Alister Cameron // Blogologist

Changing the world. One blog(ger) at a time.

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it.

A few theme designers — including yours truly — received an email from Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s boss, yesterday. It read (in full and unedited):

Thanks for emailing me about the theme directory. The other day I noticed a ton of bad stuff had snuck in like lots of spammy SEO links, themes whose sites said you couldn’t modify them (which is a violation of the GPL), etc. Exactly the sort of stuff the theme directory was meant to avoid.

There were also a few that violated WP community guidelines, like the domain policy. So since Monday we’ve been clearing stuff out en mass. If you’re kosher with the GPL and don’t claim or promote otherwise on your site and your theme was removed, it was probably a mistake. Give us a week to catch up with the bad stuff and then drop a note.

Thanks guys, and let me know if you have any more questions.


Matt Mullenweg
http://ma.tt | http://automattic.com

This email came in response to some screams of pain from a few themers who had awoken a couple of days ago to discover that one or more of their themes was no longer listed in the WordPress theme repository.

In the week prior an update to the More Info page there introduced this line:

Themes for sites that support “premium” (non-GPL or compatible) themes will not be approved.

The interpretation of this small but critical sentence has become clear: you not only must make sure to honour the GPL with the theme you submit to the repository, but you had better make sure you do not risk raising the suspicion of Matt (the “gatekeeper” here) that you are using this theme as bait to get people to a site where many/most/all other themes are not GPL (or equivalently) licensed.

I fully agree with Matt’s move. He has done entirely the correct thing. I just wish he’d been faster about it and hadn’t let 200+ “offending” themes get into the repository. I also think he could have communicated before or during the fact, not in the reactive after-the-fact fashion.

But let me fill in a little background here…

A couple of weeks ago I was one of the speakers — along with Matt — at the recent Wordcamp Australia in Sydney. Although it was not my intention, my talk became a “vigorous” discussion about licensing of themes, and the GPL. Now, call me a boyscout, but I take licensing, copyright and my handling of such things as serious matters, with the conviction that what I do with them reflects back on me personally. I believe that how I honour (or fail to honour) the WordPress GPL reflects on my personal integrity; on the substance of my character.

And so to the final 20 minutes or so of my talk in Sydney, which amounted to a fairly messy and inconclusive to-and-fro with Matt and others about the GPL and how themers may or may not be on the right side of it, given one or another business model they choose to adopt.

I returned from Sydney and stewed over things some more and when yesterday I learned of Matt’s deletion of these 200+ themes I immediately got in contact with one of the Automattic crew (that person doesn’t need to be named and the conversation was explicitly off-the-record). Let me first say that if all Matt’s staff are as attentive, knowledgeable and impassioned as that person is, then he’s doing a sterling job of bringing “true believers” onto his team.

In a conversation that went for the better part of half an hour, we discussed the ins and outs of the GPL, of the relationship between WordPress(.org) and Automattic… and Matt, personally. All of which game me a lot of clarity, I think.

Don’t Blame WordPress, Matt or Automattic for Your Lack of Brains or Creativity

I think at the end of the day, the GPL is not in debate. It’s simply not a controversial issue! In my own words:

The GPL (current version, if you must ask) demands that any derivative work of the WordPress codebase must be available for free. It matters not what licensing you apply to code you create that depends on WordPress code for its own functioning; it matters that you understand that it is a derivative work and that you must make it available for free.

This was my issue at Wordcamp. As a conscientious theme developer (working on Vanilla) I want to honour the GPL and yet find a commercially viable, sustainable and profitable way forward for my business. And since I love themes, I’d precisely like to do something profitable in the area of themes, but something which doesn’t contravene the WordPress GPL. That would be stupid for someone like me wanting to build a business that garners respect from others, not least Automattic and the WordPress developer community, for which I have not a little respect.

After my long and fruitful chat with the Automattic staffer yesterday I think I have clarity: the issue is not that the GPL is too restrictive or that Matt is being unreasonable. The issue is that most of us have not thought creatively enough about how to both honour the GPL and make money.

Best to illustrate this is to look at what’s happened with Brian Gardner. Now, I have reason to believe Brian is second-to-none for having made really really really (are you getting the emphasis?!) good money out of his premium themes. Yet, he’s switched to an open-source model, and his flagship Revolution theme is now released under a GPL-ish license (not that there is a license file in the ZIPs you download, but we’ll assume it’s GPL).

Now, you might be flabbergasted that someone with the hugely profitable business that Brian’s got would go and commit commercial suicide. But look a little closer…

What Brian’s done is offer a fully unsupported version of any of the Revolution theme variants for free, while attempting to “guide” site visitors to a supported version of the theme for about USD$100. Brian is banking on the value of support, since he can’t honour the WordPress GPL without offering the theme for free… he just can’t.

The fact that the Revolution theme — the same theme that has up until now made Brian so much money — is now offered for free allows us to make sure fairly reasonable assumptions:

  1. Matt (and the WordPress community) makes a fairly convincing argument for the GPL and Brian bought it, fully.
  2. Brian expects to continue to run a profitable business with the new GPL + paid support model.
  3. Brian values his relationship with WordPress, Automattic and Matt more than retaining the old model.

What Brian needed — along with all other WordPress theme developers — was courage and creativity. The issue is not that the GPL kills “profitable theme development/design” but that we need to think creatively about value.

See, the basis of all commerce is the exchange of value. You buy my stuff because you value it and you pay me with currency, which I value.

So here’s the plain and simple point of it all: your theme files are PHP and they are dependent on the WordPress codebase and have no existence outside of that dependency, so you can’t charge for them. BUT… the creatively-minded entrepreneurs among us will not walk away just because of that. Instead, they will do what smart business-people always do: they will create value somewhere else. In Brian’s case, it is with support. For someone else, it will be theme customization. For someone else, it will be something I haven’t even thought of yet. But it WILL be valuable and it will be worth the money charged, and it WON’T contravene the letter or the spirit of the GPL.

The Most Important Case Study in How to do it Right

There are no prizes for guessing who is the best example of honouring the letter as well as the spirit of the GPL while building a strong commercial business model alongside it: Automattic. Matt and the team have build a range of products and services that never require them to sell WordPress code. Period (“full stop”, as this Aussie would rather say).

Akismet is a service and the plugin bit is free. Gravatar is free. All their plugins are free. Heck… if Automattic had ever screwed with the GPL you’d better believe we’d be up to our necks in controversy. We’d have a massive community revolt… we’d have another Mambo (can’t help chuckling).

But my Theme Was GPL’d and he Pulled it!

If your theme was pulled and yet it was GPL licensed, there are only two options. Either it was a mistake (email Matt), or you were linking from it to a site that sold other themes that do contravene the GPL. If the latter is the case then you are in the awkward place of making the argument that Matt was wrong to defend the spirit of the GPL, beyond just the letter of it. I don’t have a problem with what he did.

