Things have been pretty quiet in the WordPress community surrounding the GPL and it’s actually been rather nice as I’ve been able to focus on the cool things people are doing with and for WordPress. However, Kevin Eklund of ToMuse.com is at it again with yet another article discussing Matt Mullenweg, business models, boycotting etc. While his first post in this mini series which discussed the lack of donations to popular plugins based on downloads was well received, especially by me, his follow up article as well as his current one just stinks. His most recent article is entitled, WordPress Plugin Developers To Boycott WordPress.org? Instead of providing a summary of opinion based on his piece, there are a number of things I’d like to chime in on so get ready for some back and forth with block quotes.
After giving it some thought myself, I am supportive of a page being created for commercially driven plugin authors that acts the same as the commercial GPL themes page. I don’t see how it could hurt and it’s only fair. The argument against this idea that there are already commercial plugins in the WordPress repository only covers some of the plugins. Having a plugin in the WordPress respository only covers some ways of doing business. For example, the Shopp plugin and eventually, Gravity Forms. Both plugins operate on an API key basis just like Akismet. This key gives people access to upgrades and the support forum. Without beating around the bush, Shopp and Gravity Forms also get to control the initial distribution of the plugin. Having the plugin hosted on the plugin repository would ruin these models. There is also nothing wrong with the business models in use by Shopp or eventually, Gravity Forms.
I have no idea what Kevin means by this. The commercial business is WordPress.com with other services to boot. How can developers contributing plugins and themes to the WordPress.org community improve upon the commercial business of WordPress.com? It’s not like I can release an awesome plugin and end up seeing it get added to WordPress.com. From what I’ve seen, the desire isn’t to improve WordPress.com or any commercial interest of Automattic, it’s the desire to improve upon the WordPress.org software or to help out the community in general. If a plugin or theme author is developing/releasing work because they have a desire to improve Automattic or WordPress.com, they need to figure out sooner rather than later their desires will most likely never be fulfilled.
It’s not a scare tactic, it basically says in the summary that all theme PHP code is GPL while CSS and images can be, but are not required. What this means is that even if theme authors have put so called restrictive licenses on their themes, the PHP code in those themes is GPL whether they like it or not. So there is no convincing to switch to a GPL license, the PHP code in themes is GPL already.
While I believe that situation with over 200 themes being removed from the repository could have been handled much better, we discovered an added guideline to the repository which the more I think about, the more I lean towards it overstepping the boundaries. The guideline states that Themes for sites that support non-GPL (or compatible) themes or violate the WordPress community guidelines themes will not be approved. In a sense, the repository is dictating what you can and can not display on your site as part of the guidelines to be included on the repository. I know the guideline is part of WordPress.org which Matt is in charge of and he can add as well as stipulate the guidelines as he sees fit, but this guideline crosses the line. I have no idea if this particular guideline for the repository has been strictly enforced or not. The only viable reason I can see for this to be in place is to cover up a loophole where follow through traffic from the credit link of installed themes or from the repository page ends up in sales of non-GPL stuff.
Another thing that ticks me off is the use of Automattic in this entire discussion. Really, what the hell does Automattic have anything to do with the theme repository, the plugin repository, WordPress.org in general other than paying 3 core committers and providing some funding for the various resources that WordPress.org takes up. Bottom line, Automattic has nothing to do with this, it’s Matt Mullenweg. One other thing worth noting is that in an interview with Matt during a live recording, I asked him if a decision had ever been made regarding the WordPress project for the financial benefit of Automattic. He said no, and I believe him.
It could have been any number of things. Maybe he didn’t have the right way to go about it, maybe there were things going on at the time where he decided to hold off to see how things played out. I don’t know. But he did come through on his promise. As for the various commercial theme outlets that announced their switch to be fully compatible with the GPL license shortly before the official announcement of the commercial repository listing, I know many of the owners of those business consulted with Matt weeks to months before hand to discuss with him on a face to face level the merits of running a theme business compliant with the GPL. In fact, I spoke to at least two theme companies in advance that were going GPL during 2009 long before the commercial repo idea was put forth by Matt. I won’t deny saying though that I think Brian Gardner jumping in head first with the GPL model and not seeing him go under was a good sign to all of the other commercial theme vendors.
In my opinion, the battle Matt was fighting was trying to get commercial theme authors to recognize the fact that it’s wrong to place restrictions on their products which used an open platform that provided them an opportunity for their business to exist in the first place. Also, I fail to recognize the scare tactics Kevin mentions and of course, Automattic once again has nothing to do with this.
