While there have been a ridiculous number of words wasted written about WordPress & the GPL in theory, there hasn’t been nearly as much discussion of the GPL when it’s actually put into practice.
To get a better idea of how the GPL actually impacts the WordPress community, I asked Brian Gardner of StudioPress a few questions about his experiences under the license.
For those of you who don’t know, Brian has been at the forefront of WordPress theme development for quite some time and was the first (at least to my recollection) premium/commercial theme developer to embrace the GPL. While many theme developers have followed suit in the last several months, Brian definitely blazed the trail when it came to GPL premium themes.
Brian, first & foremost, why did you choose to release your themes under the GPL? Was it pressure by Matt, the Community, something you thought was right, or a combination of all the above?
The reason I choose to switch from a proprietary license for our themes to the GPL license is simple – I wanted security and to know that my business was in line with WordPress.
While I don’t know (nor really care) whether or not themes are legally required to be GPL, I chose to err on the side of caution. I knew that there would ultimately be a commercially supported themes page, which I wanted to be a part of. Not to mention I knew that aligning myself with a platform that could potentially promote my work in front of millions of people was a wise decision.
There wasn’t any pressure from Matt – nor were there any “under the table” deals that were made. This was purely my choice, and my trip to San Francisco to discuss this with Matt and Toni was something I made to inform them of what I was potentially doing and to ensure that I was going about it in the right way.
What, if any, benefits did you expect to receive by becoming GPL & have those benefits been realized?
I knew that putting myself (and StudioPress) in a position to be exposed to millions of people would definitely be worth the change. I also believe in the model of distribution, and know that having our themes in more hands isn’t a bad thing.
As for realizing them – that’s a hard question to answer. There’s no scientific way to prove it was a good decision, but what I will say that contrary to what people may think, sales have gone up since our move to the GPL.
It seems a lot of theme developers have become disillusioned with the GPL. Are you disappointed by how the GPL has worked in practice compared to what you envisioned before making the switch?
Yes, I truly am dissappointed.
While I fully knew what the possibilities were – I didn’t think I’d see as many folks using the GPL as a loophole for their own monetary gain. I’m not saying I regret the move, nor am I complaining here – merely stating that it’s sad to see folks misuse the GPL.
I fully “get” that what they are doing is allowed, for me it becomes an ethical issue. In my opinion, and clearly inferred with that license, the real intent is to make the code available for people to build upon, and to come out with derivative works.
[Instead], people are using it to build sites that drive traffic, get them exposure, and ultimately water down the community. To be honest, at least with our themes, I’ve seen maybe one (if that) good use of the GPL license and our work.
Do you plan on sticking with the GPL for future themes?
Absolutely – there’s zero chance that our work will be released in anything other than the GPL. While some theme development companies entertain the thought of going back to a proprietary license or splitting the php/images/css into separate licenses, that is something we won’t do.
Overall, do you feel the GPL has helped or harmed you & other theme devs?
Overall I’d say it’s helped us – more than anything, it really is the right thing to do. Our sales history is proof that the GPL license doesn’t have a negative impact on our business.
Well there you have it! I’d like to thank Brian for his time & input on what’s definitely a touchy subject. Be sure to jump over and check out StudioPress’ newest theme, (a framework!) Genesis.