Poll Shows Majority Consider Public Redistribution of Commercial Themes and Plugins to be Unethical

photo credit: Lukasz Kowalewski
photo credit: Lukasz Kowalewski

Four months ago, Richard Best, a lawyer who maintains a blog focused on legal matters related to WordPress and open source, published a poll asking for people’s views on the reselling of commercial themes and plugins. Best is working on a 10-chapter ebook called “A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL.” He created the poll to gain feedback on a contractual mechanism he is proposing to discourage the public redistribution of commercial themes and plugins.

He describes the mechanism as follows:

The proposed term would say that, if a customer decides to make your commercial theme or plugin available on a website for download by others, you may exercise a right to deactivate their access keys (if that’s how you’ve set things up) and to terminate their access to support and updates.

Best believes that this contractual mechanism is not contrary to the GPL, because it doesn’t stop them from distributing the theme or plugin. It does, however, nullify the customer’s commercial support arrangements.

That poll closed today and the results are in: Of the 121 people surveyed, 76 believe the practice of redistributing a commercial plugin or theme, for free or for profit, is unethical. An additional 10 surveyed said that they don’t know whether it’s unethical but don’t like it.

Based on the results, Best concluded that there is widespread support for the inclusion of the term he outlined which would terminate a customer’s support and access to updates if they were found to be publicly redistributing the product:

101 out of 121 – supported the inclusion of such a clause, as they selected this option:

Yes, I would support that as I understand the business is trying to protect its investment and it poses no threat to my use of the themes or plugins.

Although the number of people surveyed wasn’t particularly large, more than half of them were theme and plugin business owners. In the questions specifically targeted toward them, 47 of the 67 said they like the idea of the proposed term but 26 of the 67 said they would be concerned that the WordPress community might openly criticize them for not complying with the ‘spirit’ of the GPL.

Best believes that WordPress business owners should be able to employ contractual mechanisms that don’t violate the GPL in order to protect their interests.

“I think it’s undeniable that the development of robust commercial themes and plugins supports rather than detracts from the growth of the WordPress ecosystem,” he said. “Just look at Automattic’s acquisition of WooCommerce as an example or the power that Gravity Forms brings to WordPress as another.

“Businesses that depend on and support the WordPress ecosystem should be able to protect their legitimate commercial interests without fear of verbal attack from those who cling to misconceptions of what the GPL does or doesn’t allow.”

Best’s summary of the poll results includes a proposed clause that terminates a customer’s support and access for engaging in public redistribution. WordPress business owners are free to use/tweak the clause as necessary, but Best includes a disclaimer that he is not providing legal advice to anyone in suggesting this kind of clause.

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  1. Seems like common sense to me. If I were a commercial theme developer and noticed a customer redistributing the theme, I’d cancel their membership/account so they don’t receive support or updates. As long as the clause doesn’t interfere with the rights of the GPL, which this doesn’t, I don’t see any problem with it.


    1. What I decide to do with the stuff I spend my money on is none of your business. It’s not ethical to poke your greedy nose around where it doesn’t belong.

      WordPress is free, people generally associate everything WordPress related to being free. If I decide to purchase something and my brother wants it, he can have it. If you tell me otherwise, goto hell…

      p.s. – …it wouldn’t be a top CMS or have anywhere near the success it has today if it wasn’t free and open-source


  2. If you’re going to use GPL, use GPL. If you don’t want to use GPL, don’t use GPL.

    But this bastardized middle ground is the worst. “I’ll license my code under terms that explicitly allow redistribution, but I’ll take punitive action against you if you engage in that explicitly allowed activity.”

    The WordPress community should have nothing to do with those who engage in such practices. They are nothing more than a Free Software Philosophy bait-and-switch, and end users are the ones who suffer.


    1. Indeed!

      Why not try reading the GPL? There are several passages that show how misconceived Best’s notion is, but let’s just quote these two:

      if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must pass on to the recipients the same freedoms that you received.

      When you convey a covered work, you waive any legal power to forbid circumvention of technological measures to the extent such circumvention is effected by exercising rights under this License with respect to the covered work, and you disclaim any intention to limit operation or modification of the work as a means of enforcing, against the work’s users, your or third parties’ legal rights to forbid circumvention of technological measures.


