[kwlug-disc] Wordpress themes must be GPL

Khalid Baheyeldin kb at 2bits.com
Sat Jul 24 23:10:14 EDT 2010

On Sat, Jul 24, 2010 at 5:38 PM, Insurance Squared Inc. <
gcooke at insurancesquared.com> wrote:

> GPL just streamrolled right over a commercial application.
> Background: Most folks here know wordpress as a content management
> system/blogging platform.    Chris Pearson created a paid theme called
> 'Thesis' and promoted the heck out of it, right down to affiliate marketing.
>  By all accounts he was wildly financially successful.  The thesis 'theme'
> is actually a combination theme, toolset, and theme development package.  I
> personally bought and use the 'developer' license of the Thesis theme.
> The folks at wordpress got into a twitter/interview/blogosphere argument
> with the developer of this theme, suggesting that because of the theme's
> association with wordpress, which is GPL, that therefore the theme must also
> be GPL (instead of $89 or whatever it was that he was charging.  I think I
> paid $150).
> Long story short, the thesis theme is now effectively GPL.   Some articles
> on this:
> http://mixergy.com/chris-pearson-matt-mullenweg/
> http://mixergy.com/chris-pearson-thesis-interview/
> http://mashable.com/2010/07/22/thesis-relents/
> http://www.webmasterworld.com/content_management/4173762.htm
> Interesting application of the GPL forcing someone to release code from a
> very profitable business model.  Also this may stifle some creativity in
> wordpress themes - one of the reasons many people use wordpress instead of
> better CMS's like drupal.  Which is ironic, since wordpress forced this
> issue and it may end up harming them.
> Actually - actually!  This may be good news. Because now someone can port
> this over to drupal (something I've actually wanted) and I can get rid of
> the tech nightmare that is wordpress.
> g.

The question here is what is "derived work" and whether a Wordpress theme
fits that definition or not.

By the way, Drupal has the same stance: all modules and themes are derived
work too, and hence GPL (at least the PHP portion of themes, not images).

The only CMS that has a different stance is Joomla, who say that extensions
and plugins are not GPL automatically.

And in the kernel world, we have Linus asserting that all device drivers
specifically for Linux are GPL and derived work.

So this stance is not unique to Wordpress or Drupal by any means ...

The whole stance depends on what the GPL FAQ used to state which can be
paraphrased as "if programs run in the same address space, then the GPL
applies to everything in the address space". That wording was created in the
GPL when the world was composed of compiled programs with static of shared
libraries, and the GPL wanted to make sure that there was no closed source
library that is non GPL yet your application depended on it to function,
the stance was to prevent this loophole.

Here is the "same address space" stance from the FAQ:

The workaround is to run your proprietary stuff over a socket and interface
to the GPL application and now you have legally circumvented the GPL.

Things have changed since then with interpreted languages: we have Drupal
or Wordpress run in the same address space as Apache and PHP with MySQL
libraries and other stuff. So where is the demarcation? No longer an easy

Yet the GPL FAQ says it has to be so:

My personal view is: if your application can't run because it depends on
X or component Y, then that component should be GPL, but if I have a module
that merely extends the application in a certain way, yet it is optional,
then that
module could be non-GPL. Of course, this is an opinion, and many disagree
that opinion.

I also see that the GNU site has started to update their FAQ, and this is
that I have not seen before that exactly addresses the template issue in


Worth reading that FAQ from scratch again, it seems, since it contains a lot
of fresh information pertaining to contemporary use of dynamic languages.

>From a practical point of view, not just licensing, I believe that releasing
modules free is far better for the developer, and the ecosystem, for many
reasons: the code gets fixes, features and upgrades that are impossible
for one or a few people to do on their own, the developer gets recognition,
the ecosystem for the larger application gets better by having more
the developer gets new business, everyone wins, except those who are locked
into the mentality that they should press CDs and sell their software

I know, because many years ago, I had two commercial modules. It became
too much of an effort maintaining a commercial version that has the full
and a free version with some features disabled. Once I opened them up the
community effect went into full swing and opened my eyes to what I said
Also, the modules did not make much money any way when they were

So there you have it: free your code, not for ideology or because you are
to, but rather for your own benefit, for the code's benefit and for the
community's benefit too ...
Khalid M. Baheyeldin
2bits.com, Inc.
Drupal optimization, development, customization and consulting.
Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability. --  Edsger W.Dijkstra
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. --   Leonardo da Vinci
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