WordPress Accused Of Copyright Infringement For Its Famed 'Hello Dolly' Sample Plugin

from the wtf dept

If you’ve ever installed or used the ultra-popular blogging platform software WordPress, you’re quite familiar with the Hello Dolly plugin that is part of the default install. If it’s enabled, then you get a short lyric from the song in the corner of the admin-only dashboard. It was basically just a fun simple plugin, mostly used to demonstrate the plugin functionality of WordPress. However, as Craig points out, some folks in the WordPress community are pointing out that, technically the plugin may be violating the composer’s copyright. It does not appear that the composer, Jerry Herman, cares or has complained about this, but some in the WordPress community worry that every install of this WordPress plugin may technically be infringing — and they’ve filed a bug asking WordPress parent corporation Automattic to indemnify users of the plugin and/or explain if the song has been licensed..

The whole thing, of course, is pretty ridiculous, but seeing as we have seen a growing number of copyright complaints over lyrics sites, you could see a potential lawsuit. Of course, it’s hard to see how the use of such lyrics in the plugin — in any way — cause any harm to the song or the composer. In fact, chances are it has done the exact opposite. But such is the state of copyright laws today that doing something as simple and as fun as creating the Hello Dolly plugin may have made copyright infringers out of millions of bloggers. Of course, there’s a pretty strong argument for fair use in this case, but tragically, due to copyright law customs, you can’t know if it’s really fair use until after there’s an actual lawsuit. Hopefully, this is all moot and no one actually sues. But it’s a rather sad statement that a plugin famous for this description:

This is not just a plugin, it symbolizes the hope and enthusiasm of an entire generation summed up in two words sung most famously by Louis Armstrong: Hello, Dolly.

might have to be killed of due to copyright fears. Thanks, copyright, for killing off a symbol of hope and enthusiasm of an entire generation.

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Companies: automattic, wordpress

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Comments on “WordPress Accused Of Copyright Infringement For Its Famed 'Hello Dolly' Sample Plugin”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If it is true, as your article states, that the rights holder does not seem to care, then this sounds like little more that a bunch of people trying to argue a problem exists when the facts show otherwise.

As I thought was clearly stated, it’s not that he does not seem to care — but that he likely was not aware of it. The point was to see whether or not Automattic had a license or would indemnify users — not a crazy request given the state of copyright law today.

BruceLD says:


I have a recommendation for the RIAA in how to deal with copyright infringement:

1) Recruit the best people that you know to develop a strategy to attack those that are out to harm you.
2) Create a public campaign to demonize those that are out to harm you. Emphasize to the public that your opponents are a threat to everyone. Change public perception of your opponents. Use news and other public propaganda so that everyone else sides with you. Stop at nothing including creating fictitious facts and downright lies about how much you are being harmed–make it so that you ARE the victim.
3) Demonize those that are out to harm you. Make sure that you get out the message to the entire public understands this intense and real threat. Make sure that the public is told that no one is safe from them the evil and that everyone is going to be harmed and are going to suffer unless everyone does something to stop your enemy.
4) Force those who are out to hurt you to cower and run and hide in fear. Make sure they feel threatened and frightened.
5) Convince other governments that what you are doing is actually beneficial to them as well as the general public. Help convince other governments that what they are doing is the right thing for everyone, and that the evil people must be handed over to them without remorse. Ensure that the governments use their own police and military forces to round up these “criminals” and that you are doing this for everyones best interests including the “criminals”.
6) Let the governments, police and military hand over and round up these criminals for you and make sure that they do so without reason or question.
7) Make public examples out of these criminals to show to others that they can not escape and that they must comply.
8) Rob the criminals blind including their families, punish then, imprison them and destroy their lives.
9) Destroy the lives of seniors, men and women, children and those that can not defend themselves.
10) Annihilate those that are out to hurt you.

This is the plan that the RIAA should use.

Oh wait, they already do.

Oh wait, this plan has already been done. This is what the Nazi’s did to 1.3+ million jews.

“Never again”. Yeah right. History is starting all over again and apparently the RIAA has found an effective model that works for them…which is exactly the model that worked for the Nazi’s.

My sincere regrets to Jewish people for bringing this up. I know history and my own people have been subjected to genocide…I completely hate that the RIAA and MPAA are using the same genocidal and holocaulistic model for profit. It was wrong back in 1941 and it’s wrong in 2010…someone needed to point out the comparison.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Subject

Why? Is it because you think infringers are horrible people and it’s wrong to compare them to the Jews, who were innocent victims? The truth is, the behavior of the Nazis compared to the behavior of the RIAA is frighteningly similar. If you give them enough leeway, they’ll become just as terrible as the Nazis. Only, this will be worse because it’s about money rather than racial superiority.