    2. My thoughts exactly. Gravity Forms and many of its extensions are in a public GitHub repo. Many other commercial plugins also publish their code in a public repo and they all seem to be doing quite well.


      1. But recent enough to be of use to someone who didn’t want to pay for a license fee. And still, there are many commercial plugins and themes developed using GitHub in a public repo. One of my own is as well.


      2. Not exactly. AffiliateWP publishes its latest code on Github. Justin Tadlock publishes his theme framework for free.

        The thing here is the business model and the reputation of the authors that can’t be replaced.


    3. But is support covered by the GPL? I recognize the spirit, but licensing under the GPL doesn’t obligate you to fix bugs or solve problems your customers might have, does it? Presumably support like that is contracted (or could be contracted) under separate terms without violating the GPL for the code itself, and those terms could revoke that support in the case of commercial redistribution?

      Not trying to start an argument, and I’m certainly not a lawyer, but I’m curious how far the copyleft tentacles can reach.


    4. People who decided to build their business on GPL only due to a large community will try to find ways to get out of playing by the rules from inside the system.
      Yes you do not have to provide support, but we see the effort to attach a stigma socially and practically to exercising freedom 4.

      The sense of entitlement some people have about this issue is really baffling

      See the stigmatization of freedom 4. It is now “entitlement”. Of course it did not apply to “them” when they leveraged the work of thousands of other people to ship their software.

      Most companies have that clause to boot out abusive customers that misuse a product or service.

      Here is another stigma. People who exercise freedom 4 are abusive. They are bad people.

      The value of this work is diluted when others redistribute these products for free and resell these products, so its not a healthy ecosystem to allow this to happen.

      So all we have to do to turn freedom 4 into abusive behavior is to turn the plugin into a premium version.

      GPL says you can do whatever you want with my code. It doesn’t say you get my labor, my trademarks, my copyrighted support docs, or access to my download server without my permission

      Access to your server without your permission is called hacking. your manuals are yours. Your trademarks are there to differentiate you from other people and to ensure people don’t confuse vendors.
      “xyz is the trademark of so and so and we are not in anyway affiliated with zyz” is the usual way to do that. It does not mean that each person has to rename WordPress in order to distribute it. Forking is different. If you were to fork WordPress and then publish it just as “WordPress” it would be confusing to users and you can’t do that. But to merely redistribute WordPress as is, would not require you to rename it. Otherwise freedom 4 would be meaningless.
      Here is a copy of “The popular blogging software that runs 20% of internet” does not work. As long as the redistributor is trying to impersonate you and making strong efforts to make it clear that they are in fact not you, then your trademark is not violated. Software with a different name is forking. It is not redistribution.

      I think most shops have a policy of discontinuing service and a refund policy in place. The point of this exercise is to show us how we can stigmatize the people who exercise freedom 4 and to drum up community support for it.


  3. I’m divided over it. I agree that if it is being sold then it should be bought from the author, but as a plugin developer, it’s really handy to be able to find a free download of a premium theme for when you get those BS 1-star reviews “Your plugin doesn’t work with such-and-such obscure theme from Envato waaahh” and I don’t have to waste $100 for the grand total of a few minutes testing to confirm that the theme/plugin combination is fine and it is in fact one of the infinite other configuration possibilities that is the problem.


  4. Just look at Automattic’s acquisition of WooCommerce as an example or the power that Gravity Forms brings to WordPress as another.

    He named two of the most successful WordPress plugin and theme companies, plugins and themes you can most commonly find redistributed for free elsewhere. If redistribution is such a big issue how is it possible they’re doing so well?


  5. I don’t know if this violates the GPL or not, but it is strange that so many people developing free software would try to exercise proprietary-like control over it.


  6. I find it interesting that a lawyer would say something like this, considering that there may be other legal implications here. There could be anything from a legal notification period (ie, you must advise in writing before termination) to financial obligations.

