WordPress Theme Licensing

The WordPress community is currently having a big debate over whether themes are considered derivative works of WordPress as per the GPL, the license used by WP.  The SFLC has previously declared that they consider the PHP code in WP themes a derivative work.  Other open source CMS software makers, such as Drupal, also consider themes derivative.  Drew Blas has a thoughtful post where he compares WP themes to Linux applications and likens declaring themes as derivative the equivalent of declaring Linux applications as derivative.  I left a few comments on his post noting that a more apt comparison is with Linux Kernel Modules (LKMs) rather than applications running on top of Linux.  Linux applications are more comparable to XML-RPC clients that use WP’s XML-RPC API.  Neither Linux applications nor XML-RPC clients are considered derivative.  LKMs, however, are considered by many Linux developers to be derivative works.  LKMs load directly into the running kernel and have direct access to internal data structures and APIs.  WP themes are the same way.  They load directly into WP and have access to WP internals.  The distinction between the different classes of interactions is important when discussing the letter of the GPL as well as the general spirit in which many authors of open source software regard modules, themes, and plugins that extend their works.

I’ve not followed Linux kernel development closely for the past few years, but as far as I know the debate over LKMs never definitively resolved itself.  A system was put in place where LKMs could declare their license using a MODULE_LICENSE macro.  Licenses that are not GPL-compatible “taint” the kernel.  Many Linux developers will not assist with tainted kernels.  I doubt we would do something similar with WordPress.  Many WP developers already refuse to help with proprietary themes.  Adding some API doesn’t help clarify anything.  Unfortunately, the only thing that would is a lawsuit that goes the distance.

So, where do I stand as one of the primary copyright holders of WordPress?  I’d like to see the PHP parts of themes retain the GPL.  Aside from preserving the spirit of WordPress, respecting the open source ecosystem in which it thrives, and avoiding questionable legal ground, retaining the GPL is practical. As Drew Blas notes, the theme that sparked this debate copies WP code.  Most themes copy WP code.  Unlike the argument that all themes are derivative by nature, there is little debate that themes that copy code should retain the GPL.  Going out of your way to create a theme that does not borrow a single line of code from the WP community is wasted effort.  As attested by several theme makers who license under the GPL, the license has no affect on business. Why generate ill will by using a proprietary license?  What value is there in that?  Unlike LKMs, WP themes do not have to deal with hardware NDAs and DRM, closed source third-party code, or any of the other legal hassles that sometimes force an LKM to be closed source.  Themes live in the world of the fully open source web stack.  Since you are still free to license the CSS and images in your themes as you see fit, challenging the WP community over the license of the PHP code seems like bad business.

61 thoughts on “WordPress Theme Licensing

  1. Thanks :)Totally agree with your last paragraph.No matter what you do licensing wise, you’re not going to keep your theme off rapidshares anyway.

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  2. So, can someone explain how we can still use Genesis (StudioPress’s GPL framework), create new images, css, and functions for custom files – like home, index pages, or even taxonomies) and NOT charge for this and still make money to live on? If I use WP functions then it must be licensed under GPL – doesn’t that mean it is free for the taking? and I must make it available to anyone who wants it?

    How much money does wordpress.org make for Automattic? Does that mean, the I have to expand(like Automattic) past helping ppl create their themes, in order to make a living?

    Someone explain this in BUSINESS terms!! The tech stuff I get, the emotions – whatever. But how does it make business sense?

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    • The GPL does not prevent you from selling your work. Nor does a proprietary license prevent people from stealing your work. You are not obliged to give anything to people who have not paid. You are, however, obliged to give your source away under the terms of the GPL to whoever buys your theme from you. Buyers can give it away under the terms of the GPL if they like. Most people won’t do that out of respect for your efforts to make a living off your themes. Those who don’t care about you making a living would take your work regardless of the license.

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      • And as noted, CSS and images can be licensed as you wish so long as they don’t directly contain code from WP. It’s the CSS and images that make most child themes distinctive.

