Thesis theme creator, Chris Pearson, on the GPL

The GPL is Legal Castration

by Ben Cook on March 1, 2010

Throughout GPL Week we’ve dealt with WordPress developers that have adopted the GPL for their products. Today, we’re going to talk to someone who not only refused to use the license, but has been a vocal opponent of it.

Chris Pearson, the creator of the Thesis theme, has spoken out several times against use of the GPL and has even gotten into a few public exchanges with WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg over the subject.

Never one to shy away from stating his opinion, I was excited when Chris agreed to a brief interview. I was hoping for some fireworks and as you can see from the title, I wasn’t disappointed.

Brian Gardner Interview

Chris, let’s jump right into this. Thesis is NOT licensed under the GPL and you’ve been very vocal about that. Why did you resist the lure when so many other theme devs made the switch?

Thesis theme creator Chris Pearson on the GPLFrom the onset, I intended for Thesis to be a sustainable product. I knew that I wanted to build a business around it, but more important, I was trying to solve a very specific problem with my business model. Before launching Thesis, I had become extremely disenchanted with income models that trade time for money, and I viewed Thesis as a vehicle that I could use to “rise above” this unfortunate scenario. For all intents and purposes, Thesis solved these problems within a few months after launch—long before the GPL issue ever reared its ugly, ill-informed head.

Now, let’s examine the GPL for a second. Although it covers other issues as well, the GPL basically stipulates that anyone can take your code and do whatever they want with it…legally. In other words, the GPL is legal castration for anyone who is trying to run a business that is in any way reliant upon unique, innovative code.

Couple this with the fact that I’d already been ripped off by a few imitators who were trying to use my work to gain attention for themselves (people had basically lifted Thesis’ HTML + CSS in the name of the GPL and had attempted to give it away for free), and this was strike one against the GPL, at least from my perspective. Obviously, if I’m going to run a sustainable business, I can’t have people ripping me off and distributing my work for free.

Although the GPL says nothing about “free versus paid,” it’s undeniable that the WordPress GPL environment has created an atmosphere where free is championed and paid products are often demonized. This is why you didn’t see any premium themes or plugins until late 2007, and this is a huge reason why the GPL debate still rages on today.

As I mentioned earlier, I was trying to achieve sustainability with Thesis, and in order to do so, I had to work against the prevailing sentiment that everything should be free. Therefore, ensuring that people were not freely distributing my work was of the highest importance to me. As I see it, licensing Thesis under the GPL would totally undermine this goal and give those same people who ripped me off a legal backing for doing so! Do you hear that? It’s the sound of an obvious, epic FAIL.

Also, I had to consider the fact that I am (and have been since 2006) a leading presence in the WordPress theme development community. My work has always received a lot of attention and scrutiny, and that has made it a prime target for copycats and people who are out to make a buck as easily as possible. In situations like this, the GPL gives all the power to the “little guy” while robbing the true innovators of any protection whatsoever. I’m an innovator, my work is creative, and the GPL is NOT on my side here; this is strike two for the GPL.

Finally, let’s talk about how the GPL breaks down in the face of a solid economic model. At its core, the GPL aims to improve/increase/extend software distribution, all under the premise that “software for everyone” is going to make the world a better place. In theory, that sounds good, but in practice, something very different happens.

In an environment where distribution happens at a breakneck pace, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish a product on the basis of anything other than attention. The public gets accustomed to having “solutions” delivered here and now, and developers modify their practices to respond accordingly. Ultimately, what happens is that products get delivered to market more quickly, and people compete on the basis of attention rather than on the true merits of their products.

The phrase “quality takes time” is especially appropriate here, because that’s a formula that never changes. Unfortunately, software development is more tied to the laws of supply and demand than it is to a pursuit of the highest quality results, and the GPL plays on this in the most destructive possible way. By creating an environment of unrestricted distribution and huge scale, the GPL increases market demand by a significant factor.

Increased market demand (especially the unnatural, inorganic increase that comes about as a result of free) causes most suppliers to do what seems natural—increase their supply. However, quality still takes time, and in order to keep up with increased demand, quality suffers in the face of getting a product to market and getting that much-needed attention in a competitive marketplace.

Over a protracted time scale, nothing is more important to sustainability and efficiency than the QUALITY of the results we produce today. In the end, this is why Thesis is not and will never be GPL.

Do you still get heat about switching to GPL now that so many other theme dev’s seem to have grown disillusioned with it?

I am extremely vocal about my distaste for the GPL and my choice to avoid it, and I think just about everyone who knows me is aware of my position on the matter. As a result, almost nobody says a word to me about the GPL anymore 😀

What would your advice be to someone considering the GPL for their work?

If you intend to release your work for free, don’t care about the fact that you created the work, and have no plans to drown yourself in product support, then I think releasing it under the GPL is totally fine. Honestly, most of the stuff that gets put under the GPL (plugins, themes without options, etc) is so inconsequential that it really doesn’t matter anyway.

Basically, if you’re serious about having a real, sustainable product, then the GPL is not for you; otherwise, go nuts!

Which side of the GPL debate do you think will win out in the marketplace where it matters most?

Despite the fact that people want everything right now and for free, QUALITY is what wins in the end. My position on the GPL is the one that will win out in the end, simply because I’m focusing on the things that matter on a scale that transcends any scale that the GPL attempts to achieve.

Call it a hunch but I think this interview is going to elicit a few responses. So, rather than giving you my opinion on the interview, I’m giving you the floor.

Is Chris right about the role of the GPL? Is it “legal castration”? Can you create a sustainable business while using the general public license? Let’s hear what you have to say via the comment form below!

Image sources: KayVee.inc & Ben McLeod

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

Marty Martin March 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

Not too long ago I came across a paid/premium plug-in that was freely downloadable but required you to “pay up” through an activation matrix to use it. It was released under an open license like the GPL.

SO, I plan to remove the activation requirement and use it as I want on as many sites as I want.

I can totally understand where Chris is coming from. If you don’t want this sort of thing to happen, then don’t release your theme/plug-in/whatever under a license like GPL or Apache 2.0. It basically gives the end user free reign to do whatever they want.

Now, I am ethical and am not going to re-release my “fork” for public consumption. It’s just for me and my sites. I figure, if someone wants it, they can invest the time in forking it like I will.

Chip Bennett March 1, 2010 at 11:00 am

@Marty: what would be “unethical” about releasing your fork to the public?