    The potential issue here is that terminating a commercial agreement (where the theme has been paid for) may create a requirement for a refund. In nullifying a contract, unless otherwise stipulated, the parties must be returned to their “pre-contract” condition.

    You may also run into state, national, and even international issues in regards to consumer protection laws, commercial contract law, and so on.

    The sentiment is nice. The legal reality doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as simple as this lawyer makes it out to be.


  7. Separate comment here: The “poll” here is also somewhat misleading, as it’s a self-selecting group who responded, and they may not be a representative sample of the wordpress community as a whole, but more likely a smaller subset of people who follow this guys blog and have an interest in protecting their commercial works. Using this sort of a poll as anything other than bird cage liners is (IMHO) misleading.


  8. Here we go again….

    1) Jeff, GPL says I can distribute FREELY anything thats GPL. If Theme/Plugin authors have a problem with that, stop developing WordPress Themes/Plugins.

    2) Chip…bastardized middle ground…I like those those three words

    3) The people who answered this poll…same like I would post a poll on WPTavern, WPChat, and others which CMS is better, WordPress or Drupal?

    4) Nowhere in the GPL says you have to provide support. So the threat of losing support is toothless. I can go to Themeforest, get a weather widget with a single license, not get a dev license, download it, and use it on 20 sites. That is what GPL says I can do.

    5) Lawyer is wrong.
    6) Jeff…again…If I bought a theme/plugin from you and you cancelled my account, I’d sue you. Most places will give you 6-12 months of updates. If I buy a theme/plugin from you that says that and you cancelled. You broke YOUR end of the agreement.


    1. 6) Jeff…again…If I bought a theme/plugin from you and you cancelled my account, I’d sue you. Most places will give you 6-12 months of updates. If I buy a theme/plugin from you that says that and you cancelled. You broke YOUR end of the agreement.

      Not if the terms and conditions of the original purchase included a clause that the seller could take such action, which is the whole point of this article.


      1. Not every prose results in a binding legal agreement. Even if you do succeed in writing something legal enough that do not contradict with the GPL and is emphasized enough to not fall under false advertisement, you still need to be careful as unfair termination of contract can cause you being sued for damages, therefor in practice you will not be able to be to liberally apply such a clause, and you will have to spend time to investigating and making sure that you are terminating the contract with the right person beyond any doubt, something that is very unlikely you will succeed to do without spending major amount of money.


  9. There’s many people who work out customization/modification solutions for commercial plugins and themes and then write tutorials to show other users how its done. Many of these tutorials include affiliate links to try and earn something back for the work they have put into the tutorial.

    The value of this work is diluted when others redistribute these products for free and resell these products, so its not a healthy ecosystem to allow this to happen.


  10. Well from how that reads it is how all premium themes and plugins should work, when you buy a license you are not actually buying the code you are buying the support and regular updates that you will eventually need.

    So if someone is taking that theme/plugin and publicly selling it or giving it away then yes cut off their access to that source of support and updates. It just makes sense and is what I have always figured was done since I always understood I was not buying a GPL product but the expertise that was behind it.

    John Overall


  11. just to join the choir, GPL is explicitly designed to enable redistribution. People that use GPL as a license knowingly allow and encourage redistribution of the software.

    The only unethical thing here is falsely claiming that wordpress themes and plugins can only be licensed under GPL while it is not legally true, and using strong hand tactics to coerce people that don’t want to license under GPL to do so.


  12. You guys think a plugin or theme author should continue to provide updates, documentation, and support to a direct competitor that simply “forked” your project? Puh-lease.

    Selling GPL software is really selling support, documentation, and convenient updates/downloads. There’s no way I continue to provide those things to a direct competitor – I’ve already given them the code!

    This language is no good though, and just generates the complaints you see here. How about the standard boilerplate: “X Company has the right to terminate Users account for any reason without warning or refund”.

    Most companies have that clause to boot out abusive customers that misuse a product or service.

    GPL says you can do whatever you want with my code. It doesn’t say you get my labor, my trademarks, my copyrighted support docs, or access to my download server without my permission. Someone directly competing with me in the marketplace loses that permission.

    I don’t see how that could possibly be controversial.


