Time To Give The GPL A Rest

gpl I think in the past few weeks, I’ve fallen into a trap both here on the blog and on the forum. That trap being the discussion of the GPL license as it relates to WordPress. I was on the fence with regards to publishing Ryan’s guest post but I thought it offered some material which was worthy of discussion. However, I think that guest post will be the last post on the GPL you’ll see from me on the site as well as the forum at least for a little while.

I’ve never seen something debated so much before without a resolution resulting from the discussion. Each time I’ve seen the GPL debated in the WordPress community, I’ve never seen a clear and defined answer at the end. As I’ve read, if there were a court case or two which would swing one way or the other, this probably wouldn’t be such a hot button issue. But since we have no court cases, it seems to me that Joe Schmoe’s interpretation of what the GPL means is no different than John Doe’s interpretation. Until proven otherwise, perhaps both of them could be right when it comes to things not exclusively outlined within the license. But then, even things that are clearly outlined in the license are subject for debate.

Out of the debates and research I’ve read into, here is what I know thus far:

  • You can charge a dollar amount for GPL code.
  • If you want your theme to be in the repository, it needs to be GPL compatible.
  • If you want your plugin to be in the repository, it needs to be GPL compatible.
  • You will not be able to get a plugin or theme into the repository if it’s compliant with the GPL but costs money. WordPress.org supports the work because it’s compliant with the GPL but they do not and will not have a section on the repositories for commercial GPL products.

I’m not a plugin or theme developer, so I don’t have a keen interest on the intricacies of the license but I’m beginning to think about things from the bigger picture and I’m starting to realize that maybe not being GPL compliant whether you’re in the repository or not is a sure sign that you’re interested in the money aspect of things than anything else. I mean, WordPress is released under the GPL which provides legal permission to copy, charge, distribute and/or modify the software. Without these elements, I’m willing to bet the WordPress.org software would not be anywhere close to where it is today. Granted, some other factors have played into the role of the success of WordPress but those legal permissions enabled things to happen.

WordPress is used by millions of people. These people have the ability to modify and redistribute code which they may have learned or improved back to the community which benefits as a whole. With the large userbase, plugin and theme authors have an excellent opportunity to create something unique, offer it to an audience that the freedoms of WordPress have enabled and yet, some of these authors want to take away those freedoms by placing restrictions on the way in which you use their WordPress code. I’m beginning to think that these authors, even though they don’t explicitly state their position, are in this game for the money and couldn’t give a damn about the freedoms for which the foundation of WordPress was built upon, couldn’t give a damn about the WordPress community, and couldn’t give a damn about giving back. But, if you’re a commercial theme author who’s themes are not compliant with the GPL and impose restrictions and you consider giving back ‘releasing a free, GPL compliant theme‘ you really need to look in the mirror and question your ethics. Despite how genuine you might be with this so called method of giving back, there is no way of looking around it as a means of getting more customers to view your commercially restricted products.

At one time, I understood why some theme authors placed these restrictions on their themes as they were afraid of piracy, wanted more control over distribution and how the product was used. Theme piracy has been taking place ever since commercial WordPress themes have been available so why not just align with the license out of gate since your restrictions do nothing to solve the problem but in reality, punish your customers in terms of what they can and can’t do with the product. I’m sick of being slapped in the face by commercial theme authors who put dumb restrictions on themes, especially those ones where I have to pony up an extra $25.00 to remove the link or copyright in the footer. If your product kicks ass and I’m thoroughly pleased with the results, I’m more than willing to showcase the original author of the theme. You don’t have to request, ask, beg, or charge money for me to leave a credit link in the footer, the header, or the CSS file.

For plugin or theme authors which don’t like releasing their creations under the GPL, please read the following quote taken from this forum post:

my plugins and themes will inherit the GPL, and that somebody can certainly (and they do) take them, modify them, redistribute them, etc. If I were adamantly opposed to that happening, I wouldn’t be a WordPress developer. I wouldn’t develop open source software at all. The whole reason the GPL exists is to allow people to use, modify, and/or redistribute the software as they wish.

I’ve seen a few business models which are aligned with the GPL as WordPress sees it and they seem to be doing just fine. The notion that you can’t align with the GPL and have a successful business model is false. So, if your business model as it relates to WordPress is not aligned with the GPL, then that model sucks. How great it must be to learn about WordPress inside and out because the source code is freely available and for theme or plugin authors to tap into this free audience and then build transparent walls around users with their products which is a slap in the face to the WordPress community.

In the end, I say just go with the GPL and be done with it. Don’t look for loopholes, don’t argue what you can and can’t GPL, just be one with the WordPress community and embrace the spirit of open source. Anything else and you’re really just a roadblock.

Initial inspiration for this post can be found here.

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