The Curious Case of the Child Theme

One of the great developments in WordPress 2.7 is more complete support for child themes. An unintentional development of child themes — I think — is the very real potential for these to be sold without any contravention of the GPL. Now, I know I risk getting some heat for this, but please give this some thought… if child themes need at a minimum to be nothing more than a CSS file and some images, I would put it to you that they do not depend on the WordPress codebase and can therefore be sold. Of course, some child themes will include a functions.php file and then my argument, well… dies, but my goal with the Vanilla theme is to create a child theme that consists of nothing more than a CSS file, a configuration file (which might end up being settings in the CSS file’s comment block), and a bunch of images.

(I did speak to Matt about this specific issue of child themes and the GPL, and while I did not hear any explicit word of approval from him, my recollections are that he understood the reasonable difference the absence of any PHP made to the legal question. And if I speak of Matt as if he’s the judge and jury, it’s moreso that I think he’s got a great mind for all this and a vested interest in getting it right… more than anyone else, to be sure.)

I would welcome your thoughts on child themes and their relationship to the GPL in the comments or in a post of your own, to which I will provide a link when it appears on my radar.

Where This Conversation Now Needs To Head… Value!

As WordPress themers, we can either get all upset about legal interpretation and in fruitless discussions about the relationship between Automattic and WordPress, or we can “get positive”. I’m going with the latter. I want to talk about value. There is no more important a conversation to have.

If the GPL licensing model was not a “valuable” thing for WordPress then we might well all be steamrolling over it, as would Automattic, presumably. But precisely because WordPress is an exemplar open source project and community, we need to see what we’ve presently got as something inherently valuable, and not debase that value by ignoring the GPL when we feel like it. Every premium theme seller should think long and hard about what I’m saying. They can’t have it both ways: they have the WordPress open source community — and the diligent oversight and leadership of Automattic — to thank for the very existence of the codebase, and precisely because it is globally considered so valuable, they have a market for their premium themes. Yet they deny the value of the GPL model (or debase it) by selling their themes! That’s paracitism.

No sooner had I finished speaking at Wordcamp that I jumped into a taxi headed for the airport, which was rather unfortunate, as I would have delighted in spending longer in conversation with Matt, who had started reflecting on the different approaches taken by companies like Automattic — with respect to the open source projects under their “custodianship” — and the relative merits of each. His point was that the approach taken by Automattic with WordPress is not entirely the same as that of Six Apart with Movable Type, nor the same as Red Hat with Fedora, and so on. I am no expert on any of these nuances, but I think we WordPress folk should perhaps pause for a moment to consider the controversies we haven’t had, thanks to the level-headed, astute and egalitarian leadership of Matt and the team.

While I’m praising Automattic, I should also add that the salaries of the lead developers of WordPress — those now employed by Automattic, like Sam, Andy and Andrew — are not (nor can they be) funded by the projects they work on. In the last months Sam’s been building bbPress, Andy’s been fully devoted to BuddyPress and Andrew has been busy on the new 2.7 Admin interface. None of these projects are income-generating. So, Automattic is effectively drawing funds from other places to pay these guys. Can you think of another company that has done the same for the sake of WordPress?

It occurred to me in Sydney that the best example we’ve got, of a company growing profitably alongside WordPress, is Automattic. And yet there is nothing they’re doing that any other company conceivably couldn’t do. It is arguably as risky for them to build a company with any kind of dependency on that software as it is for any other. I’d say, moreso. Think carefully about that before you argue the point. Perhaps more than any other company, Automattic must remain explicitly “obedient” to the GPL, must be seen to NOT be screwing with the code in a self-interested fashion, and so forth. They’re permanently under the microscope.

Did I Mention Value?

Without preserving the integrity of the WordPress GPL licensing model there would soon enough be no WordPress as we know it and discussions around premium themes would be moot. While building a business alongside any open source software is not without its challenges and very real risks, many have done it very well. But it’s about creativity and adding value. We should be watching carefully what comes of Brian Gardner’s new and more “kosher” approach. He will not have gone down that path without much forethought and care. I applaud his recent efforts.

I will be trying hard to make money here somewhere myself. If I can make the “GPL + paid support” model work, then great. Perhaps I can charge for child themes that are just CSS and images. Certainly, Vanilla will be free. I want it to be a shared effort, like WordPress itself… something I’ve not seen with almost any other theme. I’m just a few architectural decisions away from some sort of Vanilla release. Sorry for the delays!

51 Comments

Note: Commenter website links are not no-followed, in case
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  1. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Thanks for taking a deeper look at the issues here, and sharing your thoughts.

  2. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    I must say, this was a great piece and if Matt Mullenweg were to simply copy this post and publish it on his blog, I’d be fine with that and it sure as hell would clear up the muddy waters the surrounds the entire issue of premium themes and GPL. Personally, I feel that the source of problem lies in the fact that no one really knows or has an “official stance” on the issue. We have GPL compatibility, great. We know they don’t like themes to be sold, ok. But I’d love for Matt to take this opportunity to craft up a post similar to this one clearly outlining his stance on GPL, Premium themes, The road going forward, and basically, telling the community that this is the way it’s going to be. Since we haven’t really had that, I think thats why their is so much bitching and moaning going on in the Premium theme community time and time again.

    I am anxiously awaiting the leader of the WordPress project to step up to the podium and lead. I feel that what he says will also generate lots of discussion but at that point, If you don’t like what the leader says or agree with how he is going to approach the matter, do things your own way but note that you will not receive support from Matt nor the WordPress project itself.

  3. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    So, to clarify, you can create a theme which links to a site which offers that theme for free, but also offers a supported version of that theme? But you cannot create a theme which links to a site which offers other premium themes that are not also offered for free?

  4. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    You have summed up the issues perfectly here. Although, I was under the impression that the free in GPL related to freedom to redistribute and modify, not a requirement to give it away for free.

    This whole thing made me think about licensing, I have always just given stuff away, and one of the points that I wrote was that you either support the open source model or you don’t, and that it isn’t good enough to say on the one hand that you support it for WordPress, but not for themes that you want to make money from.

    I always felt that the 200 themes issue wasn’t necessarily a bad thing but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Your post, and my research into the licence have sealed it for me. It is really about the spirit of the whole thing.

  5. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    The GNU/GPL specifically allows GPL’d code to be sold. Free as in $0 is not one of the four freedoms in the GPL. Matt is, of course, perfectly entitled to put whatever restrictions he wants on the themes WordPress.org permits on the repository, but it would be nice if there was some announcement forthcoming to explain just what is wanted. As it stands, a site offering free themes with a Creative Commons License (which is not GPL compatible) is also likely to find its themes removed.

    BTW – Mambo has never been involved in a GPL controversy. There was an issue back in 2004 where the client of one of the Mambo developers claimed that he owned copyright in some code that was included in Mambo. He didn’t, and the issue died. Perhaps the “community revolt” you are referring to is the Joomla fork of Mambo? That had nothing to do with licensing either. Mambo has always encouraged 3rd party development and while Mambo is GPL version 2 (same as WordPress), Mambo takes a different position on what makes a work derivative, as you can see here: http://forum.mambo-foundation.org/showthread.php?t=5922

  6. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your thoughts on this matter. Very clarifying to read through.
    I believe there to be dozens of ways to make money through WordPress without ever having to sell one single piece of code, be it a theme or a plugin. Not that I have created either, but I have found a couple of ways to make some decent money from hosting to installation, customizations and ‘setting it all up’. It always seemed more fair to me to make money off of WordPress this way since I can get by their wonderful product for free.