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      • To second what Ryan said, I bought Genesis from StudioPress just for my peace of mind that I’m using something which someone put a lot of effort in. Social media is so fast that you can easily expose those who plagiarize your work and you can make a very decent case for yourself on social media.

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      • @Ryan: Those who don’t care about you making a living would take your work regardless of the license.

        Point of note here, that is not completely true. People running companies that don’t want to be found liable for copyright infringement will not take other’s closed licensed work but they might be willing to take work that is GPL licensed. Not making that point omits an important consideration from the debate.

        On a somewhat related note, I do want to point out some people may be a lot better at coding than they are at running a customer support organization. Basically that means that coders can’t form a viable business off GPL unless they are also good at providing support. On a similar basis, and this hasn’t seemed quite fair to me, coders must GPL their work but designers are allowed to say “This is mine and you have to pay me for it.” As someone who can code very well but can’t design to save my life I’ve often pondered how this is more than a bit unfair, haven’t you?

        All that said, I support the position of the GPL but I don’t want to see it sugar coated because I believe doing so does it a disservice. People really do need to fully understand what the GPL is; how it can affect their business, both positively and negatively; and how they might actually be able to make money when GPL licensing is in the mix.

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    • It still amazes me to see people who build businesses around WordPress who fundamentally do not understand the GPL.

      It seems to me like the GPL suffers from misunderstanding due to the use of the word “free”. Of course it means free as in freedom, not free as in beer, but evidently this is not as clear as it could be.

      Maybe the GNU (or perhaps an organisation with a better presence in the public eye, eg. Automattic/WordPress) should embark on a PR campaign for the GPL. Maybe the word “free” should be phased out and replaced with one less ambiguous (“freedom” for example, but I’m not sure how it would fit without sounding awkward).

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  3. As an open-source advocate, I’m all for trying to keep WP and the surrounding ecosystem as friendly as possible towards open-source. But considering themes automatically as derivative work would mean that all interaction design, graphic design, integration to other applications etc. that can be developed as a part of a theme would be licensed under GPL. And that is where my sympathies begin to end.

    As a coder I understand that the final code that does something is often a trivial endpoint of a longer process of understanding requirements and working to design interactions and processes that best serve users or clients needs. The skills needed to do the work will always be worth paying for even if the underlying PHP code would be open sourced. That I really don’t have an issue with.

    But the main issue in automatically forcing each theme to be a derivative work comes from disparaging the creative work of graphic designers, photographers etc. by forcing them to publish their work under the GPL. And I honestly don’t care how WP developers try to define a theme, to the general public a theme will always be more the look-and-feel (the graphical design and imagery) than the underlying code. Do we as developer’s really feel that it is just to try to steal their work like this? At least as a photographer I’m strongly opposed to any such idea – and certainly know that if any enforcement is tried to be put in place that would require all WP themes to be open-sourced that I will stop using WP at that instant.

    From an ethical and ideological standpoint I really can’t see why WP developers would even want to try to enforce such an idea. All ideological posturing of the FSF aside (and I got tired of following it all almost a decade ago), the strongest point of open-source to me is creating options and opportunities. A technology platform (which basically is what WP is) does just that. What is built upon it may or may not be open source, but generally the community will somehow benefit from it. Honestly the viral nature of the GPL is the main reason why I stopped following FSF.

    But, I must admit that this discussion has made me revisit my thinking towards WP and using it in client projects. Admittedly, the thinking is not positive for WP…

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    • No one is forcing styling or images to be GPL. The SFLC noted this as did I in my post and the comments above. The look and feel is specifically excluded unless it directly copies code from WordPress.

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      • I know that you said that – but at the same time we have to admit that licensing issues in general are very hard for most people to understand.

        If the public WP stance is that themes are derivative works of the GPL and thus free, then that is what most of the public will understand. Any sidenote that says that CSS and images are not free will be easily forgotten.

        The discussion should more be around the issue on how can we support the fact that themes will almost always have parts that are more limited. Because any developer that wishes to develop a theme will be aware of the fact that their PHP code is GPL’d.