Piracy is fodder for an entirely separate blog post but as it stands, piracy was already ongoing on a number of different sites. No doubt about it, what Alex King points out in his post is completely legal to do under the GPL. I’m sure many commercial theme authors simply hated the fact that under this license, their work could be redistributed freely with no repercussion or compensation. In fact, I know this was a huge worry because I overheard in conversations with Matt between some theme developers about this subject and one of the things Matt says is that the good far outweigh the bad. Thankfully, commercial theme authors have found a way to adapt as to not service those who have received their work outside of the scope of their business.
In my mind, piracy certainly hurts, but in the case of commercial themes for WordPress, I see it as one more method of distribution of the theme. (by the way, since the PHP code is GPL, what the heck is their to pirate? CSS and Images? Can you really pirate something that is licensed under the GPL?) Sure, those folks are not coming to me to purchase the theme, but when they need help or something else attributed to my offerings, they will have to pay up sooner or later. Brian Gardner does an awesome job turning people who want support for a theme they received somewhere other than StudioPress into paying customers. This is the sign of a good businessman and I hope other theme authors can take note and do something similar.
I’m not sure what risk Kevin is talking about? I’m just as interested as Kevin on whether the sales for those commercial theme businesses actually increased after being listed on the commercial repository. My guess is yes but I don’t think it will be a drastic increase. One thing I’ll note though is that Brian Gardners StudioPress has boomed ever since going GPL and this was before the idea of a commercial themes repository. Brian Gardner can be quoted in various comments on WordPress centric sites saying that going GPL with this business is the best thing he’s ever done.
As for bootlegged copies, I’d say there will be an equal if not slightly increased amount out in the wild. But as I mentioned in my previous paragraph, there are many reasons not to be worried about these bootlegged copies. The value is within the people of the commercial theme business. For example, Adii and the WooThemes team know all of their products inside and out. Their support is rock solid and there are other things that can be valued when it comes to WooThemes. Bootlegged copies have none of that. You get the theme as is for free but without any of the attached services/support. I think people undervalue support and their is no place better to get support than from the source.
Matt Mullenweg has stated in a large number of interviews all over the web that he wants to see as many people as possible be commercially successful with WordPress. He is not against people profiting through WordPress. Kevin’s point about Matt not having appreciation for plugin developers and all of their great work is simply a bunch of crap. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kevin then goes on to state his case on why a commercial plugin directory needs to be created. As I’ve stated earlier in this post, I agree that having a plugin page just like the commercial theme page would not hurt and would only be fair in order to support those GPL business models that fall in line with not having the plugin be in the repository. Kevin also raises a good idea in that the donation link for plugin authors is probably not prominent enough and perhaps a big red button above the download button would be better and increase donations for plugin authors. However, just because you put up a big button doesn’t mean people will click it and send money.
Here is one thing I wanted to say though. It’s wrong to focus on donations as the only method of contributing back. As most smart people have realized, if you want money for your work, then put a price tag on it. Unfortunately, I brought this issue up on a post I wrote for WeblogToolsCollection.com and most of the discussion surrounded the topic of money which was not the point of the article. Here is a great example of what I wanted to get across thanks to the Codex.
The WordPress Community exists because everyone takes part in some way, by giving their time, energy, and sometimes even money, because they believe in the valuable services WordPress provides. We invite you to join the community in whatever way you feel is appropriate, and giving money to WordPress Theme and Plugin authors and developers who give so freely of their creativity and expertise by offering their services for free to all WordPress users is a good place to start.
If you use a WordPress Theme or Plugin and your WordPress blog depends upon it, contact the author and find out how you can give back and support their continued efforts. It takes a lot of time and energy to create and then support their Themes and Plugins, keeping them updated as WordPress changes and bugs are found. Many take donations or appreciate it when you blog about their Plugin or Theme. Others offer their Plugins and Themes as experiential portfolios – you play with it, you like it, you hire them. Most clearly indicate how they appreciate compensation for their hard work – give back to WordPress by giving back to them.
The more the WordPress Community supports the programmers, developers, testers, and challengers, the stronger and better WordPress becomes. Sometimes that means donating money, sometimes it means saying thank you.
Just remember, every contribution counts, no matter what it looks like. It takes every one of us to make WordPress better.
OMG! I CAN HAZ ENDING
So if you’re not tired by now, you have super human strength. I promise that I will not respond to blog posts like Kevin’s on WPTavern.com in the future. Not only did I want to correct some assumptions based on what I know from my discussions with Matt and other members of the WordPress community, I wanted to clear up some of the FUD that his post incites with Automattic being involved. I’ve spoken my mind and hopefully, made some sensible points.