[kwlug-disc] Wordpress themes must be GPL

Khalid Baheyeldin kb at 2bits.com
Tue Jul 27 18:16:19 EDT 2010

On Tue, Jul 27, 2010 at 3:53 PM, Ralph Janke <txwikinger at ubuntu.com> wrote:

> Well.. the question is the difference between linking, and just calling.

Calling as a function call to the same process space? Everything is GPL.
Calling as in making a socket call to a separate program? GPL does not

> Even that question gets more and more gray. If you statically link a
> library, you copy it in fact. If you link it dynamically, it gets
> complicated, one
> could argue that if you do not distribute the .so library with your
> executable,
> because it is already in the distribution, you do not need to comply with
> GPL even if the library is GPL (the problem might still be the header files
> though).



The stance of the FSF is that dynamic or static does not matter. What
matters is whether the caller and callee run in the same program space or



The GPL was initially written when shared libraries were not in common use.
Later when shared libraries became common, the GPL was interpreted to
extend to shared libraries.

And now that we have interpreted languages in common use, things get
more interesting, and the FSF says the GPL applies to the application (e.g.
Drupal or Wordpress) and its plugins (modules, themes), despite the language
itself (PHP) being non-GPL.

> In some ways, you just use what is already there. In the same way M$ might
> otherwise claim that your word document is owned by them, since their
> software has created a derivative of your input.
> If you look at themes, if they just call something which is already
> existent
> in the distribution of wordpress, drupal etc, then you have not copied
> anything.
> If you use existing php, javascript, css, etc. code, that you have copied
> and
> pasted and then modified, then you would fall under the license.

There are two separate issues: "GPL virality" and "derived work".

The FSF says that PHP and Javascript in a theme or a module would be GPL,
because they run in the same user space as the main application, and also
by using the API of the application, and being specifically written for the

e.g. https://drupal.org/licensing/faq#q7

> On the other hand, we have the Pystar vs. Apple case in the US, in which
> Pystar
> was prohibited to resale Apples copies of leopard and snow leopard with
> their
> software. However, I am not sure if this case said anything about the case
> if Pystar would have only sold an additional software, and the user had to
> find
> a legal copy of Apple's (snow) leopard themselves.

Apple's operating system is non-GPL. It is licensed under a proprietary
Psystar had no license to distribute Apple's software, and Apple sued and

If the user had to buy a copy themselves, then Psystar would not have been
but Apple would still be upset, since they want their software to run only
under their

Unrelated to our discussion.

> Maybe it would be an interesting test case to see if a court would put the
> building of a theme in wordpress or drupal equivalent to what Pystar did
> (even though is wordpress or drupal distributed with the theme?) or if it
> would be solely a question of the usage and derivation of existing code.

The cases are very different.

Under the GPL, if you redistribute (including selling copies), the buyer has
the rights that the GPL provides, meaning they are free to take the work and
redistribute it to others, including sell it, give it away, upload it,

If you are in violation, then there are first requests to comply (e.g. make
your work available under the GPL, or stop distributing your work, or seek a
proprietary license from the copyright holder [if one is available]). Courts
come after these requests for compliance fail to produce results. This is
one reason why you don't see many GPL cases in court.

Side note: This redistribution condition is why the GPL is not a suitable
license to commercialize software (when selling copies is the only business
model), because you will make money. The GPL does not forbid charging money
at all, but you will only make the first sale, and then nothing after that,
unless you are offering services.
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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