Andy Marx (profile) says:

"Hello Dolly"

You can’t copyright a title. If I wanted to write a book about Dolly Madison and call it Hello, Dolly,” i could. The only thing that would stop me, would be if the title is trademarked, which is different than copyright.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office states that a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others. Brand names like Pepsi, Xerox and Band-Aid are all protected. So is the Nike “swoosh.” But more relevant to us, book titles such as The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are trademarked.

Unlike copyright protection, which is granted the minute your work is written down, trademarks aren’t handed out so freely. In fact, if the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t consider your title (or brand) a distinctive mark that is indisputably distinguishable from others, you will not be granted trademark protection. This is why you see so many books with the same?or very similar?titles. Many of the terms are considered too generic or arbitrary to warrant protection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Hello Dolly"

“You can’t copyright a title. If I wanted to write a book about Dolly Madison and call it Hello, Dolly,” i could. The only thing that would stop me, would be if the title is trademarked, which is different than copyright.”

You can’t copyright it but it could be a trademark, but that is not important the important thing is that there is a threat a very real one and IP laws can be used to harass others and it would be expensive.

Anonymous Coward says:

What always amazes me is how the TD sheeple fall for this crap.

Read the story more closely, and it appears that a small group of people are concerned that there might be a copyright issue. The holder of the copyright is no involved. WordPress hasn’t been accused of anything, just a few keyboard warriors stirring up the sh-t.

However, TD can’t resist jumping on the story and going into full on histrionics mode. “Thanks, copyright, for killing off a symbol of hope and enthusiasm of an entire generation.” Give us a frigging break. It isn’t a symbol of anything, rather a silly little plugin that most people using wordpress never activate because it is meaningless.

When I read stories like this (and see the sheeple falling for it) I can only think that it brings every other post on this blog into disrepute, because if they can’t get the simple ones right without calling in the drama llamas, what else are they over reacting to?

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Overreacting? It’s clear that some bug reporters pointed out the potential copyright issues tied to this plugin. This issue has killed off a part of our culture by putting it behind a legal barrier that discourages any derivative use of any locked up works. It actually discourages people from creating new works because 99% (figuratively speaking) of works today are off the table when using them for inspiration of new works just out of fear of a lawsuit. All art is inspired by what came before it and if one cannot take inspiration from what came before, it’s almost impossible to create new works without working for one of the rights holders. This article exhibits the fear of litigation for using copyrighted works in any way and how it inhibits the creation of new useful arts such as this plugin.

Sheeple, we are not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Greevar, I am concerned that your post might have potential copyright issues. So TD should remove it in case.

See, anyone can cry wolf. Copyright issues are only in play when the copyright holder has an issue with something going on. These people are asking a question that has a remarkable simple answer: “If you are concerned, remove the file from your individual wordpress install”.

Otherwise, it is a non-issue, except for the TD people who think that behind every corner is someone plucking stuff from their greedy little hands.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you had read the linked thread about this issue, you would know that the rights holder is aware of this and they stated that they have not granted permission to use the lyrics in such a manner and they now have the option to bring this issue to court. The most effective solution now would be to establish such usage of these lyrics as fair use, if they can.

The TD people, as you put it, are not paranoid as you imply, but merely aware of how rights holder behave in such instances. People are enamored with the idea of suing others to acquire monetary rewards and such issues leave a gaping hole of opportunity to do so. People have strong emotional opinions about property rights and believing that copyright is a property right, they attack any threat to these rights with great fervor and intensity. The TD people are rightly concerned about the greedy people (e.g. copyright trolls) hiding around every corner.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Greevar, and what? If the rights holder has a problem, they just have to issue a DMCA to wordpress, who issues an update without he plugin, and the problem goes away. The copyright owner could (if they so wished) send a DMCA to each and every wordpress install, but considering that it is something that is seen only in admin area and not in public, it would sort of be meaningless (as they would have no way of knowing if the plugin is activated).

The only time you have to worry about “copyright trolls” is when you use their stuff without permission. Otherwise, you don’t have an issue. “Hello dolly” could easily be replaced with the “WordPress Good thought of the day” and honestly, nobody would care. The violation (if any, and if legal action is taken) would be so minor as to be a non-issue. TD tends to take these minor issues and play them like the sky is falling. Most of us laugh at chicken little.

The only people worried are those who worry about some sort of contributory copyright violation, which isn’t the case here. Delete the plug in file, issue resolved.