    1. Every business should consult a lawyer (except from that specific one I guess) before making licensing and contractual decisions to figure out their implication. If you haven’t done so and just based your decision based on the “word on the street” then it is not nice to say so, but it is your fault.

      It is explicitly stated in the GPL that you are not allowed to restrict distribution in any way and withholding support from the distributor will do exactly that, which means that your themes are not legally GPL compliant. Do you really want to say in court “I advertised my theme as GPL but I didn’t mean it”?

      Support do not have to be GPLed but you can not prevent anyone else from giving support to your themes and there is nothing to stop them to ask for support in you forums and give the answers to others as if they are their own as there is very limited copyright protection to facts.

      (you can boot users from support forums, but how do you prevent them from coming back under different name?)


      1. The GPL has nothing to say about product support policy. It just doesn’t.

        The sense of entitlement some people have about this issue is really baffling. I think people hear the GPL gives these broad freedoms and they think that means the creators of GPL software have to support and congratulate each and every iteration of that freedom.

        You can use a piece of GPL software in a variety of ways that are morally reprehensible but consistent with the license. You can use GPL software to promote hate speech, or host immoral images/videos, or advertise illegal services. That doesn’t violate the license, but if you use my software in that way you should expect your business relationship with me to be terminated.

        I get to determine the terms under which you receive my products and services. Sometimes that means the broad freedoms of the GPL-licensed software I distribute, sometimes it means the narrower terms of my support policy.


      2. Look who is talking about entitlement, just because you work hard to write code do not entitle you to make a profit of it.

        As what you want is a license which is GPL with additional conditions is basically not a GPL anymore. – http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#ModifyGPL and you should not call it that. Now you are trying to split hairs and pretend to be a lawyer by saying “but it is not written in the license but at some other place”. I am not a lawyer but even if it is somehow compatible to GPL by the letter it sounds like a false advertisement. If you advertise your themes to be GPL compliant then the layman can assume it is follows all GPL principal especially that there is no “punishment” for distributing the code.
        Oh, actually section 7 of the GPLv3 explicitly lists the possible additional conditions and denying support is not one of them.

        > I get to determine the terms under which you receive my products

        Yes and you, out of your own free will, have decided to use GPL if you don’t like its implications just don’t use it. If you do use it then you are legally obliged to follow it by the letter.

        Personally I hate GPL as it is an abomination constructed by lawyers which only lawyers can truly understand. It actually restricts the freedoms developers have, but if you have decided to play that game you have to play by its rules and not invent your own, at least not without a very good lawyer that will be committed to represent you in court against the full might of the FSF if you will get sued. In general any lawyery advice you get from a lawyer which you don’t pay for, is not worth the cost of the bandwidth you used to read it.


      3. @Bradley Kirby,

        The GPL has nothing to say about product support policy. It just doesn’t.

        Try actually reading it. It really does.

        What you seem to be saying is that developers can’t make money if they follow the GPL. To which there are two legitimate responses:

        1. Some developers clearly have; and
        2. If you don’t feel that you will be one of them, then don’t use the GPL.

        Even though Best’s interpretation of the GPL is clearly wrong, he will have done something worthwhile if this discussion actually makes developers realize what they are getting into when they choose a particular license.

        Part of running a business involves identifying what risks you are taking on and then working out how to address them. Starting a business without first consulting a (competent) lawyer is just foolhardy.


      4. You provide a license key which is also the key to the support forum ~ it licenses x sites, and y forum members only.


  13. Everything around WordPress should be GPL, this is FREE and OPEN.
    NO CODE should be for SALE.

    Where is people going to make money?

    Strong opinion?
    YES, I know, but defines a very clear line.


    1. While I do agree that the best business model for most WordPress products is in providing support, I always feel uneasy when other’s ideas of ‘free’ restrict my freedom to do what I wish with my code.

      Seems a little backwards.

      Sure, I’m ‘free’ to not license my code as GPL, but then the WordPress foundation will forbid me from speaking at any WordCamps…

      Feel the Freedom!