        Remember that most users of WP do not come from a technical background with the ability or interest to read what the GPL says and understand the ideology behind open source. For a normal user theme == look-and-feel. They do not understand that theme == – let alone that the two could be licensed differently. To me currently this isn’t a distinction that WP is trying to promote.

        As someone who works with a graphic designer and also contributes to the look-and-feel of themes through my photography, that is the aspect I want protected. And that is the aspect that is more than likely to cause the controversy.

        When it comes to the issue of the PHP code in themes there shouldn’t be any question to it and any developer that wants to challenge it can try. The GPL is quite clear on the fact that the code must be licensed under the GPL.

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      • @ramin: A point to ponder: Why should a designer get to protect their “look-and-feel” design when a coder doesn’t get to protect their functional code? Note that I’m not necessarily taking a position on this but I am instead pondering if and why it is fair that one gets to protect their work while another does not? (And maybe the answer is simply “It isn’t fair, do deal with it.”

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    • Osborne says:

      Ramin:
      >But the main issue in automatically forcing each theme to be a derivative work comes from disparaging the creative work of graphic designers, photographers etc. by forcing them to publish their work under the GPL.

      I am  always wondering why some graphic designers think that they are "better" than software developers. Systems like WP, Joomla, Drupal, or XOOPS  are released under GPL, and people spent hundreds/thousands of hours to write code, and the code they release is automatically licensed under GPL and everybody can use it and modify it. So why would graphic designers refuse to let people treat their creations the same way as we treat the code, i.e. that we can modify it?  Do they think that code writing doesn’t require creativity or brains, and that graphic work is more important/creative or whatever, and therefore their "graphic work" require a special license protection? This issue is not unique to WP, as similar issues were raised in Joomla, Drupal, and XOOPS communities.WP/Joomla/XOOPS/Drupal don’t use copyright laws to protect from modifications, we encourage it, but graphic designers don’t want us to touch their graphics and modify them. I don’t really see the difference between code and graphics. The coder spends 5 hours writing code, you spend 5 hours designing an image or creating a photograph. Both of us spend the same time on it, both of us use the brains, and the code can be as creative as your graphic. But somehow you believe that your work is more important, more creative, and therefore you shouldn’t have to play by the same rules as programmers. This seems to be against the Open Source spirit and the equality among contributors to Open Source projects. It’s like creating a class/caste system, where some are more equal than the others. Well, if you think that you’re smarter than coders, then go and write your own WP clone and release it under your own proprietary license.  Then you can keep your graphics/photographs proprietary too!If we are honest, people install WP/Drupal/Joomla/XOOPS not because of nice proprietary graphics you put in the theme, but because of the features the programmers put in. The graphics designers are only spicing things up! Let’s face it – WP can exist without your theme, but your theme without WP is useless. But surely, by working together – we can create a solution that has the right features and is visually attractive and appealing. But please don’t try to tell us that graphic designers are better than the rest of us.>A technology platform (which basically is what WP is) does just that. What is built upon it may or may not be open source, but generally the community will somehow benefit from it.It seems like you still didn’t get the idea of Open Source. It is sad to see people who want to take advantage of the countless hours the programmers put into this project, by claiming that their creations shouldn’t be "open". Well, Open Source projects’ foundation is "sharing", so if you don’t want to share your creation with others, it’s maybe better that you develop your themes for closed/proprietary projects.

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      • Osborne says:

        The last paragraph should read:

        >A technology platform (which basically is what WP is) does just that. What is built upon it may or may not be open source, but generally the community will somehow benefit from it.

        It seems like you still didn’t get the idea of Open Source. It is sad to see people who want to take advantage of the countless hours the programmers put into this project, by claiming that their creations shouldn’t be “open”. Well, Open Source projects’ foundation is “sharing”, so if you don’t want to share your creation with others, it’s maybe better that you develop your themes for closed/proprietary projects.

