23 Comments

  1. Sky4git

    A really inspirational post.

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  2. Álvaro

    I was thinking this would make a wicked podcast episode.

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  3. Chris High

    This is a nice story, but it should be pointed out that some of Ander’s themes look a lot like copies of Mike McAlister’s work at Array. For example, Baskerville looks like Publisher. Hoffman looks like Pocket. Fukasawa looks like Designer. His theme pages even look a lot like the Array theme pages, and his theme demo content is similar.

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    • Sarah Gooding

      They most certainly are not copies and really don’t look that similar to me, especially in the details.

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    • Anders

      In all fairness, I did give myself the liberty to be inspired by McAlisters demo content – especially the concept of a “Style Guide” (markup elements) page, which I pretty much stole outright from his free theme Editorial.

      That liberty did not extend to the themes themselves, however. He is doing great work though, so I appreciate the comparison.

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    • Mike McAlister

      Hey folks,

      Nice writeup on Anders! It’s refreshing to see so much emphasis being placed on design lately.

      To be perfectly honest, Chris isn’t the first person to point out to me that Anders’ themes may have been inspired by some of my work. While they are not exact copies, it’s also not hard to see that there are more than a few similarities to be a coincidence. ;)

      For example, Baskerville, which looks like Publisher (http://cl.ly/Xaxr), even has some of the same demo content and post titles. I would also agree that Hoffman and Fukasawa have notable similarities between Pocket and Designer.

      I’m definitely not calling out Anders or trying to create any waves here. He seems to be a creative young lad and I’m sure he’ll do very well in the WordPress space. But because it has been brought to my attention, I thought I should probably acknowledge it.

      “Also, by not being dependent on my themes for income, I can keep building the themes I want to make rather than the ones I think people would pay for.”

      One note about this quote is that some folks, including myself, *are* entirely dependent on themes and their uniqueness for income. Design is my bread and butter, and it’s my job to make themes I want to make that also happen to be ones people will pay for. And because of this, you could see why myself and others might take note of notably similar themes being downloaded for free by potentially hundreds of thousands of people. ;)

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      • Lauren

        With respect, I think that the design elements are similar in the way that many designs follow a certain trend(s) at any given time. If he is influenced by your themes, which he readily admits, he is clearly also influenced by the many other clean designs that are circulating in the design world.
        No one has a monopoly on minimalism, cleanness, and clarity in theme design. And, as Bootstrap has proven, there are only so many ways to deviate from a certain style.
        I have followed your themes for some time, and now I am enjoying Anders’s themes as well. His are wonderful addition to the world of free WP Themes. While I do purchase themes, I would like the option to use beautiful themes for free as well.
        Just because his themes are being “downloaded for free by potentially hundreds of thousands of people,” this does not mean that professional theme developers are losing money. If anything, it moves people towards professional themes like yours when they realize that they can have premium options for a theme that they already really like.
        I did not see any direct correlation between the two designs. And, plenty of people use the same dummy content.
        I like both of your designs. Perhaps we can move away from the negative strain of this discussion.

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        • Mike McAlister

          Hi Lauren, thanks for your thoughts.

          “If he is influenced by your themes, which he readily admits”

          He actually said he wasn’t inspired by the themes, just the demo content.

          “No one has a monopoly on minimalism, cleanness, and clarity in theme design.”

          Definitely not, and I would never claim to have ownership over any particular style, just my own. Add in the GPL and it’s basically impossible to own anything, even your own style or creativity.

          “Perhaps we can move away from the negative strain of this discussion.”

          As I said in my comment above, which I composed with respect to Anders, the intention isn’t to cast stones, rather share my opinion on the matter, to which I believe I have the right to do. Open discussion is a beautiful and important thing, even if it’s a sticky subject to address. https://wptavern.com/why-comments-still-matter

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          • Lauren

            I totally agree with you on all points, especially about open discussion. It just seemed that your response was rather passive-aggressive, even though it is clear that you don’t mean to be “cast stones.” Putting up a comparison shot is, I think, quite suggestive. Also, your last paragraph implies that Anders’s desire to provide free themes is somehow potentially problematic for professional WordPress theme developers.
            So, while I completely share your sentiments about open discussion, I think that one should be forthright about nature of his comments. Even the tone and word choices (he is a “creative young lad”) count in such discussions; the latter comment seems condescending to me. In sum, your response does have the effect of “creating waves” or “casting stones” in that it calls attention to similarities in both designs and suggests (however subtly) that Anders’s designs are copies –to some extent– of yours.
            However, I say this with respect and with the understanding that I may be reading too much into your comments.

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          • Mike McAlister

            “your last paragraph implies that Anders’s desire to provide free themes is somehow potentially problematic for professional WordPress theme developers”

            This is not what I was implying. The implication was that if free themes are too closely designed after commercial counterparts, there can be a conflict there, right? Releasing unique, free themes is great and I encourage developers to do it. I, too, spend time creating and supporting free themes on the WordPress.org repository.