TD is right to be concerned when something truly horrible has happened. This doesn’t even start to rise to the level of even a minor issue. Making into something it isn’t is rather “concerning”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Still doesn’t change the fact that there is a Sword Of Damocles over the heads of WordPress.

It is an issue a serious one.

Copyright deprive us all of culture and this is just one example of it, there are many more and to not be vulnerable to that kind of crap they should just put something that is free there, which is why people more and more will shy away from copyrighted works like that and start using friendly free culture stuff.

This is not a hypothetical situation, if the holder of the copyright want to he can ask for an injuction until either the copyright infringment stops or statutory damages are paid.

The real sheep is people who can’t see what is wrong with that picture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Yep you missed those class apparently.

Damocles means anything to you at all?

So basically what you are saying is that there is only a problem if someone uses the law otherwise there is no problem right?

That is why people on the entertainment industry and others pay millions each year just to clear things before because they are dumb and there would never be a problem right?

So if people ignore that and get sued out of existent then it is the copyright holders fault right?

I believe truly that you are just an idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

What kind of argument is that?

“I want to believe” is that it?

So now nobody needs to clear any rights and expend thousands of dollars doing it?

There is no lawsuit threat with millions in statutory damages possible?

Did copyright laws changed and we are living in a free world again?

The producers of the movie “12 Monkeys” would disagree, the producers of “Batman Begins” also would disagree since they both were sued, that is why people are spending millions each year to clear rights also the mother of the dancing baby would disagree.

There is a problem you just don’t want to see it for some reason, maybe because you want to show that copyright is not that bad, but it is dude, you are not fooling anybody with that idiocy you are spouting here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“However, TD can’t resist jumping on the story and going into full on histrionics mode. “Thanks, copyright, for killing off a symbol of hope and enthusiasm of an entire generation.” Give us a frigging break. It isn’t a symbol of anything, rather a silly little plugin that most people using wordpress never activate because it is meaningless.”

Have you seen little signs of Star Wars anywhere?

Shibuya stormtrooper dancing remix.

That is illegal, and still it is what makes culture, culture.

It is those little useless things that people notice and gives them a smile from time to time because they “get it” when they see it.

But copyright will destroy that soft power gained by the U.S..

In China there is this cafe owner who modeled it to be an exact copy of the place where “Friends” did go.

People get married and contract stormtroopers to attend, that is what makes something powerful, and still laws lag behind on that understanding and it is illegal to do so.

But you really don’t get it do you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Illegal acts from pirates.

“Thriller in prison”

The good thing is that those pirates are already in jail.


The position for Pop Culture King is open for grabs since the U.S. is retreating and with it they will realized late in the game how important that soft power was for generating income.

Japanese female students called kou-girls(College-girls or something like that) dictates fashion in Japan and are responsible for a billion dollar market, there is no one company that retains the ownership from that but the business eco-system trives on that piece of culture and make a killing. In the U.S. we have the Star Wars frenzy where everyone knows what it is and it was not because of marketing alone but there is something different Star Wars is owned by someone and business only generate revenues for one company, there is something wrong with that picture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Shocked! Shocked, I tells ya.

I went over to http://matt.wordpress.com and was quite shocked. All the CEO of wordpress does is post pictures of food. He doesn’t even discuss where I could purchase it or if it was even any good.

This leads me to believe he’s so busy eating, that he can’t stop to even discuss the food. If I ate that much food, I would have coronary heart disease by the age of 20.

I hope that guy paces himself because an Angioplasty is on the way…

John says:

Setting Some Things Straight

Matt Mullenweg created WordPress as a fork from B2. He is not the owner of WordPress, he is not the CEO of WordPress. He doesn’t even own the trademark or copyright to WordPress. He is the CEO of Automattic, which is NOT the parent company of WordPress.

If you want to read more about what WordPress actually is, you can find more information at http://wordpress.org/about/

Anonymous Coward says:

Matt Mullenweg introduced the lyrics into the wordpress package back in 2004 and is owning the wordpress.org domain.

The wordpress.org domain is distributing the lyrics as well as the automattic.com domain.

According to Matt Mullenweg, Automattic is playing a veritable role in wordpress development. Like parents do for their children. But it is not the parent company of wordpress as wordpress is not a company nor any other legal entity AFAIK.

Anonymous Coward says:

Matt Mullenweg introduced the lyrics into the WordPress package back in 2004 and is owning the wordpress.org domain.

The wordpress.org domain is re-distributing the Hello Dolly lyrics under GPL since then.

But he is not the CEO of Automattic, even the company name is build of his name.

According to him, Automattic is playing a veritable role in WordPress development. Like parents do for their children. But it is not the parent company of WordPress.

I hope that is clarifying some details.

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