Adam Baird March 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

I listened to an interview with the founder of WooThemes last week. He had some interesting thoughts on the gpl as well. WooThemes is definitely an example of a sustained business built on the gpl. That said, they are certainly the exception to the rule. In general, I agree with Chris.

Marty Martin March 1, 2010 at 11:14 am

@chip: Nothing technical I reckon, but I guess personally I wouldn’t want to back door the original developer like that and I have nothing against them making money on the plug-in.

So I suppose it’s a personal choice, not an ethical one.

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

Adam, I think it largely depends on what you consider a sustainable business.

I would largely agree with you but since they license their themes via the GPL the only thing they have to offer that’s unique to them is the support. To Chris’ point, offering support is trading hours for dollars.

It might not be your hours but you’re going to have to hire someone to put the hours in at some point.

Now, I think a lot of us would like to be in WooThemes’ shoes and they certainly have done well for themselves, but the GPL chops a HUGE chunk of their competitive advantage away IMO.

Dave Jones March 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

Well this guy has a lot of opinions on the pro’s and con’s of open source and/or the GPL. They are, however entirely irrelevant! Why? Because Wordpress is, and always has been licensed under the GPL. I’m totally for freedom of speech, he’s entirely within his rights to hold whatever views he likes. But I would have a lot more respect for him if he actually “walked the walk” he preaches.

He decries the merits of the GPL, and yet has hinged his entire business on a GPL product, namely Wordpress. This is the ultimate in hypocrisy. The GPL is fundamentally about sharing. Software is created, and shared with a community. In short, that means you can do whatever you like with it, so long as you share what you do in the same spirit as it was given to you. To take something that was shared freely, modify it and then decide that you don’t like the rules is, in my opinion, unfair, greedy and just plain wrong.

Wordpress themes and plugins are covered by the GPL – that is a subject that has been covered ad nausium and I don’t want to go over that old ground.

If you don’t agree with the GPL that’s fine – more power to you. Nobody is forcing you to use Wordpress, or develop themes/plugins for it. Walk away. There are literally hundreds of commercial content management systems with proprietary licenses that you can go and develop for.

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Dave, that’s the same tired argument that always gets trotted out whenever the GPL is discussed.

Let me fill you in on a few things.

1. The GPL has NOTHING to do with price. It is about the rights you gain when obtaining the code.

2. Just because you say themes & plugins ARE covered by the GPL doesn’t make it so. Just because Matt has a lawyer give his opinion on them doesn’t make it so. There are different opinions from lawyers out there on the web. Just because you want it to be settled doesn’t make it settled.

3. Thesis doesn’t “take something that was shared freely.” The only thing it uses from WordPress are the functions to tie it in.

4. WordPress’ founder, Matt Mullenweg runs Automattic which makes ALL of its money off WordPress. Does that make him the ultimate hypocrit? They don’t release all of their custom code to the public under the GPL.

I’m sorry, but your argument is full of holes & doesn’t stand up to even the slightest bit of rebuttal. Quit drinking Matt’s GPL koolaid & if you want to defend it, at least bring a logical argument to the table. There are some out there, but this isn’t one of them.

Daniel March 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Honestly, I agree with Chris. I’ve also always thought Mullenweg, as much as I like him, has a very poor business model. Yes, free is fun. Yes, free means more adopters. But he could just have easily made WordPress.com free and self-hosted WordPress.org cost $5, $10, $25. Then he would be doing the same thing he is now – i.e. constantly upgrading the software – but he’d have a couple extra million dollars in the bank.

Honestly, I’m still wondering about the sustainable profit growth of Thesis. Pearson is continually updating Thesis, but the people who benefit the most are existing owners of the theme platform. Perhaps with enough upgrades Thesis will break out into a whole new level of applicability – perhaps small businesses who don’t want to pay a CSS developer. But until then, he’s putting in a lot of work and I don’t see how that equals an increase in sales. The upgrades are free (which I love), but I wonder what he’ll do long-term.

I predict he’ll eventually have to add a new product or provide a premium version versus the current version.

Of course, having said that, Chris just tweeted me and said,

“The net effects from me updating the product do a lot more to attract new customers than you might imagine ;)”

So there you go. What do I know?

. March 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I just have one question for Chris. Why did he choose to create themes for WordPress?

Brad March 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm

The biggest problem I have with anyone taking the “non-GPL” route is it hurts growth. Open source software is supposed to be just that, open.

If b2 was released under a commercial license WordPress may not exist today. The majority of the most popular WordPress plugins in existence are forks of older plugins. If these older plugins weren’t GPL what would the plugin market look like today?

My concern is if the majority of plugin/theme developers start attaching commercial licenses to their code we will lose the “open” in open source and stunt the growth of an awesome platform like WordPress.

Dave Jones March 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Firstly, I wasn’t making an argument. I was stating an opinion. Whenever this subject comes up it’s inevitable that some people will get emotional. I’ve obviously touched a nerve, for which I am sorry as I never wished to offend or upset.

Some specifics:
1. This is very true. I never mentioned price in my comment and fail to see how this relates however.

2. The point I was making is that this has been covered ad nauseum (that means everyone involved in the discussion is sick and tired of it) so let’s not go there again. The GPL lawyers and experts have said what they have said, to disagree with them is your absolute right.

3. I disagree. Thesis does take something (Wordpress) that was shared freely (under the GPL). And if you would like to show a copy of thesis running on it’s own without Wordpress I would be happy to change my opinion (only for when it’s installed in that fashion, installed as a Wordpress theme it will always be an extension of Wordpress).

4. You have missed the point so far here it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, you can go and make your own thesispress.com and do exactly what Wordpress.com does, including charging – no problem there. Secondly, you can make your theme/plugin/modification and you don’t have to release it – but if you do choose to release it you have to make it available under the same terms. Finally, the owner of the copyright can do whatever the hell he likes within or outside the terms of any license agreement. You only need a license because it’s someone else’s code.

Sure, you can throw around terms like “full of holes” and “bring a logical argument”. There’s not much I can say to that (other than that GPL is not Matt’s koolaid it is Richard Stallman’s).

Or you could show me a case to answer to and I’ll happily discuss with you in a mature way.

mr-crash March 1, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Legal Castration is, in my opinion, a bit melodramatic.

Arguing that the GPL is intrinsically a shit proposition just because it doesn’t line up with how you might wish to do business is a sentiment i’d disagree with.

