattic, Inc.

So how is this different than Automattic, Inc.? This is the #1 confusion point for most people and the difference is clearly stated in this simple way:

  • The WordPress Foundation is a non-profit organization overseeing the trademark of WordPress and the donated money for a variety of projects (see above).
  • Automattic, Inc. is a privately owned company and is currently the largest commercial WordPress-centric business to date.

What this means, in simple language, is that the WordPress Foundation is a not-for-profit while Automattic, Inc. is a for-profit. Both earn money (through donations, services, products) but the latter obviously has much larger financial returns and statements.

It’s also worth noting that WordPress.com is an Automattic, Inc. product and is a significant source of revenue for the profitable business.

So, for example, if Automattic were to close as a business then the Foundation would still remain. They are obviously tied closely because of similar staffing, leadership, and personel, but they are two distinct and separate entities.

Automattic Inc. was founded in August of 2005 and the Form D Filing states that their business address is:

355 1ST ST NO 202

SAN FRANCISCO CA 94105

This is, again, publicly available information (full filing available here) and it’s clearly obvious that the company’s name came from the founder, Matt Mullenweg.

Form D Filing, 2005

Form D Filing, 2005

A little and very simple research can go a long way.

Audrey Capital

Audrey Capital

Audrey Capital

So, what about Audrey Capital? Most people haven’t heard about this organization or even familiar with them but they are also an important organization to make note of.

Simply stated, Audrey Capital is an angel investment and research company created by Matt Mullenweg to help fund projects and businesses of interests to Audrey’s stakeholders and partners.

They have funded over 40 businesses as of early 2013 with 6 stated staff members:

The challenge here, at times, is the concentric circles that some of these more well-known staffers on Audrey are seen involved in the WordPress and Automattic circles. For example, Andrew Nacin who led the WordPress 3.5 release but many people confuse his employment with Automattic.

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

Most of the time when people compare the two they are referencing how WP.com is a hosted solution and WP.org gives you the ability to download the software for free and use on a self-hosted system. This is all true.

But, for this blog post and the context I will briefly summarize the difference between the two:

  • WordPress.com, as mentioned above, is an Automattic, Inc. owned product/business which is earning revenue for the company.
  • WordPress.org is a “community powered” site that was created by the non-profit WordPress Foundation.

On WordPress.org you can find documentation for the code as contribute to the core code yourself. You can download and install the software wherever and whenever you’d like. Join the forums, sign up for a mailing list, attend or volunteer at a WordCamp, and more.

It’s worth noting that the center of the recent issue between Envato and WordPress Foundation started around WordCamps, which, as I’ve stated clearly above, is managed by the WordPress Foundation. In the recent issue they are limited participation / sponsorship in WordCamps (WordPress Foundation-sanctioned events).

On and On and On… You?

The conversation will continue to grow and build as people engage with how the interpret and execute against the said wishes of WordPress.com/org, Automattic, Inc., and The WordPress Foundation. This is fine but what I’m trying to do here is provide a standard of understanding between all the various organizations and businesses involved.

You can argue that it’s a complex issue because of the concentric circles of people involved and personel and that might be true, but let’s start by at least playing on the same field in terms of the organizations and legal entities?

I’d love for your thoughts and/or corrections to the above. This took me a long time to put together and it was very, very late when I drafted it.

Thanks guys!

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