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      • The reason why automatically blanketing GPL to cover graphic design and photography is difficult has to do partly with the different nature of the mediums. There are also complex copyright and other laws that come into play (for example fonts , brushes, etc. that are free for personal use used in the creation of the graphics or model-releases for photographic subjects if the theme is used in a commercial setting).

        And while an open-source application is generally a tool that enables the creation of content, often photography and graphic design are an end product. Sure there many themes that are released completely under the GPL, but they generally don’t have large amounts of custom photography in them.

        Admittedly, I have my own issues with the GPL, which is why I’m not exactly a fan of it. Open source is very much about sharing and contributing back to the community – it is the way GPL forces you to do it that I do not like.

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  4. GPL like the WP. But just to mention, Matt supports for example WooThemes; they sell their themes for 40$ and higher. Their are GPL, after you purchase a theme from them the theme owner can install it on clients’ blogs she/he works on etc. Web designers should be able to create their income by creating professional WP themes. This one which comes with the wordpress now is wonderful and fine to use too, after all the content on blog matters the most.

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  5. Simple themes are one thing. But as the previous commenter hinted at, increasingly WP is being used like an application framework – to create websites with custom functionality beyond that of a blog or basic CMS. How does the GPL compare to the licenses of other app frameworks like RoR and CodeIgniter? Is there any way for developers to separate their custom functionality into a non-GPL section?

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    • The GPL distribition clauses kick in only if you distribute your theme. Code written specifically for one website that is not distributed beyond that site is not subject to the issues debated here. It’s when you package those additions and distribute them that it matters. Once it leaves the door it is subject to the GPL.

      For those who do distribute, note that there are several theme makers who make large theme frameworks and invest heavily in PHP code. They successfully license their work under the GPL. They can still sell their work and often make quite a bit of money off of support and child themes.

      When comparing the GPL competitively, keep in mind that GPL licensed software constitutes a significant percentage of the web publishing market.

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    • Most frameworks like those you mentioned are licensed, not under the GPL, but under more permissive open source licenses. Zend Framework is licensed under the New BSD License, which enables its inclusion in MANY open source projects — even those that are GPL. CodeIgniter has some odd custom license but which is still essentially permissive (sort of BSD/MIT). Ruby on Rails uses the MIT license. And jQuery is dual-licensed under GPL and MIT.

      The fact that projects built on those platforms don’t have to inherit their licenses isn’t necessarily because of this distinction of dependency/derivation; it’s because their licenses are explicitly permissive and allow derivatives to have different licenses such as the GPL.

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      • Indeed. If the virality of the GPL really bugs someone, they should consider building upon MIT licensed software. For the case of themes, I don’t think the GPL virality really hurts anything. It doesn’t prevent anyone from doing business. If you are building a library like jQuery that you want bundled everywhere, dual licensing is smart and appropriate.

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  6. I was not aware of the scope of the debate until I read this post and then started doing a little research of my own about the theme that sparked the debate.

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  7. Robert says:

    First, let me tell you that contrary to what you will read below, I do agree with the spirit and nature of this post. But I think that the subjects brought forward to sustain them, are not helping the cause.

    ” … As Drew Blas notes, the theme that sparked this debate copies WP code. Most themes copy WP code. … ”

    ” … challenging the WP community over the license of the PHP code seems like bad business.”

    Are there any ways *not* to copy code when you are interfacing with a package ?
    Maybe if WP and others do not document their API’s, and do not provide sample code, or go closed source.
    Even if there were ways to interface without copying code, and they were actually made available by WP and others, Theme makers would still be copying the samples explaining the method. These samples could be licensed more freely of course.
    I copy code samples for Websphere MQ, Websphere Message Broker, and TIBCO SOA messaging (provided by IBM and TIBCO) on a daily basis. I add my own code, and I’m getting paid very well for it. IBM and TIBCO never questioned me about it.
    I realise that these are not open source products. The point I’m making, is that there is always going to be copying of code where you have to talk to another piece of code that you haven’t written yourself. The creator of that code will have to document how to talk to it. If the product is open source, the person who wants to talk to WP, also has the opportunity to look into the “other side’s” code when it’s not in the docs and samples.
    If there were no docs, no samples, and on top of that WP was closed source, how would I find out how to interface with the WP API? Or the Drupal API? Not being psychic, reverse engineering is left, God forbid.
    Open Source invites copying of code (within certain rules), but products like themes combine too much so it is not possible to.