  7. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    As I couldn’t get any explanation at the time, the only bit of our conversation that was really off the record was my conjecture about why the deletions had occurred. What I supposed then has since been basically confirmed so I can be named now I guess. Plus I couldn’t resist claiming your compliment. :)

    Andrew, I think Alister is basically using shorthand when he says “you can’t charge for GPL code”. The implication is that it isn’t as viable to do so as the source has to be made available too. Thus the whole idea of charging for your GPL code is basically nullified and in turn developers have to get creative about how they commercialise their offerings. This is especially so in situations where the source does not require compilation to run, like PHP.

  8. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, Andrew beat me to the point of saying that if you read the GPL license itself posted on the WP.org site, you’ll see this sentence:

    “When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price”

    http://wordpress.org/about/gpl/

    Until now, I’ve been largely silent on this whole issue … letting people flame on me and my business until now. I’ve kept my thoughts private hoping that Matt, Automattic, and people like myself could find some compromise.

    But here’s a critical issue … I would venture to say that most people haven’t even read the GPL license themselves and are assuming that it’s about price because most OS software is “free” in regards to price. But the license states that you can charge a fee if you want, but someone could get it and then redistribute. It’s about distribution, NOT price.

    But that’s just one point of clarification in this whole discussion …

    However, I’ll say that you’ve hit on an amazing “discovery” that I hope Matt, Automattic and the community at large will embrace and state openly that it’s ok to do so … charging for CSS and images.

    I’ve long held that most of us premium themers would RUN to the table if there was a reasonable discussion offered by Automattic. With the two sides sitting down to talk about
    license clarification and the actual issues rather than doing so in the comments like these or by making statement moves in public designed to put pressure on us.

    I respect Matt deeply. I love WordPress. I love open source and GPL. I thank Automattic, Matt, others like Mark Jaquith and Jacob Santos (and the countless other contributors) for helping build a truly amazing piece of software that is only getting better.

    I also believe we’re doing nothing illegal or morally wrong. Period. These are issues I’ve thought long about, researched thoroughly, and talked to dozens of other people a lot smarter than me about it as well.

    Additionally, I estimate we spend roughly 80% of our support time TEACHING customers how to install and use WordPress itself.

    I personally have released over 30 “free” GPL themes. iThemes has released a dozen more. We’ve built a comprehensive online video library of FREE WordPress tutorials for anyone to view.

    We’re deeply passionate about WP. We employ 5 people who are devoted full-time to working with WP, and are able to do so because of our business model.

    We do want to continue to “give back” to the community in some way (although I’m now wondering if we can under the iThemes name).

    But my question now is … before this continues to spiral out of hand and get even more ugly … can’t we come to the table and find some points of compromise and move on?

  9. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    This is a very well written and thought out post.

    As Andrew noticed, you’ve made an error at the beginning. GPL software is not required to be free, or at least not in a monetary sense.

    I am definitely no expert myself, but I did have an interesting meeting with a expert on copyright law recently who was quite insistent that there was no issue whatsoever with WordPress themes being released with non-GPL licensing.

  10. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    As some of you have pointed out, I need to be careful to get the meaning of “free” right… you know, the whole “free as in speech, not beer” argument. Yep, I get that.

    As Jeff Waugh tried to explain to me at Wordcamp, you are allowed to charge people money for GPL’d software, and indeed the license text (and/or addenda) almost encourage it… BUT, unless mistaken, this encouragement is on the basis that you’re charging for something that can in any case be acquired for free… either elsewhere or from you, when asked. I’m not sure of the nuances there.

    Where current theme developers fall foul of either the GPL or of Automattic (or the “community spirit”… I’m splitting hairs), is that they release a theme at a price, and with a license that ignores the GPL it must inherit. So… even if it WAS ok to sell a GPL’d theme, it would certainly not be to ok to apply any kinds of licensing restrictions on it, that were more restrictive than the GPL.

    But boy, it gets tricky in some cases, and at the end of the day I’m coming to the point of thinking that the GPL is what we’re stuck with, but it’s not the best. Indeed, it is ill-equipped to cope with the very notion of plugins and/or themes, which are “derivative works” in the sense that they have no viability outside of a dependence on the WordPress software, yet do not share a single line of code with it. The GPL was written in the days of compiled code and everything-in-a-single executable, and the scenario we’re presently discussing doesn’t fit well.

    Can I suggest then that we accept what others have said elsewhere then, that we can argue all we like about the nuances of the GPL, but what really matters is what the license holder is trying to achieve, and helping them achieve it? And I for one, as I’ve written, think Matt is being pretty clear what he’s aiming for, whether or not the GPL is quite the ideal license to express it.

    -Alister

  11. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Well written, Alister. Since Theme Hybrid is run on a paid support business model, I can attest that it is a viable solution for running a stable business on top of WordPress while handing over the code for free.

    Of course, I’ve only been using this method for a few months, so I could be washing cars in half a year. Only time will tell.

    What I’ve learned from my own experience dealing with users is that if you deliver quality work, you’ll find people that are willing to pay you for that work. Before I even started Theme Hybrid, the community surrounding my themes bought and paid for an entire year’s worth of quality Web hosting and everything else needed just to get the project started. This was through donations alone.

    I’ve come to learn that my users don’t so much care about the themes as much as what they can do with the themes. They want to know how to tweak this or change that. That’s why support is a good business model.

    I like the idea of people paying me for my time and expertise because those are valuable things to me. Anyone can throw a theme together. But, being truly knowledgeable about the system you work with enough to help with any support question is something users will value.

    While I think there are some major grey areas with the GPL and themes, I do believe that there’s a lot of untapped potential when working within the framework of the GPL. I’m fairly certain I made a public call to theme developers to be a little more creative with their businesses about six months ago.

  12. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    If you go to Ebay you’ll find people selling copies of Open Office on CD’s, and that’s legal. So you could sell themes, as long as you give them away for free too. The theme authors could offer additional incentives to entice people to pay, CD’s, support, credit link removal, CSS color choices, images, and whatever else you can think of.

  13. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    This whole GPL-Theme issue sure has gotten the blood boiling in many peoples lives. I think Cory, Alister and a few others have hit the nail on the head. That any .php file that exists within a theme is actually integrating directly with the WordPress core and thus receives the derivative GPL tagging.

    But… images, CSS files, (and I will add) script files (javascript/jquery/etc.) could all retain the copyright of the original author since they would/could operate independently from the WordPress core.

    This is exactly how Drupal handles their theme issues. Premium theme developers can only license out the images,css,and javascript files. All other template files (.php) essentially have to be distributed freely if needed.

    While many may feel their revenue stream may dry up because of this decision. I applaud the Automattic crew for working hard at driving the Community forward in accordance with the standards they have set forth.

  14. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Folks it’s 3am for me. If your comment stays in moderation for a while it’s coz I’m asleep. Sorry ’bout that, Chief!

