Premium WordPress theme design company, WooThemes, made a big splash last year by announcing their embrace of the GPL. Despite being able to see some of Brian Gardner’s experience there were still a lot of unknowns going into the new licensing model.
I sent Magnus Jepson, one of the WooThemes’ founders, the same 5 questions about the GPL in practice as compared to the theory we’ve all debated.
Magnus, thanks for taking the time to discuss this issue with me. My first question would be 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?
We chose GPL because Matt encouraged us, and we wanted to be in line with Automattic.
What, if any, benefits did you expect to receive by becoming GPL & have those benefits been realized?
We didn’t expect any benefits, but we hope that others have benefited from our code being 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?
We didn’t envision any change, and haven’t experienced any change since moving to GPL.
Do you plan on sticking with the GPL for future themes?
Yes, as long as we can sustain our business with the GPL license we’ll stick to it.
Overall, do you feel the GPL has helped or harmed you & other theme devs?
Us going GPL hasn’t helped nor harmed us, but hopefully helped other theme devs. The GPL license in general and WordPress has helped us get to where we are today, so that is our main reason for licensing our themes GPL.
While I asked these questions before the announcement that WooThemes’ nav system was going to be integrated into WordPress 3.0, I think that’s a great example of what the GPL is supposed to offer. The sharing of code in order to improve the platform is exactly what GPL disciples have in mind.
However, one need only look at Magnus’ Twitter stream today for an example of how the GPL is implemented most of the time within the WordPress community.
Now this specific example includes obvious trademark issues as the site in question is using WooThemes’ logo in order to promote their bundled product. However, I think this issue and really WooThemes as a company, represent the ongoing game of tug of war that occurs when theme developers license their work under the GPL.
From the outside looking in (it’s been a long time since I offered a WordPress theme for sale) it seems like the GPL has emboldened users to undertake behavior that ultimately harms theme companies. However there’s no doubt that profitable business can be built even while using the GPL.
As GPL Week continues here on WPblogger I’ll be bringing you two more interviews, one with a theme dev that has decided to abandon the GPL and another who refused to accept it in the first place. Stay tuned GPL fans!