[kwlug-disc] Wordpress themes must be GPL

Khalid Baheyeldin kb at 2bits.com
Mon Jul 26 13:47:08 EDT 2010

On Sun, Jul 25, 2010 at 9:47 AM, Johnny Ferguson <hyperflexed at gmail.com>wrote:

> But, to Paul's point: How do developers put food on the table?
> I got into this debate with someone on another mailing list, and I now
> wonder the same question. I think the short answer is they can't (or they
> have to do something free to establish an opportunity to potentially provide
> extended service which others could very well provide).

Sure they can!

Just not by the older model of selling copies of software they wrote.

They can do support, consulting, hosting, training, extensions, or what have

Just not burn CDs and sell them for $99 each as a business model.

Don't get me wrong, they are allowed to do that under the GPL, and Richard
Stallman himself made a living selling tapes with EMACS on it.

But the reality is that as long as there is an option to download it from
site, this option does not make for an efficient business model.

The long answer would be more complicated, and I think it would be found
> somewhere between the strict nature of the GPL and the easygoing nature of
> something like BSD.
> The GPL maintains freedoms, but spreads them so widely that no one author
> can hold on to their own work.

You are wrong here. You are confusing the "GPL" as a license, with
"community developed software". They are totally separate things.

If you are the sole developer of a product you can use the GPL, and you can
dual license your product since you are the copyright holder.

What happens is that many projects (for whatever reasons) start attracting
developers and contributors and you have the community development model in
effect. Most often the GPL helps this because developers tell themselves:
"No company can usurp our work and make it proprietary", but there are
projects licensed under different licenses (LGPL, Apache, various BSD like
ones, ....etc.)

There are companies that I mentioned that do own the copyright and indeed
dual license their product (Alfresco, MySQL), and they are quite successful.

The GPL also sidesteps the question of value by giving developers an excuse
> to be lazy. You could sell software under the GPL, but because it would be
> de facto gratis it's not worth it, and I think as a result many projects
> stagnate.

What makes a project successful is the vigor of the community. There are
lots of good projects out there. Not all of them are successful, or even
visible. Developer mindshare is what makes a project initially successful,
then after that the development of an ecosystem including consultants,
conferences, business people, marketing, ...etc.

The GPL is just one factor here: some developers will like that GPL nature
of the project so that $evil_corporation will not usurp their software like
Apple did to NetBSD, or KHTML.

But that is not the sole thing that makes a project successful, there is the
leadership (e.g. there are projects that are not GPL, yet the ego of the
lead maintainer turns off people from contributing). There are many other

There are groups that will put money into GPL code, but they either do it
> with a sense of charity (which is fine), or because they're big enough to
> leverage that work as part of a commercial product/service.

And that is fine too. This includes Linux which is now in everything from
web servers to cell phones.

> I think the financial prospects for independent GPL developers is pretty
> slim, and is one of the largest reasons we so so many unfinished projects,

True, but the GPL is not the only factor here. Many developers do not have
the ability nor the interest to build a community around their software, GPL
or not.

> and even a few that have received massive donations and still lack polish
> (I'm thinking of a certain linux audio app).

> The developers won't work because they have no money, and the patrons won't
> pay because they have no product. How do we get around this?
> I pay for code that works, not code with all sorts of wonderful ideologies
> appended to it. Ideological freedom means nothing to me when I lack the
> freedom to be productive. And if GPL code was exceptional, I wouldn't know
> who to pay. The GPL needs to be retooled, imo.

The license is just one factor, not the whole picture.

Look at me, an open source developer, contributor and consultant, who makes
100% of his income from open source or related services.

The stack I use is licensed in various ways: Linux kernel is GPL, the GNU
stuff that comes with it is GPL, a myriad of software that is under
different open source licenses (PHP, MySQL, Apache, ...etc.)

It's nice that we can have so many programs free and free, but there are
> specialized applications that authors should be rewarded for writing. Having
> a certain bias against the usefulness of things like wordpress, I'm not sure
> if this applies to Thesis, but the fiasco does raise the question.

There should be no fiasco here. The Thesis author should have done his
homework and thought out his business plan and legality of what he is doing.
He was riding the wave of popularity of Wordpress (which probably the GPL
helped somewhat). He copied PHP code from Wordpress itself into his themes.

The non-code elements of the theme are not covered by the GPL, so his
graphics, CSS, look and feel, ...etc should not be GPL.

I think we could fix the GPL by creating a commercial version that does not
> allow you the freedom of redistribution. A scheme where each redistributed
> copy requires royalties flowing back to the original author. People should
> have the option between selling and being charitable. Could be chaotic, but
> it's the quickest solution that comes to mind. It does run the risk of
> locking up good software though, so how would we allow such a work back into
> public sphere if commercialization didn't work out?
Then it is not GPL anymore.

The essence of the GPL is that you have to pass on the rights that were
passed on to you unchanged. Right to Use, Study, Extend and Share the

You can't restrict it that way ...

Or find another equivalent software package that does what you want, under a
different license and do what you say.

Or write your won.

> -Johnny
> p.s. sorry for the sheer volume of text. This is an issue one could go on
> about forever.
>  Without having to execute a continuous stream of work?
>> They create something 'wonderful', but, in essence, must (practically
>> speaking) make it free. How do they gain a 'royalty' (not an annual
>> license fee, but a bite of pie) every time their work is 'acquired'
>> (downloaded?)
>> I get your business model, your code (and other activities) enhances
>> your reputation and makes you the go to guy for a continuous stream of
>> work.
>> But how do FOSS developers put food on the table for effort expended
>> without having to continuously execute new streams of work?
>> e.g. Suppose you get sick (and have no income replacement insurance) -
>> your revenue plummets and you have to live on what you have managed to
>> save. Or, what about those who don't make enough or have insurance?
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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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