WordPress, WordCamp, Envato & GPL – My Take | Web Development Services by Ed Nailor

WordPress, WordCamp, Envato & GPL – My Take

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The WordPress GPL Debate Rages On!

Recently, a WordPress developer named Jake Caputo made mention that he was not permitted to be involved with WordCamps. He would not be able to help sponsor, speak at or even volunteer at any WordCamp.

The Reason?

Jake sells WordPress themes on a theme marketplace website run by a company called Envato. This theme market allows designers and developers to market their themes to a large audience and many make fairly good money doing so. The problem is that Envato uses a “split license” when it comes to the themes they sell. In other words, the code that is related to WordPress follows the “do whatever you want to” GPL license, while the rest of the theme ( design, css, images, custom javascript, etc ) adheres to a stricter “you can’t just give this away to anyone” license. This is meant to protect theme authors from having their themes purchased once and then redistributed all over without the author getting paid anything else.

So What’s the Problem?

The WordPress Foundation has decided that he can not participate in WordCamp, not because the license is in violation of the GPL license that comes with WordPress, but because he is not going “above and beyond” the min requirement and making the entire theme 100% GPL ( css, images, design and all.) As a matter of fact, since Envato does not give its authors an option to go 100% GPL, ANY author that sells on an Envato site is barred from being part of WordCamp.

Envato claims their “Split License” provides GPL for all things required, while allowing their authors the ability to protect the creative aspects from being ripped off. They do not offer any other option to their theme and plugin authors.

Matt Mullenweg has stated that this has long been the position of the WordPress Foundation and has no problem with the exclusion of members of the community being excluded. He feels that since WordPress is 100% GPL, that all themes and plugins should also be 100% GPL with their license.

My Take

In a blog post about this, a user named Siobhan posted a link to http://markjaquith.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/why-wordpress-themes-are-derivative-of-wordpress/

I have read that post before and completely agree with it. There is one section that I think is where this all becomes the issue:

My JS/CSS/Images are 100% original. Do they have to be GPL?
No, they don’t. If they aren’t based on GPL’d JavaScript, CSS, or images, you are not forced to make them GPL. What you could do is offer a theme under a split license. The PHP would be under the GPL, but other static resources could be under some other license.

Technically, this is where the Split License is permitted. I agree that this is the case and what is reasonable to apply to the entire argument that is going on here.

I have nothing for sale through Envato. So in reality, I do not have any real “skin in the game” in regards to this specific argument. However, as a developer and WordPress enthusiast, I do have a fair amount of investment in the outcome of the argument.

The problem I have with all of this is the attitude of the WordPress Foundation that we must go “above and beyond” and how easily this expression can be interpreted. Currently it is being interpreted to mean that to go “above and beyond” requires providing the entire theme/plugin as GPL, including the scripting, css and images. But again, that is the interpretation being made now.

What about a developer that goes “above and beyond” with their coding to make the theme easier to use? You know, going beyond the basics? Is that not enough to comply with this expression? And what if one day that expression is further interpreted to mean that 100% GPL and 100% free to use, as WordPress is?

I think what bothers me the most here is the use of vague and open for interpretation expressions. Its like the clause in my HOA agreement that states they can fine me for things that are considered “offensive”… what if someone finds a red car in driveway “offensive?” To exclude people from the community not because they are violating the GPL, but because they are not going “above and beyond” the requirements of the GPL is much like me being told by my HOA that I need to move because some neighbors find me driving a red Honda to be offensive.

I respect the hell out of Matt, the WordPress team and the entire WordPress community. But no matter how you color it, no matter how long the “practice” has been in place, and no matter who the hell is making the decision, this type of exclusion is wrong and not best for the community.

What I Think Should Happen

Envato should allow the authors to decide for themselves if they want to provide 100% GPL licenses to their theme and plugins.

The WordPress Foundation should revisit the use of such liberal expressions as a definition of acceptance and compliance and change its stance on who can be involved in something as important to the future of WordPress such as WordCamps. And if an author chooses to abide by the GPL license but protect parts that aren’t required to be covered by GPL, that they would respect that author’s right to do so without fear of any “punishment.”

We live in a grown up world… let’s try to behave like adults and work together!

 



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