      1. I feel the freedom!
        I don’t want to push hard on anyone or establish a law or a fixed rule about what you can or cannot do. The code is yours and you can do whatever you want with it.
        My point is: It is better for the whole community when the code is free and open, we all benefit. You can name many free and open pieces code: php, wordpress, jquery, bootstrap, etc, etc…
        My personal position is: I don’t buy code! I am happy to buy support! I am very happy to donate!


  14. I find it very odd that people would license something in a way which allows people to give it away for free, then complain that it is indeed given away for free.


    1. Honest question: Do you feel the same about free speech? Isn’t it possible to both support the policy of free speech while decrying certain instances of people using that speech (racism, hatred, encouraging violence, etc.)?

      I think the same applies to the GPL. Just because the GPL says you’re allows you to perform an action, it doesn’t mean that action is automatically immune from criticism.

      I think it’s entirely possible to support the ideas of free software: the freedom to view and modify and share software with your friends and neighbors, AND also to think poorly of the people who run shady businesses reselling GPL software.


      1. free speech? does the goverment prevents you from using non-GPL license? How is it relevant at all?

        It is Matt’s problem that he want the world full of GPL software. This got nothing to do with core wordpress values of accessible publishing to all. No one is limiting your choice of selecting other license.

        The idea behind GPL is that software developers should not get paid for developing software. If you buy into this ideal then why do you complain about not being able to make a profit from selling themes?


      2. Well said. I sell plugins and some of mine are now being sold on other sites for a fraction of what I sell them for on my site. I assume they have a license with me and are receiving automatic updates and then redistributing it to whoever is buying on their site. I don’t like it, but those are the rules I play by and I’m okay with that.

        That said, I’ve never been comfortable doing that to someone else. While it may be entirely within my rights as a player in the game, I know what it takes to build a solid piece of WP software and don’t want to hurt the original creator’s ability to earn money. If they’re willing to work with me to improve, enhance, etc. then I will always take that option before forking their code into my own project. It just seems like basic common courtesy to me.


  15. Ethical or not, I look at as a way to reward the people doing good work so they can continue to make improvements and support their product. Expecting so much for free is why many of the plugins in the repo are “dead.”


  16. This is good news… But to a lot of you guys it’s okay for the government to redistribute other people’s wealth, which, if you’d wise up and look at things without your feels, is the same as redistributing their property and hard work.

    So, for all of you people who believe it’s okay to redistribute wealth, you should not only be in favor of the redistribution of wp themes and plugins, you should also be giving away a large portion of your work to people who can’t and/or don’t want to build or pay for these items.

    Don’t be a hypocrite. Fair is fair.


    1. @Lord Foggybottom,

      On the basis of your “logic,” if I like the NFL, and cheer on players who make big hits, I should be cheering on players in the MLB to play the same way.

      Of course, you’re talking nonsense. Just as the players of each sport have chosen to play a different sport with different rules, so developers can choose which license to adopt and so be governed by different rules.


      1. That’s the beautiful thing about freedom: we’re allowed to choose. Unfortunately, you completely missed my point and your analogy has nothing to do with what I said.

        If you are in favor of forcing me to give away my stuff, you have to be in favor of giving away your stuff. THAT’S my point.


      2. No one is forcing anyone to give away anything. The decision to license a work under a given license is the developer’s. If the developer chooses to license his work under GPL, then he chooses to allow those to whom his work is distributed to redistribute that work. No one has forced the developer to do so.

        The last I checked, I haven’t licensed or distributed my wealth under the terms of the GPL. I would hazard a guess that not a single person on the planet has done so, either. So your original analogy was completely irrelevant.


  17. I think, ultimately, it should be up to the users to decide who they would want to proceed. I’ve used Elegant Themes for a long time now and based on their terms of service, I am fully able to use their themes on client sites. I would also be fully able to repackage those same themes and provide them to the general public at large (which I have seen done many times). But what does that actually accomplish? any user worth their salt is going to understand (or should have it beat into them) that using premium themes from an alternate source is just setting yourself up for heartbreak.


  18. Best’s suggestion is just going to turn people against anyone that follows it and if the theme is popular enough someone is going to buy it with no intent of ever using it just so they can redistribute it without support.