    Unless WP and others provide ways to interface without copying code, I can see us going round and round on this one, with no end.

    “I’d like to see the PHP parts of themes retain the GPL.”
    If they were copied from GPL’ed code, they already are.

    Besides, I think that WP has let this go on for far too long, before starting to make a strong case out of out it in the open for the past year or so.
    WP did see and tolerate people build businesses on, and a living out of these themes with inevitable (partially) copied code, and let it continue for years.
    Don’t start giving these companies and individuals a bad name now.
    Commercial plug-in developers with encoded products must be squeezing there buttocks right now. Will they be forced like MS once was to open source part of their code?

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    • If you read the GPL license (and some of the links in the beginning of the post) you’ll notice that even if a theme doesn’t copy any WP code all of the PHP in the theme would still fall under the GPL. This is because the code has access to WP’s internals and can’t be executed separately from WP (forked or through a limited API). The same is also true for probably every current plugin and widget. Theoretically you could create a plugin or widget that is only called by WP that doesn’t utilize any of WP’s internals, but then – depending on the case – you’d be doing a lot of extra work and duplication of effort.

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      • Robert says:

        I know the GPL. Please bear with me, and I’ll explain.
        Not too long ago I released a significant enhancement to the Featured Content Gallery plug-in in their forum : http://www.featuredcontentgallery.com/forum/enhanced-fcg-new-3rd-input-source-is-xml-file-2971.html
        When I started coding the enhancement, I soon lost interest. Many months past. When I bumped into it again, months later, I had several options, expand it further and keep it for own use, or start my own project with it. Or hand it over to the public as is.
        But then I read that FCG was released under the GPL License. The spark of interest that had come back, disappeared instantly.
        The reason being exactly what you (ramin) mention. I just cannot agree with the GPL’s definition of what constitutes a derivative work. The GPL is going too far.
        If a developer/themer only interfaces with GPL’ed code through an API (some class variables and class methods, or a bunch of funtions), this developer/themer should be able to license this code how s/he wants.
        If you are looking beyond the API, then copy GPL’ed code in your own work, and license it more restrictive or close it, then you deserve to go to GPhelL.

        For me the issue of derivative work or not, was not the issue with FCG, more like principles. And another reason to justify my choice for Ruby and roll-my-own in my spare time.
        I love WP, and will keep on using it. But not as a developer.
        It’s a good thing that PHP is licensed under a BSD-style license, otherwise a large portion of the web would be in problems.

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    • You can write quite a bit of code for a theme or plugin and not have to copy code from WordPress. There are a number of idioms that are common in WP, the famous Loop is probably the most common. However, the loop code most themes use was derived from Kubrick (the old default theme), and while there are many ways to code this structure, that particular idiom is solid and serves developers well. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it kind of thing. But with all that said, you can write code for WP without directly copying WP. Still means that your ‘original’ code is GPL if you distribute it, but either way I just wanted to make that distinction.

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      • Robert says:

        Yes the code would still be under GPL v2 license.
        That’s why I said ” … I do agree with the spirit and nature of this post. But I think that the subjects brought forward to sustain them, are not helping the cause.”.

        I’m all for open source, but not in the way it’s enforced by the GPL v2.
        I see the point that none of the GPL versions restricts *that* you are allowed to sell or distribute. But they do restrict *what* you are allowed to sell or distribute.
        But I think it is also bad to prevent distribution, or go closed source. I don’t know which of the 3 is worse. So I prefer freedom and watch to see which camp burns it fingers because of chosen license type.

        Like it’s been said, if someone doesn’t like the GPL, move on to products with a less restrictive license.
        That’s what I did for coding, move away from GPL v2 at least.

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  8. I agree with you, in I think it is time for the WordPress to take action!