  15. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, wow – I must say that I feel honored to have a paragraph written about in this incredibly good and helpful post. (not being sarcastic) As you know, we’ve all be around the table a time or two when discussing this whole matter, and I think we’re all fairly close to putting it to rest.

    The truth of my deal is not a secret, and most of your points are spot on – that I will not deny.

    What I did, after a year of success with Revolution is reassess my current situation, and make a decision that I thought would ultimately prove to be the best for me and my family longterm. (and yes, even I thought I could be committing commercial suicide.)

    It turns out so far (as Justin Tadlock can probably attest for this) is that I have not committed commercial suicide, and there’s a lot of signs that show that collectively Jason and I have made at the very least a still intelligent move by going open source. I’ll be the first to admit that I may have jumped the gun and flipped my business model more than it had to – but that’s the way it goes. I’m still VERY pleased with the way Revolution is going.

    As mentioned many times, my trip to San Francisco ultimately was my way of confirming the business model that I had already envisioned, and wanted nothing more than to talk to Matt and Toni about what we had planned, and to make sure that it fell in line with the way that Automattic and WordPress defined and interpreted the GPL license.

    To sum things up, again – I don’t regret the way things turned out… and even though there may have some things (which I can still probably change) I could have done differently, it’s clearly obvious that Matt, Toni and WordPress have rewarded my decision and for that I am very thankful.

    As a side note, the current license info on the Rev Two themes is in the style.css file:

    “The CSS, XHTML and design is released under GPL:
    http://www.opensource.org/licenses/gpl-license.php

  16. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Here’s my take. This is my personal take, and shouldn’t be construed as official WordPress policy.

    Plugins and PHP theme files have to be GPL. They use WordPress’ functions and interact with its data.

    CSS and images are separate works. They don’t use WordPress functions or interact with its data. An image or CSS file could be linked to from anywhere.

    I think your idea about selling proprietary CSS “skins” is perfectly okay, as far as the GPL is concerned. The CSS is an original work, that can function on its own, apart from WordPress and its GPL’d code.

    In fact, there’s nothing wrong with selling entire themes, PHP template files and all — but the PHP files have to be licensed with a GPL-compatible license. So that means that the first person you sold it to could post the PHP files on their site for people to freely download. So that may not be the best business model, by itself.

    Here are some ideas, all of which are compatible with the GPL:

    • Offer a GPL’d theme free for download, and then sell CSS skins (pre-made or made-to-order). The free theme would be a promotional device for your premium skins.
    • Sell GPL’d themes (yours, or others’) with support services bundled. You can also release the theme free of charge — or not — your choice.

    You can make a million variations on these things. Remember that the GPL only extends to people who have the software in their hands. You’re free to sell a GPL’d theme privately. No one can force you to release the theme free of charge (but everyone to whom you sell the theme has the freedom to redistribute it). Experiment with licensing your theme’s graphics and CSS separately from its PHP template files. Those are the really valuable parts anyway.

    Thanks for writing this, Alister.

  17. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    im just asking here, if we publish a theme with a donation link (paypal). does it wrong ?

  18. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    I am going to be controversial… just because I like playing devil’s advocate, and if I don’t, then this post might be a little biased (which you are of course allowed to be on a blog), but it doesn’t serve the reader to fully understand the situation.

    Under GPL, there is something called LGPL, which is a license intended to allow GPL libraries to be used with commercial software.

    There isn’t an equivalent or mirror license for commercial software, as it would be pointless. Commercial application developers want people to buy their software, and don’t care if you somehow link to it with a GPL licensed plugin.

    A commercial library which can be installed on your own server, is very much the same as software as a service, only you have the security of having that library on your own server so you are not sharing what may be sensitive data across borders without informing your users.

    As an example you could have a spam plugin that is sold commercially, but includes a commercial library component that works on its own, or refers to a parent site for data.

    Just because the interface is a library call rather than access via an API call doesn’t change the nature of the data being sent or returned.

    Whether you charge a recurring subscription, or a one off fee is purely a commercial concern.

    Thus you could create a theme or plugin that contained a commercial library or functions that is not under GPL, and be just as legally valid as for instance Akismet.

    In fact it would be more legally valid, as it could potentially be designed so that it doesn’t send data back to servers in the US, without a declaration on your privacy policy.

    I am sure all WP.com users who have Akismet in use, and maintain a business in Europe include a statement in their privacy policy that they are sharing their private data with a US based corporation, and include provisions in their data protection paperwork.

    Does commercial exploitation also cover affiliate advertising?
    That means anyone running adsense on their blog about blogging might be in trouble, or those that are affiliates for commercial themes.

    I trust Akismet will be removed from WP.org listings, and from inclusion in WP distributions, as it is clearly, under this reasoning, in violation of the GPL.

  19. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    LOL at the Mambo reference :-)

  20. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    GPL is free as in freedom – not free beer – it says so directly on the GNU GPL website as well as wordpress.org.

    Themes are not a “work based on the Program” as defined by the GPL on wordpress.org because they do not copy or modify the wordpress basecode – calling a function like wp_head() is using the API’s made available by the Program – not copying the code itself.

    So – I disagree with you that themes violate any GPL simply by having a fee – so long as the buyer is free to do what they want with the purchased code (like redistribute, repackage, modify, etc).

    PS – thanks for the “you comment i follow” suggestion – I will implement it on my sites this week…

  21. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    @Andy Beard – a great comment, because it’s exactly how I feel. GPL V2 came out in 1991. Wow, have things changed since then! I know in 1987, when I started working in IT professionally there were something like 100 .coms registered. Quite different now! The GPL is designed for compiled code. Dynamic linking is beyond its scope, let alone compiled languages and hosted web services.

    I’ll agree that it’s entirely possible that our premium themes are against the spirit of the GPL. But I also agree that although services such as Akismet and Gravatar may be within the letter of the GPL, they don’t necessarily comply to the spirit either. More pertinently some of the magic bits being added to WordPress.com are unlikely to ever be released openly, and there’s already an element of lock-in which will only get worse in time. Matt’s already commissioned WP.com only themes which you can only get if you know your way around subversion.

    It’s a sorry state of affairs – we wanted to put back a lot into the free themes market and although we’re not prevented from doing so, a major outlet has been denied us. It takes away any incentive for us to create more GPL theme platforms and we probably won’t bother with any more – we’ve already taken a good look at Habari and are wondering whether or not to support that.

  22. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    I’m glad you wrote this post on GPL and the removal of the themes. I really wish a lot of the Automattic dissenters who blame Matt for the fact that WordPress is GPL would do 2 things:
    1) Read the GPL license completely and the FAQ’s on it.
    2) Realize that WordPress had to be GPL because it was built off of b2/cafelog and that system was released GPL.

    The GPL license is nothing new. It’s been used for plenty of things, but the simple fact is that if something you make requires the use of a GPL product to -function- then it -has- to be GPL also. No amount of slapping a CC license or anything else on your work will change the fact that the GPL is the only one that applies. This is not a ‘WordPress thing’ it’s a ‘GPL thing’ and it’s what you agree to when you decide to build a theme.

