At issue is interpretation of the GNU Public License (GPL), the "copyleft" license under whose terms WordPress software is released, how developers of premium themes offer their product, and also honouring the GPL.
Among the many posts that have appeared with commentary and opinion on the issue, The Next Web summarizes the situation nicely:
[…WordPress founder Matt] Mullenweg called out developers of â€œpremiumâ€ themes for WordPress (the ones you have to pay for) that are not released under the GPL as â€˜evilâ€™. WordPress itself is released under GPLv2, and Mullenweg feels that the products developed on top of WordPress (such as those premium themes) need to be GPL as well. To Mullenweg, if you build off of free software, and depend on it, to license them under other means is a breach of ethics.
[Premium theme developer Chris] Pearson disagrees with Mullenweg, and has been having a war of words over Twitter for the past few hours to reinforce his points. In Pearsonâ€™s logic, he should be able to license his own work in whatever manner he sees fit, regardless of the platform on which it is built. However, the GPL has a specific clause (according to the Mullenweg interview) that states that anything built on a GPL licensed platform must also be under GPL licensing.
As you can imagine, supporters and detractors of both sides have been tweeting their opinions. As far as I can tell, there’s no dominant view among the thousands of tweets on what is right about GPL in this case.
It looks like only some kind of legal involvement – ranging from the benign clarity of meaning to the aggressive filing of a lawsuit – will bring some light on interpreting the GPL.
But it seems to me this goes beyond just legal definitions of copyright. Isn’t it about doing what’s right in a community that’s founded on values of freedom of expression and open sharing of intellectual property to the benefit of many?
Does Chris Pearson’s business model, and that of other premium theme developers who don’t use the GPL, drive a huge wedge into the heart of everyone in the WordPress community who do adhere to the principles of the GPL?
Do I ditch Thesis? That question has crossed my mind. I really hope a smooth resolution will result from this kerfuffle, and soon, that will help me make up my mind.
Maybe a legal route is the only way to get that.
- Related: 52-minute discussion between Matt Mullenweg and Chris Pearson on licensing, ethics and community, recorded on July 14.
[Update July 18, 10:15pm:] The kerfuffle continues although some deeper thought is emerging in some blog posts. I especially like Why WordPress Themes are Derivative of WordPress by Mark Jaquith, one of the original WordPress developers, which to my mind presents the most comprehensive and credible assessment of this situation so far.
I’ve decided that I will move away from Thesis which I will do as soon as I’ve settled on an alternative theme that supports GPL and supports the open principles of the broad WordPress community. I’m experimenting with alternatives on my Sandb0x blog which I’ve resurrected again for this purpose.
2. Intellectual Property License
Thesis General PHP License
Thesis Proprietary Use License
This is good news although I wonder if it actually does resolve the legal questions and doubts on copyright that have arisen due to this kerfuffle, never mind the community issues.
One post I recommend reading for its deep perspective on the overall situation is I Create, Distribute & Disseminate Cracked Software by Andy Beard. Make a cup of tea or coffee, draw up your chair and settle down for a good read. That includes the comments.
For me, I’ve made my decision to switch from Thesis so I will be ploughing a new furrow, as it were, with a new theme very soon.