Obviously, the GPL has done some good things for wordpress. At least at the early stages of development, openness in code has been a boon for finding contributors and (dare I say it) providing an ecosystem which does allow persons who want to build a product that operates in a broader environment which involves the GPL product. Albeit, some might argue, a belatedly developing one – myself, I’d say the market for these things simply wasn’t as large prior to 2007 as it is now and this would make any such business proposition accordingly less attractive.

As a developer or a designer, obviously if you want to sell something as a product, rather than as a a contracted one-off project, you go where the crowds are – but I think the crowds are most likely to hang around any platform/cms/similar which is, at least at its most basic level, available for free because I think most people are cheap. There’s also lots that like to tinker, particularly in the category of early adopters, who are most likely to drive early sales and growth. If you make it nice and easy for them (and you believe the GPL will allow you more power to do this), then that’s probably something you can use to your advantage.

To further the analogy, Google Chrome is open source and available under a bunch of licenses. Not all elements of course, a couple of bits (like logos) are still solely the intellectual property of Google. But, this product obviously serves them what they consider a prospectively useful purpose in the future. Whether it’s to further embed use of their search engine over a competitor, to gather more detailed user data or perhaps for its worth as part of another product, which might lead to hardware sales or licensing (maybe via Chrome OS on some flashy tablet later down the road) There’s a time and a place for open licenses as well as closed ones and both can provide you with a completely viable, stable long term business proposition if used the right way.

Also for the record i’m not claiming that I think the (well spoken and honest) Mr Pearson is in any way breaching his legal obligations. Thesis is a good product and it’s totally reasonable that he’s operating the way he is.

I’m also not advocating the position taken by Matt necessarily either. I think saying someone breaks the “spirit” of GPL or anything similar is a little bit silly. If these breaks aren’t what’s supposed to occur, well maybe a different license should have been picked from the outset.

Of course, i’m no lawyer and I don’t play one on TV (and it *is* nearly 5am here) so take it all with a boulder of salt!

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Ben, it is so great to hear another person finally stand up against Matt/Automattic. They constantly mix their philosophy on WordPress and how they want the WP community to behave with their biased legal arguments in an attempt to brainwash the community into following them blindly. Thankfully more people are speaking up in opposition forcing them to acknowledge the issues and consider counter legal arguments. Matt was the founder of WP but he is NOT the driving force behind the plugins and themes which arguably do more to stimulate the development and distribution of WP. What I see is Matt Mullenweg using the GPL in an attempt to convince plugin and theme developers to further advance the development of the WP source code for free and help him increase the distribution of WP so that he may advance Automattic’s source of revenue. If it wasn’t about that, then all of Automattic’s products/services wouldn’t be WordPress related and Automattic would be a non-profit organization.

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Dave, I concur with Ben. You’ve not brought anything new to the discussion. Until the WordPress GPL is defended successfully in a court of law, all your arguments are a waste of time. Bring something new to the discussion please.

Denny Sugar March 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm

People don’t have to buy it, they can use WP without it. But if Chris is building and supporting a product (and the the support is awesome) then you need to let guys like him make a buck to keep them interested.

Do any of us want to work for free? Plus, WP is doing fine, wasn’t their last round like $30MM?

In fact, Google makes billions off of all of our free content we pump into it, but no one seem to mind that so much do they. Find a way to make a buck and STFU and do something instead of hating on a solid businessman.

Jordan Hatch March 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I still don’t understand how themes can be classified as derivative of WordPress when the HTML/CSS and PHP is 100% original. The only code that is needed for WordPress to work is the snippets of PHP for the_title() etc.

For example, if I made a PHP script which was some simple code which provided all the same named Template Tag functions as WordPress. I could then license it saying that authors of themes/plugins for this script could choose their own license for their code. So then a theme which worked in WordPress would automatically run in my script, and vice versa, so which license would get applied to the theme – WP’s GPL or my script’s license – and which script could the script then be derived from?

Sorry if I’m being rather confusing 🙂 but this has been puzzling me for a while, about how scripts can be derivative from a certain software package.

. March 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm

‘What I see is Matt Mullenweg using the GPL in an attempt to convince plugin and theme developers to further advance the development of the WP source code for free and help him increase the distribution of WP so that he may advance Automattic’s source of revenue.’

So you want him to keep developing WordPress for free, without you supporting the project, even though the project is the sole reason why you (read DIYThemes) is in existence.

If WordPress isn’t developed as it is atm, would any of the theme developers benefit?

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Anonymous, you missed the point entirely. If Matt’s sole purpose for WP is about helping the community (which he has suggested) then why isn’t Automattic a non-profit organization and why does he try to pressure developers into using the GPL?

“So you want him to keep developing WordPress for free”

Isn’t that what plugin and theme developers are doing when they submit their work to WordPress.org?

Chip Bennett March 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

@Dave:

1) I think Ben mentioned price/cost because of your argument regarding building a business on top of GPL work. Any such argument is invalid, because nothing in the GPL prohibits building such businesses – in fact, the GPL expressly permits such.

2) Agreed that the GPL has been debated ad nauseum; however, it is specifically the hard-line stance taken by Matt et al that will continue to perpetuate this debate, ad infinitum. It is the refusal (again, by Matt, et al) to forge a tenable compromise that perpetuates this debate.

3) The “show Thesis running outside of WordPress ” gambit is specious, because while Thesis would not exist without WordPress, so also every purchase/install of Thesis expands the market and userbase of WordPress itself, thus the existence of Thesis inherently aids WordPress.

Nevertheless, Thesis no more “takes” from WordPress than WordPress “takes” from PHP or Apache, or than Firefox “takes” from Windows/Mac/Linux, or than Windows/Mac/Linux “take” from the underlying BIOS or processor firmware.

Using exposed functions and API calls from a work is certainly not the same thing as taking actual code from that work.

4) I assume your comment about the copyright holder being able to do whatever he wants to do outside of the license is in response to Ben’s comments regarding Matt’s business endeavors.

If so, it should probably be pointed out that Matt is not the copyright holder for WordPress. He forked WordPress from b2 evolution. He can no more act outside the license (GPLv2) under which b2 evolution is released under than anyone else who might fork WordPress can act outside that license.

And FYI: writing an extension or plugin is not the same thing as forking. Legal precedent – and the GPL inheritance implication – for the two are decidedly different.

. March 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I don’t get it. Why should Automattic be non-profit in this case?

Chip Bennett March 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm

@Anonymous: I think his point is that Matt’s actions can give the appearance of hypocrisy, in that his business (Automattic) profits financially from WordPress, while he seemingly acts to pressure third-party developers from similarly profiting financially.