    As a matter of fact you could make a lot of money by starting a paid membership theme club and then create a new account every month to buy the newest versions of the most popular themes. Your account would get shut down fast, but in the mean time you would have the newest files.

    If Theme Developers do anything like this, it is going to be prohibition all over again.


    1. @Otto,

      Yes for the FSF people we should all work for auttomatic or WP-engine or facebook or google and be GPL complaint by hiding our code and never sharing it in the first place.

      Don’t you find it ridiculous that while the biggest PHP user in the world has enormous profits (I meant facebook, but might apply to auttomatic as well) zend, the inventor of PHP was sold few months ago for a sum which is about the value of the money which was invested into it? The bleak world GPL wants to lead us into is were you can only develop software as part of some corp.

      As GPL encourages monitization via support it basically forces developers to write poor undocumented code, because if your code “just works” who will pay for support?

      (sorry for the rant that might be misdirected here, but the bazar and cathedral is over hyped and actually proven wrong otherwise apple and microsoft would have been dead long ago)


    2. Interesting read, except for one thing. It is arguing the case for 95%, and not the 5% which most software developers here belong to.

      Even so, it makes sense overall…

      “If you stay closed you will usually get the worst of all worlds ~ your secrets will still get exposed, you won’t get free development help, and you won’t have wasted your stupider competition’s time on cloning. Most importantly, you miss an avenue to widespread early adoption. A large and influential market (the people who manage the servers that run effectively all of the Internet and a plurality of all business data centers) will correctly write your company off as clueless and defensive because you didn’t realize these things. Then they’ll buy their [software] from someone who did.”


    3. You cant take that essay “Manufacturing Delusion” seriously, there is no data to back anything up and the premisses and conclusions are very shaky. Heck Cathedral and Bazaar is one thing I dont understand the importance of. In practice both closed and open source projects are more like the “cathedral”.


    4. Excellent read. In my experience the only issue I have with this is that basing revenues entirely on support can lead to a lesser quality product. If you give your product away for free and ask customers to pay for support then you have less incentive to do a great job of building an intuitive, stable product.

      Competition helps mitigate that, but if everyone in the industry is also relying on support for revenue it leads to slower innovation, mature products that are no longer maintained because the creators can’t afford to invest the time/effort to improve them, or (if you’re lucky) a strong group of contributors who don’t need to earn a living from the project.

      I’ve recently acquired a project from someone that had moved very slowly due to their low-revenue support only model. I am now working on moving into a subscription model (as the author mentioned) that should hopefully provide incentive to produce an excellent product on the front end and sufficient support and enhancements after the customer has gained access. We’ll see how it goes. :)

      Thanks for sharing!


  19. Here is a real sick puppy. Woogang.com
    this is their terms and conditions

    “We do not want leechers here and if we found anyone distributing these scripts after downloading from us, their membership will be terminated and user will be banned forever.

    If you have any questions related to this please contact us by email: admin@woogang.com

    go figure..!


    1. Woogang is saying you can’t do what THEY are doing.


    2. We are just providing you files. Please remember that if you want technical support for these files, you can purchase it separately from original developer of these scripts. This will help them financially for further development as well.

      Funny how WooGang says they don’t like leechers yet THEY are leechers themselves.


    3. Woogang is saying:

      WooGang Club is providing only links for various themes, plugins & scripts which are licensed under GPL (GNU General Public License)

      GPL is saying:

      Any licensee who adheres to the terms and conditions is given permission to modify the work, as well as to copy and redistribute the work or any derivative version

      So, why is WooGang choosing GPL ?


  20. WooGang is being very generous here:.

    WooGang Club is providing only links for various themes, plugins & scripts which are licensed under GPL (GNU General Public License) and hence you can use them on as many websites you want and use it the way you want- modified or non-modified.

    This one is unbelievable:

    4) Why your terms and conditions are so strict?

    We never intended to be strict, but many are abusing our system to take undue advantage which does not fall into fair usage policy of woogang and hence we had to change our policies so that they are more clear to everyone and more simple but at the same time more strict.

    WooGang is accusing others of “abusing” their system.