    I do however think that enough is not done to protect the IP of theme designers, shouldn’t more be don’t to separate design from code???

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  9. What an interesting discussion. I am not a programmer, and really do not care about the licensing issues and the intricacies involved. My approach is from the consumer end.

    Ramin: the average user will not care about the licensing. They are looking for a theme that will look good on their site. They are looking for a free product. Nothing wrong with that. We, the tech community have long exposed the benefits of open source (read as free) software. No one reads the User Agreements, If they did, they would realize that they rent software rather than own. Do we care? Not really as long as we have free use of the product.

    We use WP because it is open source and therefore free. We expect most of the add-ons, themes, plugins, etc. to be free as well. The business proposition of this was flawed from its inception. We are expecting everyone to work for free and pay for their expenses out of thin air or goodwill. It does not make sense. Companies like Red Hat have made a business out of supporting a free product. That will probably not work for themes. We require very little support. It either works, or it doesn’t.

    I use a theme called Suffusion which asks for donations rather than charging you a fee. What I have learned using this theme, is that I have the ability to fine tune the interface and other aspects of the theme to my liking. I would have not discovered these attributes without playing with the theme for about a year.

    Why would I purchase a theme without knowing what aspect of it I can tweak easily. I am not a programmer, and have no intention of becoming one. I require a theme that allows me to make the changes I want without resorting to PHP code. The WooThemes cost $70. with another package available for $125. Genesis is priced at $80. Thesis sells their personal version for $87. How many of these am I expected to purchase in order to find the one I like?

    From a business perspective, I would suggest that themes should be free as per the license. There is little stopping a developer from charging for additional features. An “average user” would have no objections to that. They got what they wanted in the free theme. If they want to venture beyond, they will have to pay. I see nothing wrong with that.

    And yes, I did contribute to Suffusion. And will contribute again should I use the theme on another blog.

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  10. What would the practical impact be if themes like Thesis were brought under the terms of the GPL?

    Would it mean that anybody who bought a copy could use it on as many sites as they liked? Could they also alter it and then sell those altered versions?

    What effect would it have when new versions of Thesis got released? Could the new code be incorporated into these ‘child’ themes?

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    • GPL doesn’t mean automatic free-for-all. Yes, the rights of the GPL would allow people to fork it, mod it, redistribute it, what ever.

      However, that doesn’t mean that there has to be a link to a zip file on the home page. You can limit access to it. Case in point: http://shopplugin.net

      I have the developer’s license and I’ve also purchased many of the shipping add-ons and payment gateways. The only thing that separated me from the site licnese (besides the extra few hundred bucks I spent) is two fold:

      * Developers get access to early betas of the software.
      * The ‘license key’ I was given allows me to update the software (automatically) from wp-admin on as many sites as I want.

      Both of these are small perks. The last one is just a convenience – and one I don’t even avail myself of. The plugin will run with out the license key. Its not even a serial or anything like that. It just lets me autoupdate the plugin (from shopp’s servers) with out leaving wp-admin.

      However, under the GPL I am allowed to do what ever I want with it. Good manners, if nothing else, keeps me from ‘abusing’ these rights in a way that might harm the developers of a plugin that I’ve made thousands of dollars using in my consulting practice. I won’t pirate the software, since all that would do is dilute my own value (the money I paid) and could possibly mean that one day the Shopp folks wouldn’t want to support their plugin anymore and close up shop (no pun intended) which of course would mean that I would have to support, upgrade, patch, and bugfix the software myself to keep using it in newer versions of WP, etc. I wouldn’t just ‘fork it’ and try to start my own premium shopping cart plugin company … since that’s more work than I want and would then be on my own supporting and enhancing my forked copy.

      These ‘natural’ boundaries of human laziness could be said to keep GPL + Premium Themes/Plugins working in a symbiotic way. But as Ryan’s pointed out – just because you refuse to GPL, doesn’t mean that you won’t get ripped off. One man’s digital treasure is another man’s copy+pasta.