Personally, I don’t think Matt opposes (or pressures) third-party developers against financial gain – although he is quite outspoken about his opinion that any such profit should not come from selling code itself, but rather from selling “support” and “services” and the like.

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Dave,

1. You said Chris was a hypocrite for basing his business on a GPL product. If you weren’t talking about him charging for his theme which you think should be free then I’m not sure I follow the point you’re trying to make here.

2. You’re disagreeing with the GPL lawyers and experts who have said that themes do NOT automatically inherit the license & I disagree with Matt’s expert that told him what he wanted to hear.

3. While I’m no lawyer, a lawyer did write a pretty compelling argument here: http://perpetualbeta.com/release/2009/11/why-the-gpl-does-not-apply-to-premium-wordpress-themes/ using actual case law & rulings as precedence rather than solicited legal opinion. In that article he makes the point that being able to run on it’s own is not the legal definition of a derivative work.

4. You only have to release it under the same terms IF the GPL is inherited which again has not been settled in court or anywhere else for that matter. Also, I would argue that just because WordPress.com doesn’t distribute their code in a downloadable form, they’ve released the product just the same and yet don’t release their code for the public to consume via the GPL.

Automattic says you can’t use specific plugins/services unless you pay us. Thousands of people do. Chris says you can’t use my theme unless you pay me. Thousands of people do. But somehow Matt & Automattic are benevolent GPL saints and Chris is evil?

The same lawyer I cited above posted another great article about the fact that the amount of code themes “take” from WordPress is so small (only tying in to certain functions) that it would fall under the classification of fair use (http://perpetualbeta.com/release/2009/12/why-the-gplderivative-work-debate-doesnt-matter-for-wordpress-themes/). You keep saying it’s “someone else’s code” but it really isn’t.

Dave Jones March 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm

@Chip not sure why you’re responding to something I said to someone else, but nevertheless. You’re comment is full of untruths and irrelevance.

The fact remains I never mentioned price / cost. The fact remains this has been discussed and most of us our sick of it. The fact remains that a plugin or theme is covered by the GPL (according to the best sources I can find).

In response to your comment on forking, you should read the appropriate sections in the GPL with regard to linking statically or dynamically (i.e. at runtime) with a work governed by the GPL. In short it doesn’t matter how much a theme “gives back” (which is a matter of opinion) it only matters how it is licensed (a matter of fact).

You can’t change the GPL by posting on your blogs, so get over it and move on. Seriously, I mean that in a nice way. Do something productive – find a license that you can get on with and use it – I happen to like the GPL and will continue to work with it (in all sorts of ways) and am of the opinion that schisms like this only serves to weaken the open source community as a whole..

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Dave, first of all, if you’re sick of it why did you bother commenting on a GPL thread?

Also, you once again said “The fact remains” but in actuality it’s not at all a FACT. It’s your opinion and there are plenty of well reasoned dissensions from lawyers & people much more qualified to speak on the subject than me.

You mention that the schism is hurting the community but Matt himself is the one creating this schism. He proclaims that themes can license the CSS & images etc under any terms they want but the PHP must be GPL. However, if you want to have your plugin or theme in their respective WordPress.org directories, you have to license everything under the GPL, not just in that theme but on your site as well!

When the leader of WordPress draws that kind of line in the sand, HE’S the one creating the divide. He’s the one saying you’re either with us 100% and license everything under the GPL (even things that aren’t required by the GPL itself by his own admission) or you’re against us.

But of course, you’d much rather attack GPL detractors like Chris because it’s the popular thing to do in the Mullenweg fanclub.

Dave Jones March 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Comments like “it’s the popular thing to do in the Mullenweg fanclub.” are the reason why it’s so hard to have a reasonable, mature discussion about this issue.

I think it’s sad when we’re all grown ups here that some have to stoop to this level 🙁

Chip Bennett March 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm

@Dave:

@Chip not sure why you’re responding to something I said to someone else, but nevertheless. You’re comment is full of untruths and irrelevance.

I’m responding because I choose to do so. Do I need any further justification?

The fact remains I never mentioned price / cost. The fact remains this has been discussed and most of us our sick of it. The fact remains that a plugin or theme is covered by the GPL (according to the best sources I can find).

No, you certainly didn’t mention price/cost – but you did imply their relevance to the discussion, by bringing up business models, which exist in order to make money.

Yes, most of us are sick of discussing GPL. But, no: it is not a fact that plugins and themes inherit GPL from WordPress. Only precedent case law makes such an assertion “fact”.

The facts are that: 1) the GPL-inheritance of WordPress themes/plugins specifically has not been challenged in court, and 2) extant case law regarding the determination of derivative code suggests exactly the opposite of what you assert as “fact”.

In response to your comment on forking, you should read the appropriate sections in the GPL with regard to linking statically or dynamically (i.e. at runtime) with a work governed by the GPL. In short it doesn’t matter how much a theme “gives back” (which is a matter of opinion) it only matters how it is licensed (a matter of fact).

The GPL (or any other copyright license) doesn’t get to decide the definition of “derivative works”; rather, applicable copyright law determines that definition. So, what the GPL claims to be “derivative” is entirely irrelevant if that definition is not consistent with copyright law and germane legal precedent.

By the way, explanations of static/dynamic linking are not in the text of the license itself, but are in a FAQ hosted on the gnu.org website. Perhaps you should take your own advice regarding reading the GPL.

You can’t change the GPL by posting on your blogs, so get over it and move on. Seriously, I mean that in a nice way. Do something productive – find a license that you can get on with and use it – I happen to like the GPL and will continue to work with it (in all sorts of ways) and am of the opinion that schisms like this only serves to weaken the open source community as a whole..

Everything WordPress-related that I’ve released is GPL. I have no reason to do otherwise.

But I don’t presume to dictate to others to make that decision for themselves, according to what is best for their purposes.

I also don’t presume to tell others to “move on” from the discussion. If you choose to “move on”, feel free to do so. But you give the appearance of hypocrisy by commenting repeatedly in this comment thread, and then telling others to “move on” from the discussion.

Some of us continue to engage in this discussion because we recognize that the issue isn’t magically going to go away, regardless of how often – or how ardently – people continue to insist that the matter is “settled”, that it is “fact” that WordPress plugins/themes inherit GPL from WordPress, and that anyone who disagrees should just “get over it”.