            “Even the tone and word choices (he is a “creative young lad”) count in such discussions; the latter comment seems condescending to me”

            I’m sorry it seems that way, but it’s not my intention. I think anyone familiar knows that my tone is generally encouraging and positive! It’s unfortunate that it was read that way. I’m interested in having a positive, constructive discussion, I have no other intentions.

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      • Anders

        Hi Mike,

        “For example, Baskerville, which looks like Publisher (http://cl.ly/Xaxr), even has some of the same demo content and post titles. I would also agree that Hoffman and Fukasawa have notable similarities between Pocket and Designer.”

        I did borrow demo content from your themes, and I admitted to as much earlier. Pretty much all of my themes have a demo post called “Drink more coffee, developers” (usually the first/the sticky post), going back to Lingonberry and Lasseter which I released late last summer. When I create a new theme, I usually export the demo content from the previous demo site and import it to the new one, so that post is included in Baskerville (and Rams, Garfunkel, Wilson, Hemingway, etc).

        As for the themes themselves, however, there’s no way for me to prove a negative. The only thing I can do to disagree with the similarities you point to, and maintain that I didn’t steal your themes – words you don’t use, but certainly imply.

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  4. Justin

    Anders’ process with theme dev is a lot like mine, which is not surprising considering he’s one of the few theme authors that I’m actually following.

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  5. Ryan Hellyer

    I feel Anders’ themes are really cranking up the quality in the official theme repository. For a long time , there hasn’t been much in the way of quality themes available there, but that is slowly changing now.

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  6. Dan Knauss

    Copying GPL code isn’t a crime, and some say it’s not even ethically problematic. But if nobody is claiming *unattributed* GPL code was lifted from Array’s themes, then nobody has anything to whine or complain about at all. Especially if they’re doing business focused on providing long term support for their themes. A business like that has nothing to worry about from students and hobbyists with no business model who may be here today, gone tomorrow.

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    • Jeff Chandler

      I think it’s worth noting that GPL code and “likeness/design” are two different things. From three years ago, Facebook sues theme developer over copyright infringement – http://wpcandy.com/reports/facebook-sues-theme-developer/

      They grey area is determining where inspiration for a design ends and copyright infringement begins.

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    • Mike McAlister

      While support is surely the cornerstone to a successful theme shop, users simply don’t line up to buy themes based solely on this. Potential buyers may not know how great your support is until after you’ve made the sale and served them. That’s where a uniquely designed product can set you apart and pique the interest of potential buyers.

      It’s becoming increasingly harder to see where the GPL stops and ownership of original design starts, and the community remains undecided. Even if it was technically legal to copy a design, why encourage users to do that instead of encouraging them to explore design and maybe learn something in the process? Simply doing it because the GPL allows it is lazy and destructive to the community.

      “A business like that has nothing to worry about from students and hobbyists with no business model”

      Merely submitting themes to the WordPress.org repository can be a solid business model in itself, and some treat it that way. Those themes are exposed to millions of people, and with the right themes you could amass a solid following to build a business off of. Look no further than Anders, who has served themes to ~200,000 users.

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      • Dan Knauss

        This is the real issue, isn’t it:

        It’s becoming increasingly harder to see where the GPL stops and ownership of original design starts, and the community remains undecided.

        I don’t believe the motives of every person who allegedly creates or uses “unoriginal” designs can be so easily judged as “lazy and destructive to the community,” whatever that means. This is really just about one person now. You seem to believe Anders crossed a line that made his work more derivative than original in some key respects. Since he presents himself as a WordPress designer/developer and has distributed his work for free and received a lot of praise, this probably feels like you’re being ripped off creatively and potentially financially. I get that, but nobody has actually shown that any “unoriginality” in this case involves derivative code and/or graphic design. What line was crossed?

        Maybe some type of common standard can be worked out through focused, civil dialogue about actual scenarios like this. Is there a real problem? If so, what is the solution? Developing broad consensus is probably the only path to a solution. Even if a legal answer is achievable, it can only be achieved by someone spending a lot of time and money on it. That doesn’t happen much in the open source world; if you have to go that far does it make sense to be using an open source license at all?

        My point about business models was not that 200k downloads of a free theme can’t be grown into a business — it can. Maybe Anders will do that, maybe he won’t. For now there is no business directly connected to supporting his themes and the people who use it. So he’s not competing with anyone who does that, unless they aren’t marketing themselves as valuable long-term support partners and instead communicate the idea that they are selling a (non-proprietary) theme product just like any other.

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  7. Jeff Chandler

    I really like Anders Norén style. I hope that he can meet a few members of the Automattic Theme Wrangler team to see what they have to say regarding his work. Automattic doesn’t seem like the kind of company to actively go out and hire specific people. With that said, I highly suggest Norén put in an application to Automattic once his studies have concluded. The worst thing that can happen is he doesn’t make it the first time around.

    By the way, I clicked the link to that Youtube performance of PSH in Charlie Wilson’s War. I lost a half hour of reading time from clicking on related videos :P

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