Why not fork?

I was asked — in real life — after my post about the (sorry!) state of the PCFormat/G3AR forums, “why not simply fork them and run them the way you would want to?”.  I’ve decided to share the answer here.

This is not an option.

True, the phpBB software that the forums run are licensed under GPLv2, which covers the software itself quite nicely.  I could quite easily go, set up a forum, and be on my way.  (In fact, that’s how the forum hidden away on this site got set up.)  This site doesn’t have the resources to run a fairly sizeable server — the resources are only adequate for the rather low demands — but, with virtual private servers becoming more affordable, setting up one of those would be just fine (gives me an opportunity to dust off my Linux sysadmin knowledge).    Plus, if it became a financial strain, there are ways of monetizing the content, though for various reasons, I would not make it any more intrusive than asking for donations.

The problem is that the GPLv2 doesn’t (and wasn’t designed to) extend to the data within the database, which is the most fundamental part of the community.  That data is the proprietary property of Panorama Publishing and thus, to fork, I would need their express permission, something that I can virtually guarantee would not be obtained.  If it were to be obtained, I’d need to sift through it and remove any content specific to them and their branding.  If it were not to be obtained, I’d basically be creating a new forum community from scratch.  I have the time and inclination for neither of these outcomes.

It’s a nice and noble idea, and within the spirit of software freedom, but in this case, the most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle is non-free, which makes this practically impossible.