    1. Couldn’t I just go to the original source for those plugins/themes and not pay WooGang?

      How do I know WooGang didn’t insert any “bad” code on the plugins from their site.


      1. Exactly. Also, It makes you wonder if they are phoning home to track their users. I don’t know if they are doing that, although it would be easy to check one of their copies.

        if we found anyone distributing these scripts after downloading from us, their membership will be terminated and user will be banned forever

        . It just makes me wonder what they mean by

        if we found anyone

        . Are they spying on their users?


  21. Bottom line is GPL allows for anybody to redistribute the theme/plugin in any manner they choose, free or pay. Support on the other hand is not covered at all in the GPL. So, paid support is appropriate. However, if someone exercises their GPL rights and redistributes a GPL product which they also paid for the support and updates say for a year, and then the developer terminates their support because of someone exercising their GPL rights, that developer would be required to issue a full refund. The other option would be they would get a chargeback which will cost more than the initial refund would have and if they get enough chargebacks, jeopardize their merchant account, or even get sued.

    It is pretty simple. If you are going to develop for the WordPress eco system, those are your only options.

    While this has been an interesting discussion, the point of denying GPL rights is moot…


    1. If you buy a theme from Jeff Chandler…then give it away/resell it. I would think he would only provide YOU with support to ONE site (yours).


      1. Most authors provide specify support to only one site per license, which is reasonable. My point is, to cutoff support/updates for the period of time PAID for will cause problems for the authors. Updates that are PAID for, being the keyword here…


  22. The GPL FAQ addresses the issues being discussed here, actually.
    1. If I use GPL, I can’t stop someone from reselling my code:

    2. If I use the GPL, that does NOT require me to support anything I release under it:

    So, unless the support agreement promises support regardless of behavior, a developer can cancel support of someone who is reselling the developer’s work against the developer’s wishes. Though, personally, I’d explicitly state that as part of the support contract.


    1. I the not supporting your product, you could put FAQs or even answer questions on your theme/plugin support section. That way it becomes an FAQ.

      There has been times where I have a theme and it doesn’t agree with a plugin I have. I find out which of my many plugins is having the issue, then I message the plugin and theme author explaining what happened. That would be a support I think should be answered by both.


      1. Miroslav – You absolutely could do that, if you wanted to do that, but nothing in the GPL *requires* you to do that. It’s good business, but not a requirement of the license.

        So, again, I’d spend time on a carefully worded support agreement, if anything. Honestly, I think in actual practice, few people will steal and resell the work/code, in spite of what people are afraid they’ll do.


      2. “So, again, I’d spend time on a carefully worded support agreement, if anything.”

        IANAL, but I find it hard to believe that a clause could be legally binding if it construes as “abusive” behavior by one party that which the other party has explicitly licensed to be done.

        “Honestly, I think in actual practice, few people will steal and resell the work/code, in spite of what people are afraid they’ll do.”

        Redistributing a work licensed under GPL, which explicitly allows for redistribution of the original work and distribution of derivative works, is not stealing.

        If you do not want your copyrighted work to be redistributed, then do not distribute it under a license that explicitly authorizes redistribution. If the GPL is not a suitable license for you, distribute your work under a different license. But it is immoral to distribute your work under GPL, and then to attempt to coerce those to whom you have distributed your work against engaging in the activities explicitly authorized by GPL.


      3. Sorry, @ChipBennett, I can’t seem to reply directly to your reply to my comment. I’m not a lawyer either, but I’ve seen some pretty surprising things in contracts that actual lawyers have allegedly approved. Of course, the precise wording matters a great deal and, until it’s tested in front of a judge in an actual case, anything in a contract is up for interpretation. In fact, from my admittedly limited legal experience, almost all of what’s being debated is open to interpretation until it’s tested with an actual court case.