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Dave, I’m sorry but when you come into the discussion calling someone a hypocrite do you really think me calling you a Mullenweg fanboy crosses the line?

I love a good GPL debate as much as the next guy but let’s try to have a little bit thicker skin, shall we?

Herrick March 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Gotta say i think Dave might have a point. Everytime this subject comes up anyone that tries to defend the GPL, or wordpress, or whatever get’s called a fanboi or communist.

I think what he was saying was that either you agree with the GPL and use stuff thats GPL like linux, wordpress,etc or if you dont agree with it theres alternatives out there for you. Either way nobodys forcing you so it’s all good.

BTW telling someone to have a thicker skin is basically saying you were rude but you don’t give a damn.

Joe Hall March 1, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Heres my take on this:

The GPL is awesome for large open source projects that rely on a large community base. This is true for both wordpress and all of the various linux distros. However, if you are planning on building a business model around premium supporting apps, plugins, or themes that users pay for, the GPL is the worst idea ever. These products aren’t meant for community development or support. Their branding and marketing isn’t dependent on community evangelist (even though thats what happens many times).

I have released several products with the GPL, that were all open source and free. It was fun to see what other folks did with them. However i did so knowing that I wasn’t planning on making any money, and took the projects on because quite honestly I love programming. But, then theres the other side of me that loves making money. When i create a product that I want to turn a profit, theres no GPL. But, thats ok, because I never plan for those products to be dependent on community support.

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm

@Dave J0nes: You haven’t contributed any insightful new arguments please don’t comment anymore unless you have something we haven’t heard before.

@Chip: Once again you obviously misinterpreted what I was referring to when you said, “@Anonymous: I think his point is that Matt’s actions can give the appearance of hypocrisy, in that his business (Automattic) profits financially from WordPress, while he seemingly acts to pressure third-party developers from similarly profiting financially.”

Matt doesn’t say that you can’t make money off WP, in fact he has no problem with you charging as long as you release your plugins/themes as GPL. The point I was trying to make is that he is pressuring them to release their plugins/themes with GPL licenses! Do I need to explain why that helps his business too or do you finally get it?

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm

“BTW telling someone to have a thicker skin is basically saying you were rude but you don’t give a damn.”

I’d say you summed up my attitude pretty well LOL.

Addressing your main point though, you & Dave saying you either agree with the GPL or you should use a different system is ridiculous. If (as Chris & others have argued) the GPL doesn’t apply to WordPress there’s no need to move to a different system.

Once again, just because Matt or the lawyer he asked about the issue says something doesn’t make it fact or law.

(P.S. Herrick your comments got caught in the spam filter. Not sure why but thought you might like to know.)

Joe Hall March 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm

@Jason Fannenstiel

Do I need to explain why that helps his business too or do you finally get it?

Maybe I am a complete idiot, but, yes I do think I need you to explain this. Why does it matter if a premium theme maker or plugin dev doesn’t release under GPL?? How does that affect Automattic’s business model?

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Jason, to be fare to Dave, I doubt the non-GPL side of the argument has presented much new information either. As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, this ground has been plowed before, but I think these developers offer an interesting perspective.

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm

The WordPress GPL is irrelevant because it’s not enforceable; Matt has already said that he is unwilling to file suit in a court of law against plugin and theme developers that don’t use the GPL.

I’m not sure why the hell this is debated anymore. Until someone takes it to court of law and clearly identifies how WordPress and the GPL can be used by plugin and theme developers it is a complete waste of time to argue about it.

With that in mind, premium plugin and theme developers should feel free to release their work under any damn license they decide to use. Common sense will tell you that quality work is worth paying for and if you intend on creating premium plugins/themes you’d be an idiot to release them under the GPL as it’s essentially legal castration as Chis so eloquently pointed out above.

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Jason, I just made a similar point on Twitter & am planning on capping GPL week w/ that as my main point 😀

Way to go stealing my thunder! :p

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Joe, not making the plugin/theme GPL means it can not be freely distributed or absorbed by the WP core code base. Distributing WP helps promote Automattic indirectly; the more WP grows the more Automattic grows.

Ben, I think traditionally people have been afraid to speak out but with courageous non-GPL premium theme developers like Chris Pearson leading the way and the massive success Thesis has experienced I think things are going to change for the better. More developers will be willing to build well-supported quality premium themes/plugins that aren’t GPL and this will help move WP to the next level where it is perceived as a professional level CMS system that is well-supported by numerous commercial developers too. Don’t worry open source fans, there will always be the free plugins and themes if you want to settle for those.

Brad March 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm

@Jason you act like using a free plugin is “settling”. I would be curious to know how many paid premium plugins you run on your WordPress websites vs. free GPL plugins? Did you settle for those free ones?

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Brad, that’s the best argument you can come up with for the GPL?

Brad March 1, 2010 at 5:31 pm

@Jason my argument is further above and has pretty much been ignored because it makes too much sense. 😉

My point is at the end of the day no one wants to drop hundreds of dollars on various plugins for a WordPress website. And as a plugin author anyone who says using a free plugin is “settling” is seriously misguided. I can find a free plugin to rival just about any paid plugin I’ve seen on the market.

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Brad, if you’re asking if I’ve bought premium plugins and themes then the answer is yes. And now hopefully more people will be willing to create better (premium) versions of the poorly supported free plugins and themes that are available. Free plugins and themes are not sustainable and they die off leaving users with a poor opinion of WP. GPL based premium themes/plugins don’t provide long-term business sustainability in my opinion either.

Brad March 1, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I would say the license a plugin is released under has little to do with its sustainability. It’s really up to the plugin developer to keep supporting the plugin, regardless if it’s GPL or not.

In fact I would argue a GPL released plugin has a better chance of sustainability. If a plugin developer disappears anyone can fork that plugin, fix it, and release it. If a commercial licensed plugin developer disappears you can’t take that code, fix it, and release it legally so the plugin would die.

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Brad:

“My point is at the end of the day no one wants to drop hundreds of dollars on various plugins for a WordPress website. And as a plugin author anyone who says using a free plugin is “settling” is seriously misguided. I can find a free plugin to rival just about any paid plugin I’ve seen on the market.”

If you were correct there would be no market whatsoever for premium plugins/themes. Unfortunately for you, many premium plugins/themes like Thesis and Gravity Forms are doing quite well so you’re clearly mistaken.