    On the flip side, I totally feel for people who want to do both – help the community and actually get paid for the insane amount of hours that can go into building a theme and staying up to date on varying technology. Your conversation on child themes hits this on the head.

    Paying for child themes, support, and/or written documentation are all ways to monetize while still releasing themes into the GPL wild. Child themes (without additional function files) meet the requirement for not having to apply the GPL, and that’s why we’re launching a new ThemeCrafting.com site soon. It will be a site for people to create child themes (skin only types) off of theme frameworks and sell them – but all the actual theme frameworks will be released GPL as it should be. So sure, people will be able to download the frameworks and build their own skin off of it if they want to. They’ll also be able to buy a pretty face for it if they want.

    In the end, I think it’s a way to help the community by creating great theme frameworks they can download, while at the same time giving designers a way to make a buck or two without violating a license.

    I look forward to reading the rest of the conversation as it continues around the web.

  23. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    I have a controversial suggestion

    Why doesn’t Matt buy copies of 20+ or so commercial themes and plugins from various vendors, and then release them all for free download.

    The theme authors can club together and take Matt to court – I am sure they can come up with a trial lawyer willing to work on a percentage of the settlement.

    To be fair, as many vendors as possible should be included to ensure that costs are covered, and there is sufficient upside for the theme and plugin authors if they win.

    I am sure Matt could get some or all of his legal fees covered by FSF, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be Automattic covering the bill, or the damages. I am not sure Automattic share holders would be so enthusiastic about a legal battle over something that actually is benefitial to WP.

    Personally, until “premium” themes became available, there weren’t any free magazine style themes of any note.
    There are still many areas of theme development which are only supported by commercial themes.
    WordPress has gained a huge amount from commercial theme development, even though they could have been published using more “free” business models.
    It is much easier for something to be published “free” once it has attained critical mass, and the barrier to entry is actually much higher now, as theme developers can no longer benefit from selling links, or flipping theme sites that can provide lots of link juice to other commercial entities.

    I am sure, if there was a commercial theme market 3 years ago, many core WP developers would have in some way used it to offset their development costs.

    Premium WP themes and plugins are currently the #1 route for monetization among blogs that focus on WP and blogging.
    Looks like they will all have to go back to promoting paid link services

  24. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Wow, did I just step into geek land or what?

    Or did I just step into a blog that speaks blogonese? (perhaps I should TM that word or onsell it by the conversation about money you have all been having? ;-) opps that’s already taken. ;-)tm

  25. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    If they apply these requirements to plugins… will we lose wp e-commerce, akismet, wp db-backup, every single one of Yoast’s plugins (Sociable, Breadcrumbs, Google Analytics, etc)… and I could go on.

    All these are on the first page of the popular plugin list. They also all have a “premium” version being sold on their personal website or an affiliate link to a premium theme store. These two criteria were enough to remove themes from the repository. Why not plugins? Is it because they don’t want to lose some of these plugins? Or is Automattic just trying to kill the premium theme business and doesn’t really care about GPL?

  26. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    If they apply these requirements to plugins… will we lose wp e-commerce, akismet, wp db-backup, every single one of Yoast’s plugins (Sociable, Breadcrumbs, Google Analytics, etc)… and I could go on.

    All these are on the first page of the popular plugin list. They also all have a “premium” version being sold on their personal website or an affiliate link to a premium theme store.

    What you are saying about WP-DB-Backup, at least, is incorrect.

  27. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Yes, from what I can see, WP DB Backup is still using juice from WP.org and other links to sell text links.

    When a site drops that as a form of income, the next best is relevant affiliate marketing – the premium themes and plugins market, plus own product creation.

    The $31 in donations that site has received isn’t even going to keep the programmer in Starbucks.

  28. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Yes, from what I can see, WP DB Backup is still using juice from http://WP.org and other links to sell text links.

    Yes, I do sell advertising on my blog, but I do not advertise for or link to anything that violates the GPL, which would be a relevant complaint.

  29. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Not really…

    You see previous cleanup acts targetted paid links, but as Google clamped down on that very heavily, focus has moved to something else.

    Most of the WP community, having had their income stream wiped out by Google moved to other alternatives.
    Theme designers, and even WP core developers who had previously survived on selling links, had to find other ways to pay the bills.

    So many took the route of premium themes and plugins, especially if they are based in areas where it is very hard to charge $200 per hour for consulting.

    It is already more difficult for WP theme designers to advertise their wares, WP police their trademark on Google serps, or Google do it for them, thus premium themes can’t include the word “WordPress” in the advertsiing, thus affecting their quality score and CTR.

    This isn’t the first time I have seen this

    In the early 90s software piracy in Eastern Europe was booming – around 1995 laws started to be passed to crack down on it, so all the pirates with established retail outlets became the largest software distributors, and then were the ones doing the policing.

    This is a WWW scenario – wild wild west

    Those who staked the biggest claims are setting the rules for everyone who follows after.

    WordPress.com for 3 years has quite happily been using themes whose authors primarily were monetizing their design business through selling links, and later by selling commercial themes. Some of those themes are still being used, and among the most popular.

    I purchase professional themes but the level of long term support I will receive may be drastically affected by whether the themes are still on sale.

  30. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    right on the money alister, i am sure there are theme maker who will not like it, but this is for the good thing

  31. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    “The GPL (current version, if you must ask) demands that any derivative work of the WordPress codebase must be available for free. It matters not what licensing you apply to code you create that depends on WordPress code for its own functioning; it matters that you understand that it is a derivative work and that you must make it available for free.”

    This statement is so incorrect its scary

    The GPL says you must make the SOURCE CODE of derivative works available IF you DISTRIBUTE them (and yes, they don’t have to be free)

    I’d also add that templates being derivative is VERY debatable. A template design is creative graphics that can be used on many CMS systems. How can a design be GPL?

    http://www.compassdesigns.net/joomla-blog/Wordpress-Pulls-the-Plug-on-Hundreds-of-Themes.html

  32. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    @Andy: “Why doesn’t Matt buy copies of 20+ or so commercial themes and plugins from various vendors, and then release them all for free download.”

    He could if he wanted to. Anyone could. It’s specifically covered in the GPL FAQ’s here . For those who don’t want to click, it says:

    “If I distribute GPL’d software for a fee, am I required to also make it available to the public without a charge? No. However, if someone pays your fee and gets a copy, the GPL gives them the freedom to release it to the public, with or without a fee. For example, someone could pay your fee, and then put her copy on a web site for the general public.”

    Also, you said: “http://Wordpress.com for 3 years has quite happily been using themes whose authors primarily were monetizing their design business through selling links, and later by selling commercial themes. Some of those themes are still being used, and among the most popular.”

    I think that once WP started providing those themes to their users, they were a bit locked into them. To remove the themes now would cause a business nightmare in the amount of user upset when they logged in to find their site on some default theme because they one they were using is now gone.

    @Barrie: “I’d also add that templates being derivative is VERY debatable. A template design is creative graphics that can be used on many CMS systems. How can a design be GPL?”