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  11. Osborne says:

    > Themes live in the world of the fully open source web stack. Since you are still free to license the CSS and images in your themes as you see fit, challenging the WP community over the license of the PHP code seems like bad business.

    I would go one step further – they can license CSS/Images as they want, but they should then promote them on their own Website and not try to take advantage of the exposure Open Source projects like WP with its millions of users gives them.

    It’s like having your cake and eating it too, and that’s wrong.

    WP should promote only themes that are fully GPL based (incl. CSS/Images).

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  12. Design unlike code is and original piece of work, each time a new them is created it is a creative process, the same code can be run over.. over..over.. infinitely!

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    • Tell that to the 100s (if not more) themes that are using the GPL-compatible Silk Icon set from FAM FAM FAM.

      I start my work just like you do – with an empty screen. Then I fill it with awesome. My awesome just happens to be instruction sets for the server.

      Sorry shawnsandy04, your argument is really weak and a bit condescending to boot.

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  13. Osborne says:

    You must be kidding, right?

    Like designers wouldn’t reuse some of their designs elements in a following designs, huh? They might change the shape, the color, add some original elements, and it’s a new theme!

    Code can be as original as the design work! That’s why code is protected under copyright law the same way as design!

    I have news for you – WP is original work! So please, don’t put us programmers down! We are as creative and original as you designers are.

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  14. Sorry, I am not saying that code is not original, by nature code is designed to be reusable and this is considered good practice thats why we have OOP, inheritance etc…

    Reusing icons like FAM, FAM is not exactly considered good design practice, but hey who am I to argue with what is now a thriving market. Some of us still prefer to create original works for our clients and we would not dare reuse it on another!

    Matt’s new look web site is a classic example, I do not see link to the wp theme site from it and i do not expect one! It is an original piece of work, yet it uses WordPress just like this one and the 25 million plus sites running on WP.

    I code and I design and I do not use “theme frameworks” I consider them to be bloat-ware useful to some but bloat nonetheless.

    Comparing creativity as it relates to design and code is like comparing pears to pumpkins!

    Sorry if I offended you guys, was not my intention!!!

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  15. Ryan, I’m not a WordPress expert and currently I’ve just made 2 WordPress themes: one for myself and one public. In those two themes actually I don’t have many PHP logic, so, giving away source code for those themes should be no problem. I also agree that in most cases, the real value of theme should be the art work (images and CSS).

    But, how about plugin? I mean, now I’m in the process of making WordPress plugin that potentially has thousands line of code. And in my opinion, the power of WordPress plugin should be on its PHP code. Should I also licensed my plugin as GPL because it’s all PHP codes?

    To emphasize more, PHP is very powerful and very plexible, so that you can build any system on top of it. Should all ‘complex’ systems built on top WordPress require GPL compliance?

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    • Jérémie says:

      Read the GPL license for yourself?

      To summarize, if you use part of a GPL work, then your work is GPL too.

      It has nothing to do with PHP by itself, your WordPress-based own original work could be made in C#, Python or Java it would be exactly the same story.

      By the way, I don’t see what the “thousands line of code” have to do with anything. WordPress has a lot of code, and it’s GPL (and free as in free beer, and yet making a ton of money).

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      • Yes, I can see that point of view.

        Then, my question is: why CSS/images can be licensed separately, but the code cannot? Both CSS/images and codes can be seen as intellectual properties. If the freedom of the users should trump the developers, doesn’t it apply to designers too?

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  16. Jérémie says:

    “I’d like to see the PHP parts of themes retain the GPL.”

    Nice, but what would anyone like is not the issue here. Legalities are. And under the GPL, the extreme majorities of WordPress themes (well the PHP part of it certainly, for some the CSS too, usually not the graphics) are de facto GPL too. Like it, don’t like it, it’s the way it is.

    It _may_ be possible to create a theme that isn’t: create a single point of entry, kind of a bridge between two API/softwares (WordPress & the Theme). This bridge would be GPL, but the software at the other end of it (the Theme) could be anything. Maybe.