        As regards to your second point, fair enough. The redistribution under the GPL is clearly allowed. However, I was referring to the theft of the time and effort which, theoretically, is what one has paid for, not the source code.
        What’s moral or immoral about any of it is, actually, irrelevant. We’re talking about the law, not morality. Anyone who’s dealt with contracts and licensing agreements, which I have in my day job, knows that law and morality aren’t directly related. There are many things which I consider to be immoral that are perfectly legal and vice versa.
        Legally, it is well within the copyright holder’s rights, even under the GPL, to deny their customers support for violating an agreement not to resell work they purchased, even if said customers have the legal right under the GPL to freely redistribute the code purchased. The law doesn’t have to make sense to a moral philosopher, just to lawyers, which is why they get paid. You don’t have to like it or agree with it, but that doesn’t change anything.


      4. “The redistribution under the GPL is clearly allowed. However, I was referring to *the theft of the time and effort* which, theoretically, is what one has paid for, not the source code.”

        What theft of “time and effort” has taken place? Since we are discussing the legal context, what actual loss of time and effort can the copyright holder prove in court?

        “Legally, it is well within the copyright holder’s rights, even under the GPL,* to deny their customers support for violating an agreement not to resell work they purchased*, even if said customers have the legal right under the GPL to freely redistribute the code purchased.”

        Here’s where I think there are legitimate grounds for the customer to claim breach of contract: the copyright holder sold the customer a copyrighted work, licensed under the terms of the GPL, but then, in the same contract, breached the terms of that license, by threatening to withhold services (i.e. updates,user support) if the customer exercised actions authorized under the terms of that license.

        If that threat is made good, and the copyright holder terminates the agreed-upon services without refund, then the contract has been breached, and the customer can prove a material loss.

        Perhaps a copyright holder who wishes to go this route should sell the code separately from the services: i.e. one transaction for the code, and a separate transaction for the support services. Even then, if I were the customer, I would challenge the severance-for-abuse clause as unenforceable, since the activity that the copyright holder claims to be “abusive” is the very same activity that the copyright holder explicitly licenses the customer to perform. Such a clause is clearly offered in bad faith. Courts will do as they wish, of course; but I have a hard time seeing any court that would decide otherwise.

        (But then, I believe that a sane court would hold that Themes and Plugins, absent actual, incorporated code from core WordPress, are not derivative works. So I’m already in the minority with respect to opinions about how courts would rule.)


      5. @Chip,

        I think the ruling had been done in oracle vs google. Right now API is not copyrightable therefor the claim that usage of wordpress API make your code GPL has no legal grounds (IMO it never had otherwise everything on linux would have been GPL).


      6. Damn this reply function!
        @ChipBennett, I apologize. I was incorrect about charging. From Section 4 of GPLv3 “You may charge any price or no price for each copy that you convey, and you may offer support or warranty protection for a fee.”
        So, yes, I agree it would be legally very difficult to restrict someone from reselling a GPL-licensed work. I suspect there is a way, but until this is all tested in a court, we will not really know for sure.

        In fact, I was hoping the whole thing would go to court back when Chris Pearson challenged the idea that plugins and themes are derivative works under the GPL. Until that’s tested in a court of law, it’s all very much debatable, no matter what anyone’s feelings are on the subject.

        Also, as a side note, thanks for the debate and discussion. When I’m off of the next couple days before the Christmas holiday, I’m going to make a point of reading the GPL very closely. There may be some other things I’ve missed that would be good to know! Celebrate the miracle; internet debate opened a mind! Thank you!


      7. @Chip Bennett,

        But then, I believe that a sane court would hold that Themes and Plugins, absent actual, incorporated code from core WordPress, are not derivative works. So I’m already in the minority with respect to opinions about how courts would rule.

        You can add me to your minority! In fact, I think we’re in the minority only among the Tavern/WordPress community. I think the overwhelming majority of lawyers would agree with everything you’ve said here.


  23. @Chip Bennett ~ I don’t think I would go so far as to class that kind of behavior as “immoral”, but it is certainly dumb. But there again, maybe there are some very dumb software authors out there, who don’t read the license under which they grant use of their software, and just think they can make it up as they go along ~ a la Chris Pearson ~ I really don’t know. One thing I do know is; this topic seems to be generating more noise than signal, which I find strange as the GPL license has been drafted at no small expense by legal professionals, to be unambiguous. What’s there to discuss? If your software isn’t GPL, who cares what you read, but if it is, better read that license until you are best friends.


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