    See my comment above on child themes. Basically, while CMS systems differ in method – every one that I’ve run across very significantly integrate tons of functions into themes in order to make them run. WP themes would really do nothing at all except hold static text if you didn’t include the WP functions in the template.

    The discussion on child themes really hits on the point of separating CSS, images, and even JS (there’s a special exception for JS in the GPL faqs). Effectively, you can create a framework theme (like sandbox for instance) and then legally sell under a non-GPL license the CSS/images/js that could make that theme look great. The reason it works is that the CSS/images/js could be added to a plain html file, a WP template, a Drupal template, a regular php file, anything – and they would work. They’re independent of the GPL’d software.

  33. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Here’s a new question (one I’m waiting for a response from GNU on) that might be interesting to think about.

    Take this text from the GPL FAQ’s (note emphasis mine):

    Question: “A company is running a modified version of a GPL’ed program on a web site. Does the GPL say they must release their modified sources?

    Answer: “The GPL permits anyone to make a modified version and use it without ever distributing it to others. What this company is doing is a special case of that. Therefore, the company does not have to release the modified sources.

    It is essential for people to have the freedom to make modifications and use them privately, without ever publishing those modifications. However, putting the program on a server machine for the public to talk to is hardly “private” use, so it would be legitimate to require release of the source code in that special case.

    So.. going along that train of thought. Since WP is GPL, and themes with integrated functionality to WP inherit the GPL, and we put themes on a server to run our website, is this text saying that we must to release the source code of our custom themes?

    Now that would be a whole other can of worms.

  34. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    So.. going along that train of thought. Since WP is GPL, and themes with integrated functionality to WP inherit the GPL, and we put themes on a server to run our website, is this text saying that we must to release the source code of our custom themes?

    I was concerned about the same thing, only my concern was with the custom themes I develop for clients. I participated in the WordPress Weekly live show yesterday when Matt Mullenweg was on, and my understanding from Matt and other participants was, if we develop a custom theme, whether for ourselves or for a client, the theme is still considered GPL but does not have to be released as long as we only use it on the website it was designed for, and claim our copyright to the theme design on that site. The copyright protects us from having someone rip the design and redistribute it, claiming the GPL as their defense.

    If we would decide to release a theme to the general public, then that theme would have to be GPL, and others could redistribute it freely.

  35. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Kim, that’s a common misconception that I tried to clear up a few times. Work for a client is not considered distribution, so you don’t need to make it available under the GPL.

    http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLRequireSourcePostedPublic

  36. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    I think the part about not blaming wordpress for your lack of creativity is very true. if you cant blog…then simply DONT.

    my 5 cents :D

  37. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    It’s amazing how this idea has travelled.

    What started with Joomla seeking to enforce GPL-compatible components, modules, plugins and templates has now virally travelled through to WordPress, Drupal and others.

    The key dilemma is the use of the GPL. Whether or not it’s used as a contract licence or a copyright licence.

    Within Australia, my own business seeks to protect my clientele by not using the GPL in any way as a contract licence. That means even if I am working on products that remain GPL (such as Joomla, Mambo and WordPress), the said creative works are commercially licenced and copyrighted, allowing designers such as myself to transfer a deed of rights/usage based on client needs. This in no way means the creative works I have produced are derivative works, let alone infected via the GPL.

    Now most people assume merely because Matt and others (such as OSM at Joomla) want creative works to be GPL licenced, that means all creative works produced for these platforms should be that way.

    Barrie North, Lynne and myself have travelled this road before. Furthermore, as the creative works I produce (and Alister produces) are created in Australia, certain rules need to be adhered to in order to fulfil Tax Office and Fair Trading laws.

    Matt Mullenweg, nor OSM, nor any other CMS party, can dictate the client contract between a client and a producers of creative works in Australia. In order to fulfil Fair Trading laws, certain warranties and protections need to be afforded to the client. These protections are removed if and when using the GPL as a contract between client and producer. So the simple solution is to follow the laws of the land, and sod anyone who attempts to claim your creative work, sold at a price, with warranties and protections, should be GPL. By protecting the consumer beyond the scope of the GPL, you actually demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the whole GPL only / GPL-compatible debate.

    This is what protects consumers. By creating a commercial deed of sale for services rendered, with the appropriate rights under Fair Trading / BBB, to protect the consumer, everyone wins. If you analyse the Quantcast stats for Joomla prior to their GPL debate, as well as post-it, you will notice a distinct trend whereby Joomla consumers expect more and more services for less to no cost. This has been reflected in the work of third party development for Joomla 1.5.

    Take home message:

    If we head down the GPL-only/GPL-compatible route merely because the powers that be, such as Matt and OSM, tell us to, they are then encroaching on the protections we as creative web professionals afford to our clientele.

    It’s a simple choice..

  38. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Outstanding explanation Alister. I am not a developer or coder in any sense. But I am user of Brian’s ‘Revolution Theme’. I admit that I have made amateurish changes to its code for my own needs.

    What your post does is entice novices like myself to venture into the world of theme development. Not that I could do it.

    But your explanation of what is happening with respect to GPL and WordPress tells the very descriptive story of the strong devotion to the GPL principle Automattic is intent on supporting and advancing.

    I mean wow! It’s almost religious!

    I think we are all better off for it.

  39. Dave
    Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    I cannot think of a case with a large commercial software vendor where this issue around GPL is a major one.

    You can charge a fee with the GPL. BUT, you must also provide source or provide source when asked.

    With LGPL, you do not have to provide source.

    If someone makes software application/service A that is under the GPL, then any extensions (i.e. anything that accesses or depends on A) is a derivative work.

    If you produce a theme with a php file that calls a WP defined function or directly access the wordpress defined database tables, it’s a derivative work — you have to share the source files if/when asked.

    BUT… So what?

    Themes come with source. You can charge for themes already under GPL.

    As Andy Beard mentioned, this isn’t the case of commercial binary libraries under GPL. There, the commercial company would have to provide sourcecode.

    Here’s the source code is wide open with the purchase of the theme as a byproduct of what a theme is.

    Can CSS files or images be protected under GPL?

    Is this really a practice consideration?

    They are wide open. Once you see a theme on the net you can directly access the CSS and any images that are visible on the website using the theme.

    It doesn’t matter if GPL accesses them or not in a practical sense since they can easily be used and you’d have to resort to copyright to protect them.

  40. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    Well … IMHO, “Free” is supposed to be free to redistribute. You can modify the code and sell it if you want, but you cannot sell the original code, in this case a whole pack of WordPress, including kubrick and classic theme.

  41. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    @Dave – I think you have some misunderstandings there!

    First, the source code and objects that are covered by the LGPL do have to be made available if this code is redistributed. Any proprietary code that links to the LGPL libraries does not have to be made available. It’s an important distinction.

    It’s not wise to present as “fact” something that has never been tested in court and which even lawyers cannot agree on. The simple fact is – nobody knows if WordPress themes would be deemed to be derivative or not. You may believe they are derivative but that does not make it either a fact or true.

    The argument that CSS and images are easily seen on web sites does not mean anyone can use them. Copyright exists on everything that is published, regardless of whether the author makes a statement to the effect or not. Suggesting that people can just go and help themselves to whatever they find on the Net is the same as saying that they can walk into a store and help themselves. Just because the goods are on display does not mean anyone has the right to just take them.