You’re missing the point which is that free themes/plugins aren’t sustainable; developers can’t provide free support and maintenance forever. Free plugins and themes die off because donations can’t supplement the time/costs involved. Just ask prominent developers like Joost de Valk or Lester ‘GaMerZ’ Chan. In the end WP users may be discouraged from using free plugins/themes because of the poor support that’s provided and the perception of WP suffers.

You’re arguing about free plugin/theme sustainability and I’m referring to sustainability as a business.

Moreover, you’re statement only refers to the most popular WP plugins that seem to be worth being picked up by other developers but smaller plugins frequently die off without any one to provide support.

By the way, there is now a premium version of the most popular plugin for WordPress: All In One SEO Pack Pro.

Brad March 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I’m not saying there isn’t a market, but imagine a world where every plugin you wanted to use in WordPress cost money. What is that going to do overall for the WordPress project? It would seriously stunt its growth as more and more people would be turned off from the start. That’s my biggest fear.

Joost and Lester both decided not to support their plugins, but they also decided not to offer premium paid support either. Both of these developers could have made some decent cash by offering paid support, but they chose not to.

I’m all for paid support of free plugins and think there is a nice market for that. I’m also all for paying for plugins that I feel are worth it. I have a dev license for Gravity Forms because it’s an awesome plugin! I just don’t think the argument of “GPL themes/plugins can’t have a sustainable business” is valid. Looks at StudioPress or WooThemes. Both companies probably sell more themes than Thesis and they are both GPL. Gravity Forms is also GPL and look how well they are doing.

Either way there is no definitive answer when arguing the GPL. There will always be arguments from both sides. That’s why I tend to stay out of these arguments 😉

I’d really like WordPress Weekly, or other WP podcast, to have a GPL faceoff where the most vocal opponents from both sides square off. I feel the GPL topic is usually one sided (either way depending on where you read/hear about it) so it would be nice if it could be a respectful argument for and against the GPL

Ben Cook March 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Holy cow, Brad & Jason you guys are impressing even me with this comment load!

I would tend to agree that there’s not going to be a definitive answer (hell people disagree whether some laws are constitutional & even the President questions Supreme Court rulings) but I think the marketplace will dictate which side “wins” out in the end.

If the GPL doesn’t provide enough value in return for the sacrifices (as Jason Schuller argued & I would agree with), developers will abandon it partially or all together.

WordPress will then be forced to decide whether it’s worth it to continue their crusade & deepen the schism in the community or whether the non-GPL people provide enough value that it’s worth it to end the “war.”

Also, I consolidated some comments from people posting back to back. I think I maintained them all but if you notice some of your comment or argument missing please let me know.

Denny Sugar March 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Bottom line is that I think that anyone that wants a free plugin or theme should build it themselves not expect others to do it for them. Otherwise, pay up or use something else.

I’ll add that guys like me only use wordpress because of the great stuff available for it. WP should thank these developers since most of the best plugins & themes are premium and advance the platform. I have no problem paying for good stuff. And if WP stops allowing others to improve their CMS, then I’m sure we’ll all find another one to use.

Brad, didn’t Lester Chan recently hang up his spurs? Maybe if he had figured out a way to make a real business out of it (instead of giving everything away free) he would have been able to keep contributing to the community and making a living. (I hear WP plugins and themes can be quite lucrative.)

Jason Fannenstiel March 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Brad,
No, premium plugins/themes haven’t stunted the growth of WP. If anything better plugins/themes promote better quality and greater attraction to WP. There will always be free plugins and themes for WP just as there are now both premium and free themes listed at WordPress.org

Joost and Lester may not have but others do (Michael Torbert’s All In One SEO Pack Pro plugin). Joost sold Sociable so that argues against your point and supports the my argument. Either way I’m not sure how them deciding to not offer premium versions is relevant at all.

“I just don’t think the argument of “GPL themes/plugins can’t have a sustainable business” is valid. Looks at StudioPress or WooThemes. Both companies probably sell more themes than Thesis and they are both GPL. Gravity Forms is also GPL and look how well they are doing.”

I’m not saying that GPL-compliant premium theme/plugin business models aren’t sustainable in the short-term, I just think that the non-GPL premium theme/plugin business models offer better chances of long-term sustainability. If you make your work GPL you have no legal rights to defend it, does that make sense?

Oh, and I would challenge your assumption that WooThemes and StudioPress (both GPL) sell more themes individually than Thesis (non-GPL) based on Compete’s traffic stats: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/woothemes.com+studiopress.com+diythemes.com

As you can see DIYThemes gets just as much traffic as WooThemes and StudioPress despite NOT being listed in the commercial themes repository at WordPress.org (http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/commercial). Getting listed in the GPL-only commercial themes repository at WordPress.org should provide the large referral traffic that Matt uses to tempt premium theme developers to go GPL but according to the stats above, it doesn’t appear to be worth it.

See this related comment for more info: http://wpblogger.com/carl-hancock-gpl-interview.php#comment-2670

Bill March 1, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Many of those premium WP theme developers slithered over to to the GPL to gain access to the WP market. At the same time those developers were chanting “we’re doing it for the community”, ” we’re aligning ourselves with WordPress” and “it’s just the right thing to do”. In the meantime, those same developers bad mouthed anyone that used their GPL themes for profit and to this day many of those same developers still bad mouth anyone that uses their themes for profit.

Kudos to Pearson for not kissing butt just to make a few bucks. Kudos to Pearson for running a business like a business. Respect can’t be bought. You’ve earned the respect of thousands Chris and I have a feeling you’ll be earning the respect of tens of thousands in years to come. Stay the course, you’re right on track!

David Perel March 2, 2010 at 2:44 am

@Jason – Being on the WP repository only gives you about 100 – 200 unique visits a day.

Andreas Nurbo March 2, 2010 at 3:46 am

The point everyone is missing is the difference between open source and free software. GPL says what you can do another licence such as BSD tells you what you cannot. BSD is only a couple of lines. And that is what people that truly want to share their code use. People claim that the GPL is about freedom but its not and never has been. GPL is political & ideological as anyone who has ever read or heard Stallman should be perfectly aware off.

GPL is made so software becomes free as in free beer. Even though the FSF say you can charge for GPL software the point of the license is to make software free as in free of charge. Heck even the name Free Software Foundation would make some bells rings for most people.
If it were about the rights of the end user the BSD is a much better choice.

Daniel McClure March 2, 2010 at 10:59 am

I’ve been reading through your comments and as an existing customer of both WooThemes & DIYThemes (Thesis) I think it’s clear to see that whichever side of the argument you fall on, some great work can come out of it. I consider both developers to be of a higher standard than most (not all) free theme developers.