    In any case, if such theme would exist, and irrelevant to its qualities I certainly wouldn’t use it and advocate against it. I’m not touching SMF with a ten feet pole for that reason. It’s not about the money (you can sell GPL software, and/or make money without selling it too), it about the freedom. We all remember the Movable Type debacle.

    By the way, look where they are now. It’s not business savvy at all. Anyone heard something interesting going on in MT these past years? WordPress, Textpattern, Drupal, Dotclear, PunBB and a truckload of other software are getting a lot of attention, news, posts, comments, articles, buzz. MT and other similar non-libre software aren’t. Do the math.

    On another point, I kinda like the debatable (to keep it cordial, I may use other adjectives in private) move by Thesis on this. Matt is staying cool, open, to the ground. They’re not, they are the one ripping us off and being aggressive about it. So, let’s call their bluff. Automattic is exactly the wrong target to be bully around. I very much hope Matt sue, because he and Automattic has the weight to handle everything Thesis can move their way, and of course they are right. They will win, and put to rest this notion that has plagued the libre world for too long. Right time, right case. Sue them, and walk all over them. Don’t feel sorry, Chris Pearson’s comment are pretty clear he’s not and he doesn’t care.

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    • Robert says:

      “It _may_ be possible to create a theme that isn’t: create a single point of entry, kind of a bridge between two API/softwares (WordPress & the Theme). This bridge would be GPL, but the software at the other end of it (the Theme) could be anything. Maybe.”

      It’s doable. If the coders/themers stick their heads together and come up with one set of code (the derivative) which has the sole purpose to interface from and to WP. Then release that as a separate open source product, under the same GPL license as WP.
      But, like MySQL did, they would have to add an exception to the GPL license to grant the use of more/less restrictive licenses for the code which is calling the derivative (templates & plug-ins).

      But like the OP said : “Going out of your way to create a theme that does not borrow a single line of code from the WP community is wasted effort”. He is completely right.
      So trying to evade the GPL license is IMHO also wasteful. And a “bit” too late.

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    • @Jérémie “Nice, but what would anyone like is not the issue here. Legalities are. And under the GPL, the extreme majorities of WordPress themes (well the PHP part of it certainly, for some the CSS too, usually not the graphics) are de facto GPL too. Like it, don’t like it, it’s the way it is.”

      Yes I agree that legalities are the important part. But your assertion that “it’s the way it is” is, at this point, just your opinion. There are reasonable arguments[1,2,3] that assert the contrary. The fact is until these opinions are tested in court they will be just that, opinions.

      [1] http://perpetualbeta.com/release/2009/12/why-the-gplderivative-work-debate-doesnt-matter-for-wordpress-themes/
      [2] http://perpetualbeta.com/release/2009/11/why-the-gpl-does-not-apply-to-premium-wordpress-themes/
      [3] http://drewblas.com/2010/07/16/beyond-thesis-does-the-gpl-go-too-far-and-what-makes-a-derivative-work/

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  17. Our themes are licensed under the GPL because the company that built the software that gave it freely asked us to license them that way. Period. End of discussion.

    If we didn’t agree with them we’d build Drupal themes.

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  18. I would not like to be the lawyer arguing that adding php code to a pre-existing html template transforms it into a ‘derivative work’, and that the GPL-ness of the few lines of PHP trumps any previous licences and the rights of all original creators.

    I mean, yeah, I understand this argument, but it still defies all common sense. My years of following these debates have only reinforced my initial belief that GPL is a fundamentally incoherent and therefore sucky licence, and that it is a crying shame that WP got lumbered with it when there are saner alternatives out there. I wish somebody could build a time machine and tell Michel Valdrighi what a mess his decision was going to make years down the line.

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  19. By the way, look where they are now. It’s not business savvy at all. Anyone heard something interesting going on in MT these past years? WordPress, Textpattern, Drupal, Dotclear, PunBB and a truckload of other software are getting a lot of attention, news, posts, comments, articles, buzz. MT and other similar non-libre software aren’t. Do the math.

    Like

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