From media reports and individual findings that various people have presented to us, it seems that the new social media platform owned by the former president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, so-called Truth Social, is using Mastodon’s source code with various visual adjustments. The platform has not formally launched yet, but it was made accessible ahead of time. Users were quick to note that the terms of service included a worrying passage, claiming that the site is proprietary property and all source code and software are owned or controlled by them or licensed to them:
Unless otherwise indicated, the Site is our proprietary property and all source code, databases, functionality, software, website designs, audio, video, text, photographs, and graphics on the Site (collectively, the “Content”) and the trademarks, service marks, and logos contained therein (the “Marks”) are owned or controlled by us or licensed to us, and are protected by copyright and trademark laws and various other intellectual property rights and unfair competition laws of the United States, foreign jurisdictions, and international conventions.
Notably, neither the terms nor any other part of the website contained any references to Mastodon, nor any links to the source code, which are present in Mastodon’s user interface by default. Mastodon is free software published under the AGPLv3 license, which requires any over-the-network service using it to make its source code and any modifications to it publicly accessible.
We pride ourselves on providing software that allows anyone to run their own social media platform independent of big tech, but the condition upon which we release our work for free in the first place is the idea that, as we give to the platform operators, so do the platform operators give back to us by providing their improvements for us and everyone to see. But that doesn’t only benefit us as the developers – it benefits the people that use these platforms as it gives them insight into the functionality of the platforms that manage their data and gives them the ability to walk away and start their own.
As far as personal feelings are concerned, of course we would prefer if people so antithetical to our values did not use and benefit from our labour, but the reality of working on free software is that you give up the possibility of choosing who can and cannot use it from the get-go, so in a practical sense the only issue we can take with something like Truth Social is if they don’t even comply with the free software license we release our work under.
On Oct 26, we sent a formal letter to Truth Social’s chief legal officer, requesting the source code to be made publicly available in compliance with the license. According to AGPLv3, after being notified by the copyright holder, Truth Social has 30 days to comply or the license may be permanently revoked.
In the media
- Mastodon’s Founder Says Trump’s New Social Network Is Just Mastodon
- Trump’s Brand New TRUTH App May Violate Terms Of Open Source Code It’s Built On
- Pranksters have already defaced Trump’s new social network
- Donald Trump Accused of Ripping Code From Social Network Mastodon for ‘Truth’ Site
- Trump’s social network has 30 days to stop breaking the rules of its software license
Last updated: Dec 9, 2021
- Truth Social added a page (“Legal Docs” → “Open Source”) that links to a ZIP archive of the Mastodon source code, which for now seems to bring them in compliance, though a more detailed analysis will only be possible once their platform publicly launches. In the media: Trump’s social media site quietly admits it’s based on Mastodon