As more and more businesses that are unrelated to WP move on to the platform, I believe the market will only grow for companies that provide premium plugins/themes. The reason for this is that when Dave or Julie run a personal blog down the road, it’s a completely different ballgame to a major news corp running their site on the system. When you pay for a service, you generally expect quick-fire updates in line with updates of the WP core. You simply cannot expect this with most developers on free plugins and when that plugin is responsible for the core offering of your site i.e. a paid membership site plugin you simply can’t afford to wait.

It can not be doubted that GPL offers a challenge to premium developers. I have seen and downloaded free GPL versions of StudioPress themes in the past. Would I have bought them otherwise? Maybe, but that option is simply removed and anything more simply becomes a donation. Recently I’ve even seen an AdSense advert offering the entire WooThemes collection for $27, that’s clearly going to steal away customers from WooThemes and has all been made possible by the GPL.

Another point to be made is that when you jump into the code behind WooThemes these days there is a distinct difference to the themes of past. With each and every update they are moving their themes towards becoming a framework that can be used upon multiple platforms. I don’t know their full business motives but I would hazard a guess that was a decision that has been made to retain profitability. Whilst this may at first seem like progress because of the step towards cross compatibility, if anything it is building even more of a brick wall towards WP only developers who might have built upon these themes. You rarely see a WooTheme with much more than a header altered.

Chris Pearson on the otherhand has protected his code and you consistently see many great (and not so great) customisations of his theme. If anything I would argue that this product has inspired and created more new developers for WP than Woo due to it’s open and relatively simple code once purchased. You see people suddenly writing and editing their own CSS and PHP to plugin in to the theme and this knowledge likely can and will benefit the WP community as a whole.

Now you may be thinking that this is more to do with the products themselves than the license but I feel you can’t look at the products evolution without also looking at the license. After all, both paties will have needed to consider the business implications when constructing their code, which is ultimately why I feel that Thesis has become more open in a sense (Bare in mind this is opinion, not fact and I’ve not spoken to either party directly).

In summary:
– Paid plugins/themes generally have a sounder update schedule i.e. it’s their job
– GPL opens up competition that offer nothing newer than a low price on your creation
– Protected code allows developers to really go all out without the fear of direct theft which can make their code more open and adjustable
– GPL encourages premium developers to withhold simple code that they may have otherwise released
– Openly coded frameworks, regardless of their license, will encourage more people to jump behind the dashboard and learn the ropes to make things happen

Stijn March 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm

FYI: article looks too long. Try adding subheadings to make it more scannable. It may convince more people to read on, as they should.

Ben Cook March 2, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Stijn, seriously? Do I come over to your blog and suggest you do something besides the stock Thesis install?

If people don’t want to read the interview because it “looks too long” they can piss off.

Dave Wilkinson March 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Right up until that last comment, I was completely unimpressed by either side of the argument. But Ben, you just made me smile.

Christina Warren March 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I feel like I’m often a record on repeat when I mention this (as I tend to in these discussions), but I’ll mention it again anyway – this whole debate, as it relates to WordPress anyway, is to me, a very, very sharp example of how the GPL was not designed to address web applications. It was designed with traditional programming and binary applications in mind – in every single litigated case, it has still been legally discussed in that concept. Even with a few of the MySQL GPL lawsuits (which were weird because MySQL was always dual-license and elements were released as public-domain and blah blah blah), you’re still talking about something that is ultimately compiled and executed on a computer and not in a web browser.

For that reason, I don’t think this debate will ever go away unless it is settled in court. Obviously that benefits no one (and the SFLC opinion — and keep in mind, they are nothing but the legal lobbying arm for the FSF — their opinion is hardly going to be unbiased — and it’s a lawyer’s opinion anyway, not a judge) and I doubt either side will want to push their luck in court — but that’s what it will take to get it settled.

With the GPL version 3, they had a chance to address web applications more — but that whole process was overshadowed by all of the anti-Tivoization bullshit that basically means that the most frequently used GPL software will never use it anyway. In the meantime, BSD, Apache and MIT all have much better provisions when dealing with non-traditional applications.

Web apps are different from regular applications. The way source is revealed, the way it is distributed, the way it is “run” and that to me makes a fundamental difference in examining what is or is not derivative and what does or does not take on the GPL properties.

I think with the case of plugins, you can make the argument that yes, this is a program in its own right — but with themes, if it’s just syntax and calls (calls that could easily be generic to any PHP-based CMS), it’s much less clear.

Obviously it is too late now, but I think that it’s not that GPL is bad (even though I’m personally not really a fan), it’s that it’s the wrong license for this kind of project.

I fully expect to see the CMS’s of the future — the open source ones at that — to be licensed more clearly and under something that doesn’t have as many ambiguities.

Chip Bennett March 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

Well-said, Christina.

Hellas April 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I concur with Dave guy.

Its hypocrisy not because of money earnings but because his angry attitude toward people sharing his theme around for free. If he did not wanted that to happen then why he did not based his business around some non-gpl product? GPL licence gave us permission to share wordpress php files of the themes however we want.

Ben Cook April 7, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Hellas, except the problem is that Thesis isn’t licensed under the GPL. So you sharing his theme for free is theft. Just because some musical artists allow you to download their music for free doesn’t mean it’s ok to do it for all artist’s work.

Aleksandar Zgonjan April 8, 2010 at 11:22 am

Hi to all

I would like to point out a few things. This is just my opinion.

1. Chris Pearson is wrong and he should licence his theme under GPL
2. Christina Warren is wright, GPL is the wrong licence for Wordpress
3. WordPress is a proof that the GPL is a one big mess
4. Everybody can start their own Automattic, so Automattic is ok
5. There is no “simple” solution to this, but there is a solution

I will now try to explain everything …

1. Wordpress is licenced under GPL and the themes must be licenced under GPL as well. I think that any objective person will acknowlege this. Wordpress loads the themes and themes use Wordpress functions. There would be no Wordpress themes and plugins if there were no Wordpress and Wordpress community. It’s ok to charge GPL themes and commercial support. GPL is not about money, but about freedom. Most of the users will not distribute the theme and thieves will always find new ways to steal.

2. If Wordpress would be licenced under LGPL or BSD it would be posible to create premium themes without GPL rules and restrictions. Matt could even sell or give “custom” non-GPL developer licences to developers of comercial Wordpress themes. That way, it would be posible to develop GPL and non-GPL themes on the same platform. But, Matt can’t do that because of licence inheritance from b2.