  42. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    A mis-mash of thoughts from me –

    I see on the “about page” for the themes they changed it to read
    “All themes are subject to review. Themes for sites that support non-GPL (or compatible) themes or violate the WordPress community guidelines themes will not be approved.”
    Which doesn’t have the word “premium” any more, I’ve noticed Matt avoiding using that word in an interview (premium indicates quality and I think he was trying to say for sale).

    A design is not a theme (someone said a design couldn’t be GPL’d) a theme is built around the design and the theme is GPL’d (the design is too but only as a side effect). Although, I think you could argue that your images are not-GPL or the CSS (if someone tried to then sell them).

    I’d swear before this I heard/read that since the themes needed to be GPL’d you could remove the links at the bottom and no one could legally complain. Even the people who state they are free GPL themes but state you can’t remove the credit without paying.

    I think they removed themes with credit links to domains with “wordpress” in them to.

    And I always thought if you SOLD GPL’d software you had to make the code available to everyone. I thought that was something people complained to TIVo about a few times (it’s Linux-based) but maybe it was just because you needed the source code (and they sold distributed compiled code). With WordPress the code is the source code.

    Automattic is mentioned a lot above in the post and the comments. Isn’t Automatic running WordPress.COM? These themes were pulled from WordPress.ORG, correct? So really we’re talking about Matt, not Automattic, right? Yes, Matt is at Automattic but…
    The fact that the removed themes that linked to sites with “wordpress” in the domain name seems more Automattic-ish than the rest of this.

    And just to clarify, since I haven’t said it. I see Matt’s and Alister’s points and mostly agree with them (and I’m putting ‘mostly’ at 96%) and will probably be swayed more…

    Gary

  43. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    @Gary

    “And I always thought if you SOLD GPL’d software you had to make the code available to everyone.”

    That’s correct. Offering a GPL creation online for sale is considered distribution, and distribution is what makes the difference in releasing of source code. Of course, offering GPL creations online for FREE is also considered distribution and falls under the same.

    “So really we’re talking about Matt, not Automattic, right? Yes, Matt is at Automattic but…”

    Exactly. Matt has mentioned many times that he wishes people would make the distinction more often. The WordPress GPL Software = Matt. WordPress.com free hosting of that software = Automattic.

    “The fact that the removed themes that linked to sites with “wordpress” in the domain name seems more Automattic-ish than the rest of this.”

    The removal of themes is really not so much an issue in my viewpoint. The theme directory or even the themes provided by WordPress.com are run as a convenience to users. In the end, it’s their website, and they can decide what themes will be allowed on it. If they don’t want ‘adult’ theme designs, designs built with tables, designs that link to sites they don’t want to link to .. it’s their call as much as it’s the decision of a forum moderator to delete or edit posts. People are free to decide what to allow on their own website.

  44. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    @Gary

    “And I always thought if you SOLD GPL’d software you had to make the code available to everyone.”
    @Nicole
    That’s correct.\n
    It’s not correct actually. If you sell software that is licensed under the GPL you need to make the source code available only to the people you have sold the software to. You do not have to make it available to everyone.

    Of course, they are free to redistribute it under the terms of the GPL if they wish, and the same thing applies to them.

  45. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    @Lynne (and all)

    From http://wordpress.org/about/gpl/
    “For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.”

    But in the legalese section it says:
    “Accompany it [code] with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give ANY THIRD PARTY, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code,"

    I was going to agree with Lynne about that part but not that I see the "any third party part", I'm not sure.

    BUT since compiled code isn't really the case here, we're kinda off on a tangent. Sorry!

    Since we're

  46. Posted 5 years, 7 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, great piece.

    I am an enthusiastic supporter of open source and GPL because it gives everyone access to a dream they can realize through software.

    I subscribed to Justin Tadlock’s ThemeHybrid site in August 2008 because I supported his vision and will be joining Brian Gardner’s Revolution site soon.

    I like to use analogies when explaining technical concepts so here I will use puppies:

    Designers of WordPress themes are like people who raise show dogs.

    (Please note: all assumptions from what I know about the AKC, breeders, puppy mills, friends who raise and show dogs for confirmation or agility. My goal is not to offend but to illustrate)

    Many people who raise show dogs do so because they love dogs. Well known breeders show their dogs on “the circuit” in confirmation and agility classes. They make their money selling their dogs to other breeders and for stud. They do not make money selling puppies as pets or by winning ribbons at dog shows. Non show quality dogs go as pets and shows are to build up points and exposure for their breeding program.

    Most of their time is spent raising, training, breeding, networking, visiting the vet, planning and going to shows. Word of mouth is huge in this industry. Now if these people had to find other ways to generate revenue, what would they do? I will link the loss of Google advertising to “rescue” operations and puppy mills which potentially decrease the demand for their dogs.

    Some viable options here are “train the trainer”, workshops on confirmation/breeding, develop a tangible product to be used with dogs (food, supplement, toy), create an online community around their breed with affiliate products and the like. Just like the designers of WordPress themes, deliver supportive services as the true business model.

    Designers need to add to their toolbelt. It can be hard to develop and market yourself if that isn’t your gift. Many may feel like they’re missing the “web 2.0 revolution”. I hear about it from folks creating designs in Photoshop and then needing to “find” someone to “convert” it rather than internalize the skill of developing the them with php, html and css.

    There will always be “sharks” out there looking to exploit. Look at puppy mills. They raise dogs en mass in cramped, unhealthy conditions, sell dogs to pet shops who then charge outrageous prices for dogs that often have genetic defects (hip dysplasia which affect many large breeds like German Shepard’s can be screened for before dogs are bred), which does a disservice to the consumer who ends up with a sick puppy that must undergo expensive treatments or be “returned”.

    I applaud Matt for keeping things above the bar and in the true spirit of what’s best for the community. I think premium themes are great and generate positive interest for WordPress as a CMS platform.

  47. Posted 5 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    I think the common mistake people make is that it’s only the WordPress source code that is GPL’d. In other words, we’re selling and copyrighting the CSS files, and the custom Javascript files that are independent of the core files that are included with the basic WordPress install.

    So, for example, I create a theme and I intend it to be non-GPL and I intend to charge for it. I can slap any restrictions I like on the style.css file, and on the custom Javascript files I include with it. I would not be in violation of the GPL license. However, I have to make the functions.php and other PHP files that are necessary to make WordPress function properly (the core files) comply with the GPL license.

    So for the style.css and any other files that are not necessary to make WordPress function properly, I can forbid folks from redistributing and/or modifying.

    The other thing I was thinking about, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that clients can redistribute and modify freely (paid or free) the actual theme structure which would include the PHP files and maybe even the XHTML markup, but that would be without the CSS and the custom Javascript files.

  48. Posted 5 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    On the other handAllister Cameron wrote a very analytical post about this matterthat may help you understand the removal of these themes (definitely worth a read).

  49. Posted 4 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    I admire Matt Mullenweg, he is the founding developer of the popular open-source blogging software WordPress.

