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!

  • http://www.chipbennett.net Chip Bennett

    One further difference, at least as from what I can tell: the WordPress software project is further separate from the WordPress Foundation.

    The WPF is a charitable organization, with charitable purposes. It also owns and oversees usage of the trademarked term “WordPress” and the WordPress “W” logo.

    The WPF does not oversee the WordPress software project, or manage the wordpress.org website. Both of these remain primarily under the direct, private control of Matt. As with many FOSS projects, the WordPress software project is a SABDFL (self-appointed benevolent dictatorship for life).

    I just wanted to point that out, because I sometimes see people implying/blaming/etc. the WPF for WordPress project-related decisions/actions/etc. And again, from what I can gather, the two remain separate.

    The largest crossover into the WordPress project comes not from the WPF, but rather from Automattic, some of who’s employees are core contributors (and core developers), with additional crossover from Audrey (through indispensable folks like Nacin and Otto).

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      For clarity, what Chip is referring to is the actual WordPress software.

    • http://nacin.com/ Andrew Nacin

      Worth pointing out that the largest crossover into the WordPress project comes not from any one company, but from the community itself. Every member of the core team is fiercely independent, and the four core developers of WordPress who work at Automattic were project leaders long before they were employees. Six other community members have commit access, including independent consultants (like Mark), those tasked full-time to the project (me, via Audrey), and those working for consulting companies (like Helen, via 10up). Most of the top contributors are independent from Automattic, and given the hundreds of contributors every release, a fairly small minority actually work for Automattic. When you look beyond core, you’ll see an even greater diversity. Just one example: Look at support/forums/documentation and you’ll find Mika (recently Dreamhost), Andrea (recently Copyblogger), and Siobhan.

  • http://www.drewapicture.com Drew Jaynes

    Correction: Andrew Nacin led the 3.5 release. Mark Jaquith is the 3.6 leader.

    It’s also worth noting that at least 3 of the 6 Audrey Capital employees are effectively the “.org” team (and they do a great job), Nacin, Otto and Scott.

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      perfect! that’s what i’m talking about. up all night thinking about this and 3.6… and that’s what i put. appreciate it!

      • http://www.drewapicture.com Drew Jaynes

        FWIW, the href for “Andrew Nacin who led the WordPress 3.5 release” still links to the 3.6 release cycle :)

        • http://john.do/ John Saddington

          LOL. Thanks!

    • http://ottopress.com/ Otto

      In the end, defining the “org” team as just the people who actively adjust the code on it is like defining the users of a car as just the people who change the tires every few thousand miles. Yes, we work on it, fix problems, and try to improve it, but honestly, the people who do the *real* work are the volunteers on the support forums, the people who contribute plugins, the people who review themes, and the countless other individuals providing documentation, working on the codex, the people posting on the make sites, etc.

      Heck, messing about with the code is easy. There’s way more people that contribute to org more than me, Nacin, and Scott. They are the real backbone of the site.

      • http://john.do/ John Saddington

        Agreed and love the feedback here. The point was to clarify the organizations as best as possible. The entities. The organism that is WordPress and the community, now that’s a much bigger “org”!

  • James Deacon

    I wonder if someone could clear this up for me as I can’t find a definitive answer anywhere.

    Why does WordPress include Askimet as a default installed plugin? Surely there’s a conflict of interest here?

  • Geraldine

    How does WordCamp central fit into this, who makes decision about it?

    • http://www.chipbennett.net/ Chip Bennett

      WordCamp Central is part of the WordPress Foundation (WPF).

      The WordPress Foundation owns the “WordCamp” term trademark, and manages its use. “WordCamp Central” isn’t an actual organization, per se, but rather merely a term to mean “the people in the WPF who make decisions about WordCamps”.

  • http://wpkrauts.com/ Thomas Scholz

    Still confusing: the only official member of the WP Foundation is Matt. No one else is mentioned, so no one else can speak in their name, correct?

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      well, it’s unclear at this point and I personally can’t find any other information. Remember that the Foundation also oversees the logo and trademark, which is obviously a big deal.

      • http://www.chipbennett.net Chip Bennett

        Remember that the Foundation also oversees the logo and trademark, which is obviously a big deal.

        I would state it a bit more emphatically: the primary purpose of the WPF, thus far, is ownership and administration of the trademarks for the “WordPress” and “WordCamp” terms, and the WordPress “W” and WordCamp logos.

        The WPF’s charitable activities, by and large thus far, have been carried out through WordCamps. So, for all intents and purposes thus far, “WPF” = “Trademarks and WordCamps.”

        I’m only emphasizing this point to show that it’s fairly easy to segregate the WPF from any other confusion regarding crossover of entities in the WordPress ecosystem.

    • Geraldine

      When the Foundation was first established, it was described as being put in in place in case Matt was ‘hit by a bus’, as Matt describes here – http://ma.tt/2010/01/wordpress-foundation/#comment-475261

      In Jan 2010 the WordPress Foundation was 1 person, is it still?

      If Matt was ‘hit by a bus’, who would make decisions for the Foundation?

      As a pretty important organisation that controls the logo & WordCamps, it would be nice for the rest of us in the WordPress community to actually know who is in charge of making decisions on its behalf (both currently, and if Matt passed away).

      • http://john.do/ John Saddington

        very important for the continuity of any organization.

  • http://themesforge.com Ed

    John, you make a good investigator – bit like Lester Freamon from The Wire :) not that i’m implying any criminal activity here :) Just good investigation skills

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      :P

  • http://geek.ryanhellyer.net/ Ryan Hellyer

    The concerning thing to me about this whole situation, is that people feel they need to “investigate” to figure out what’s going on.

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      And……… this is a point that a few other blogs have made.

  • http://circlecube.com Evan Mullins

    I’m sensing a great opportunity for a really well done infographic… or at least a venn diagram. That would be worth at least a thousand words here.

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      Unfortunately I suck at graphics… but yes… now that would be a sweet project…

  • Pingback: Does Automattic Own WordPress? | 8BIT

  • wycks

    I wrote about the foundation here in more detail and why is it currently a problem imo.

    http://wycks.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/wordpress-foundation/

    TL;DR: The WordPress Foundation needs to come out of the shadows.

  • http://theversatilitygroup.com Diane

    It might be informative to look at how other projects are structured – Drupal, for instance, has a very structured association with defined roles, elected members, etc. https://association.drupal.org/

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