WordPress Featuring Commercial GPL Themes

by Ben Cook on July 1, 2009

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WordPress has gone commercial… in a GPL sort of way.

An official Commercially Supported GPL Theme subsection cropped up today on the theme repository on WordPress.org.

In the past, only themes which were “kosher with the GPL and didn’t claim or promote otherwise on their site” were allowed to be featured in the theme repository. The practical application of this was that hundreds of sponsored themes were purged from the repository late last year never to be heard from again.

However, today a “Commercial” subsection appeared featuring websites which

“provide GPL themes with extra paid services available around them. Some of them you may pay for access, some of them are membership sites, some may give you the theme for zero-cost and just charge for support. What they all have in common is people behind them who support open source, WordPress, and its GPL license.”

The sites listed will be familiar to most WordPress fans and include StudioPress, WooThemes, iThemes, Spectacula, etc.

The move is yet another official acknowledgement by WordPress that they support so called “premium themes” as long as they’re licensed under the GPL.

However, Matt Mullenweg’s reasoning for purging sponsored themes last year seems to fly in the face of some premium theme creators’ recent behavior.

While several theme producers are happy to promote the fact that they’ve licensed their themes under the GPL (personally I believe ALL WordPress themes automatically inherit the GPL license but that’s a post for another day), at the same time they’re implying, guilting, or simply begging people to NOT excercise the rights afforded them under that very license!

When Alex King published a post mentioning the posibility of making premium themes available for free, Corey Miller of iThemes quickly chimed in with this comment:

“I think by just opening up this door to your right (as you are free to do so) isn’t setting a great precedent as I’d wish such an awesome GPL contributor like yourself would do. (I’ve referred clients your way because of the respect I have for you.)

If I did that with your code, I’d at least ask first (even though it’s technically your right to do so without asking) … before including in our themes OR at the very least publishing a post like this and opening up the wild wild west.

What it does for someone like us (those who just switched to GPL) is confirm the fears and reservations that we’ve had for a long time.”

Does that sound like iThemes is totally “kosher with the GPL” or does it sound like they’re “promoting otherwise?”

In a related thread over on WPtavern, Adii of WooThemes chimed in with a similar statement:

“So our themes are out there now and people can go wild with this freedom, as they are legally entitled to do so with the GPL. But every set of laws are ultimately flawed and on a daily basis you’ll find people abusing legal rules for their own gain. Are they “allowed” to do that? Sure…

But whether they’re doing the right thing is a whole different question… :)”

Once again, it’s a “we’re GPL but please don’t actually USE the GPL” type statement.

If WordPress is going to promote these companies for being GPL compliant, it would be nice if they weren’t actively trying to supress the excercise of the rights granted under the license.

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