3. GPL is great for sharing knowledge, because you can get into the code and learn. From this point of view, I like the idea of GPL, but I still don’t like GPL licences. I’m working on GPL project and more I work with GPL more I think that GPL is one big mess when it comes to licence questions. The biggest problem I see is that even GPL licences are not compatible bettween the versions. Natural business model for GPL is commercial support. From business model perspective, this can be interpreted this way … if you write good code you will have no work or you will have more work if you write bad code. That is not good. There are a lot of problems in using GPL in business, but there are also numerous advantages. GPL is simply GPL, take it or leave it.

4. Automattic is great thing for Wordpress. Anybody can start their own “Automattic” if they like and use Wordpress as platform and that is ok from the GPL perspective. Non-GPL theme is simply not ok from GPL perspective.

5. I think that “simplest” solution would be to develop independent theme framework with custom (xml) markup under non-GPL licence that could be even independent of blog engine. Plugin for specific blog engines like for example Wordpress or any other blog engine, could then be written under GPL licence. That would be in the “spirit” of GPL and commercial development. Theme developers would benefit from easy cross-blog-engine theme development and users would have more themes to choose from.

Where did I steal this idea? From you Chris? From cross-browser javascript frameworks? From some article I have never read?

Last thought for Chris. I don’t like your position about Wordpress, Wordpress themes and GPL. I think it’s simply wrong. You are trying to break the rules. Do not try to break the rules if you can bend the rules. If you want to develop commercial themes under non-GPL licence you should find a way to do so without breaking the rules of GPL licence.

Ben Cook April 8, 2010 at 11:28 am

Aleksandar, while I appreciate your comment, it relies heavily on your point number 1 which is by no means settled and many very reasonable people (including myself) disagree with you.

If you take the premise away, your arguments in later points kind of falls apart. It also might change your view of Matt’s bullying tactics when it comes to the license.

Aleksandar Zgonjan April 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Ben, can I ask you a question or two … let’s say that you invested thousand of hours in core Wordpress and published it under GPL licence. Would you still disagree with my first argument?

Let’s say that you invested thousand of hours in creating “GPL” community around the Wordpress project. How would you look at the non-GPL themes then?

Ben Cook April 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Aleksandar, first of all I would never invest thousands of hours into something that I plan on publishing under the GPL.

Also, this isn’t a debate about people’s feelings. It’s simply a legal issue. I doubt people who release their themes under the GPL “like” having people buy them & then distribute them for free. But it’s perfectly legal.

Just because Matt doesn’t “like” non-GPL themes and found a lawyer to tell him what we wanted to hear, doesn’t mean the GPL actually DOES apply to all themes.

Aleksandar Zgonjan April 9, 2010 at 6:53 am

You didn’t answer my questions, but I will ask you one more. Do you need a lawyer to tell you what is right and what is wrong?

It doesn’t matter if you would or wouldn’t invest thousand of hours in a GPL project. That is your choice and it speaks more about you than you may think. What matters is that so many people did invest thousand of hours in all kind of GPL projects, not just Wordpress and we all use the results of that work today. We should be honorable men and respect their work.

The law is the reflection of society. “We” are the society so in a way “we” are the law. “We” write the laws and “we” change them. I can stop commenting and then you will be the “society” and you will be write.

The discussion has no value if there are no solutions and suggestions so here is one. It would be nice to see community organized “premium” GPL theme contest for Wordpress. If the rewards were large enough to cover the serious development of new themes, it would be interesting to see the result. The community would get great new themes, Wordpress would get great promotion, developers would get the enough funds and we colud all learn form the beast … win win situation.

I would chip in few dollars for this type of award.

Ash Goodman July 3, 2010 at 5:32 am

I am late to the party, but I will weigh in with one comment. A few people here and on other blogs/forums discussing GPL who take the themes MUST be 100% GPL stance use the argument Aleksandar Zgonjan used:

“Most of the users will not distribute the theme and thieves will always find new ways to steal.”

What warped logic is this?

Either your giving the code away or you aren’t. If I take your GPL code and sell it myself I am not a thief, GPL has specifically given me right to do this.

The fallacy of giving something away and the calling someone who uses the rights you gave them a thief demonstrates more than any other argument the untenable position pro GPL defenders are in.

That’s like saying you can’t lock the door to your house because noone will break in, or at least the ones who would would find a way anyway.

Madness! If that’s your best argument your going to need much better.

Now as to whether GPL should infect themes regardless of the theme authors wishes, I’ll hold my opinion as that’s all it is. An opinion.

Aleksandar Zgonjan July 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Hi Ash

I think that you didn’t understand me. You are just looking at the part of the iceberg that is above water and this comment box is to small to debate about this.

Ash Goodman July 3, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Hi Alexander,

No disrespect intended I assure you.

But, yes I did understand you. And yes your comments were about more than the bit I choose to comment on.

That doesn’t change the fallacy of that portion of your argument, nor does it change the fact that as arguments in favour of GPL go, it’s a poor one.

Ken July 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm

It’s all a bit silly. Someone will be constrained, either the Developer or the Customer. Proprietary constrains the Customer, GPL constrains the Developer. Chris doesn’t want to be constrained. Easiest sollution: Don’t release OR develop from GPL software.

If you don’t like GPL, or think it’s too controversial, why would you write code for a GPL’d platform? Simple: you GAIN something. Is that gain worth the price of admission? That’s up to you.

But if you try to take that gain without abiding by the GPL, *you* are stealing/violating copyright. You have the option of using some other software.

Elizabeth Jamieson July 17, 2010 at 11:48 am

I take the DIYThemes side in this debate for a mixture of the reasons already stated in comments above. But I’d like to raise a practical point. There are paid GPL compliant plugins say, on Wordpress.org right now whose opensourcedness is merely lipservice to the GPL.

Take ScribeSEO as an example. I guess Matt has no problem with that one. He himself has monetized Akismet similarly. It seems you can have an open source, GPL compliant plugin, but as long as you can host some code integral to the function of that plugin on a server somewhere, and then the fact that people can down load the client end of your offering is irrelevant. As long as you offer it as SaaS, you bypass the stipulations of the GPL for the guts of your code. Which keeps it safe because it is miles away and can’t be accused of being derivative.

Is that what I’ve got to do as a small business to make my coding efforts viable under the GPL?

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