  50. Posted 3 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    The current model of selling two types of restrictive licenses is old and flawed.

  51. Posted 2 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    If you go to Ebay you’ll find people selling copies of Open Office on CD’s, and that’s legal. So you could sell themes. The theme authors could offer additional incentives to entice people to pay, CD’s, support, credit link removal, CSS color choices, images, and whatever else you can think of.

34 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. be available for free. It matters not what licensing you apply to code you create that depends on WordPress code for its own functioning; it matters that you understand that it is a derivative work and that you must make it available for free.” -Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it.

  2. It’s a good, detailed read on the subject matter

  3. go work for some big corporation or start consulting – yuck!). I also believe that it is unethical that 200 GPL themes were removed from the WordPress theme repository because the theme authors also sold premium themes on their site. On the other handAllister Cameron wrote a very analytical post about this matterthat may help you understand the removal of these themes (definitely worth a read). Even if that’s the case, I truly believe that some of the removals had to be mistakes (if so contact Matt Mullenweg

  4. and no spammy links, it could had been possibly removed without prior notice. First got to know this via ProBlogNews , 200 themes that not comply with these rules were removed by WordPress on Dec 12. There are further discussion by Justin, spectacu,alistercameron. I’m not a theme coder (

  5. WordPress-o-Sphere Matt Mullenweg Interview A two-hour interview with Matt Mullenweg about WordPress, themes, and the GPL.Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it.A serious look at how theme designers should start thinking about the GPL and WordPress. GPL fights & WordPress by Jeffro2pt0 Well, can’t consider yourself ingrained within the WordPress community until you either start or participate in a GPL

  6. http://ma.tt | http://automattic.com [source: Jeffro2pt0] Now this was an interesting turn as most premium wordpress developers build their brand name etc by giving out free themes. In regards to this matter bothAlister Camronand Thaya Kareeson have discussed this matter at length. The crux being though that: The GPL (current version, if you must ask) demands that any derivative work of the WordPress codebase must be available for free. It matters not what licensing you

  7. more head over to my review. Noupe came out with a Nice List of Some cool features of WordPress 2.7. Hell, I also learnt one new thing out of them too. I thought, I knew it all. 200 GPL Themes removed from WordPress.org Extend Area. Readsomeof the reports about it. Unless Matt himself clears the controversies officially, it seems to be the beginning of a never ending debate. Mashable has finally announced the Open Web Awards 2008 Winners. Check out what’s hot and what’s not in blogging

  8. free themes vs paid ones and what people could do about it.  He then took it a step further and talked about someone who was doing it right.  I shared in the comments how breeding show dogs isn’t a money making venture but thatdog breeders could generate revenue with training, speaking, writing books and being a visible expertwithin their AKC breed as an analogy for CMS theme developers. WordPress blows my mind.  It has empowered people to dream and then turn those dreams into working realities.  Inside the world of WordPress, people have created new business models. I can’t w

  9. [...] in describing the issue (Matt Mullenweg, head of WordPress.org and the one who removed the themes, seems to like Cameron’s post too). Here Cameron gets to the heart of the matter: If your theme was pulled and yet it was GPL [...]

  10. [...] Pro Blogging/ Alistair Cameron. img credit: [...]

  11. [...] Your page is on StumbleUpon [...]

  12. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. on Alister Cameron, Blogologist from 7 hours ago [...]

  13. [...] also might want to read this article by Alister Cameron on the “right” way to make money from WordPress themes. He cites [...]

  14. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it – Alister Cameron gives his view on a topic which still divides a lot of people, theme sponsorship. [...]

  15. [...] Alister Cameron: Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. [...]

  16. [...] I find most interesting is how many people are making comments with complete convinction, yet not entirely correct, such as this one:"The [...]

  17. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL, and why I think he really gets it. – A few theme designers — including yours truly — received an email from Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s boss, yesterday. It read (in full and unedited)… [...]

  18. [...] (and spammy themes) from the repository and in response Alister Cameron wrote a post suggesting developers need to be more creative with business models while honouring the GPL (make sure you read the comments for clarification on [...]

  19. [...] There has been a quite lengthy conversation about this over on Alister’s blog. http://www.alistercameron.com/…..press-gpl/ [...]

  20. [...] Cameron did a thoughtful article (”Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it.“) on the issue with another follow-up by Jeff Chandler (“More Thoughts On Premium [...]

  21. [...] Το θέμα έχει πάρει τις ανάλογες διαστάσεις του, με “εξτρεμιστικές” αντιδράσεις τύπου “More Hypocrisy from Mullenweg and WordPress with new themes jihad” (!), αλλά και πιο μετριοπαθείς και πιο κοντά στην αλήθεια γνώμες : “Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it”. [...]

  22. [...] Ауу, и тия нещо съвсем са откачилиhttp://www.alistercameron.com/2008/12/14/matt-mullenweg-wordpress-gpl/ [...]

  23. [...] Well of course the paid theme market is still very alive and active, as it should be. I hope 2009 will introduce a new wave of creative business models for theme authors looking to make profits from their work. The current model of selling two types of restrictive (single, developer) licenses is old and flawed. There are plenty of ways to create a business model around WordPress themes and make a decent profit, all while honoring the GPL. You just have to get creative (modifications are mine): So here’s the plain and simple point of it all: your theme files are PHP and they are dependent on the WordPress codebase and have no existence outside of that dependency, so you can’t charge for restrict them. BUT… the creatively-minded entrepreneurs among us will not walk away just because of that. Instead, they will do what smart business-people always do: they will create value somewhere else. In Brian’s case, it is with support. For someone else, it will be theme customization. For someone else, it will be something I haven’t even thought of yet. But it WILL be valuable and it will be worth the money charged, and it WON’T contravene the letter or the spirit of the GPL. — Alister Cameron. [...]

  24. Nerdstuff für einen erholsamen Sonntag: WordPress 2.8 Beta ist da!…

    Wer heute noch nichts vorhat, kann sich die Zeit mit Fehlersuche vertreiben: Die Beta-Version von WordPress 2.8 ist fertig zum Test.

    Was ist neu in WordPress 2.8?

    Ich fange mal mit dem Punkt an, der wohl für die meisten die “gute…

  25. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. [...]

  26. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. By Alister [...]

  27. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. [...]

  28. [...] Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. [...]

  29. [...] 17, 2008 Yes.. afgelopen week is de aflevering hier voorbij gekomen. Reply | Share | Tweet Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it.Dec 14, 2008 Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your thoughts on this matter. Very [...]

  30. [...] has been considerable debate recently over the merits of GPL licensing of WordPress themes, and WordPress’ founder, Matt Mullenweg, has weighed in with total support for [...]

  31. [...] been raging for quite some time now. In fact, it was back in 2008 that Alister Cameron wrote his very detailed post on this very subject. In fact, since then, the majority of leading premium wordpress theme shops [...]

  32. [...] more here: Matt Mullenweg, WordPress, GPL and why I think he really gets it. Tags: [...]

  33. [...] has been a subject of debate and discussion in the WordPress community before, but it reared its head again in a big way recently when Pearson and Mullenweg were brought [...]

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