The Ethics of WordPress Themes at a Premium

Are WordPress Themes open source? Is it right to release them on a pay-to-download basis?

… what these premium theme providers are doing … we would call that “Evil”Chase Sagum

… themes link and use lots of internal WordPress functions, which make them linked under the GPL and subject to being a GPL-compatible license. If a theme (or a plugin) used no internal WP functions or APIs, then it could probably be considered independent, but that would be really really hard for a theme. Matt Mullenweg

I haven’t really talked about it a lot but I’ve been trying to do pay-for-use themes differently. Namely, giving away what might normally be considered a “Premium” theme—my WordPress theme framework Thematic—and charging for upgrades in the form of Child Themes and custom design. I think it’s a little more fair to the WordPress community and the debatable concerns around the ethics of paid WordPress themes.

But there’s still more questions. There’s always questions, isn’t there?

Is there a principled difference between on the one hand, Jon hiring Ian to build a blog – Ian using his own Thematic theme as a base, and makes a custom blog a “child theme” with a distribution of 1; on the other hand, Ian makes 10 types of “child themes” – puts them on ThemeShaper – for a small price.Jon Soroko

Good question, I don’t really know. As far as I understand the GPL license, any GPL work can be redistributed. So, um, maybe? Does that make me “evil”?

More important, I think, is what Jon is trying to get at in his question. “The general, overarching concerns,” as he says in his original comment, around open source, the GPL and pay-for-use WordPress themes. So far, there’s been no definitive answer that I know of. Excepting the oft-linked comment above from the WordPress support forums.

What do I think? I can’t answer that question either. ThemeShaper is supported by advertising from premium theme designers and, of course, I release commercial Child Themes (I call them Themelets) for my GPL WordPress Theme Framework, Thematic, at a premium. I even predicted the end of “Premium” WordPress themes. My opinion, as they say, is biased.

But! I can start a discussion. :)

So what do you think? Are WordPress themes open source? Do they inherit the GPL? Does the WordPress community want “premium” themes to exist? Should they?

Update: You must read the comments on this post. There is some really interesting discussion happening. Notable commentators include WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and several designers involved in releasing commercial WordPress themes.

The Discussion Elsewhere

155 thoughts on “The Ethics of WordPress Themes at a Premium

  1. Whilst I agree with the general consensus that professionally coded premium themes bring ‘value’ (however subjective a term that may be) to the WordPress platform, I still think there needs to be more work done to elevate non-premium yet equally as professional themes to a higher level. The problem is largely one of accessibility. Free WordPress themes are in abundance. Free professional grade WordPress themes are of course few in numbers and disparate by location.

    It takes the likes of mashup sites such as mashable, smashing magazine etc to create round up posts listing the best of the crop to centralise the free themes worthy of showcasing. There is clearly a demand for a permanent official WordPress theme gallery.

    Unlike @ThatGirlAgain, I disagree that it would take a team of several people to maintain the gallery. If it was the case of accepting all free WordPress themes in the pick, then yes it probably would. However if you reduced it to high quality themes only (and it doesn’t take too much forensic work to separate the chaff from the wheat) the task would be managable.

  2. This is an interesting thread, and obviously impacts more (PHP-based) web server software than WP alone – including Drupal, which is where I spend my time. There are several interesting points, IMHO – reflecting both sides of the issue.

    1) (anti-proprietary) The “designer community” has been distinguishing itself as somehow different than developers who write code, and I don’t think it should. The common thread: “We spend lots of time developing a theme; why shouldn’t we profit from it?” This suggests that they (designers) should be able to use license leverage (read “proprietary software rights”) to create a proprietary asset (their theme) they can collect money from, as compared to a plugin / module coder who spends an equal number hours on their work that doesn’t create a proprietary asset. It’s not clear to me why the hours a designer works are qualitatively different, or valued differently than an equal amount of time a PHP programmer spends being “creative” in writing PHP code, and why they should be able to use license leverage to charge for their time when the PHP developers can’t / don’t.

    2) (anti-proprietary) The theme world seems to lack the most important benefit that open source _code_ gets from being open source: the benefit from leveraging the coding time / skills of many others to build better code more quickly. Maybe this is _because_ designers have created this mythos around the “right to have premium themes.” The fact that a theme is “premium” (not free) strongly tends to vest all the code base for that theme in the premium theme designer; other coders / designers find themselves in a difficult (at best) position vis-a-vis contributing time and effort to improve that theme. By perpetuating the idea that themes are somehow different than code, and that designers should exclusively profit from their theme, the entire theme “marketplace” suffers from not experiencing the benefits of a vibrant open source community getting behind a given good theme.

    3) (pro-proprietary) I tend to think that the vibrancy of the “commercial themes marketplace” has been one of the more significant factors in the popularity of Joomla. In contrast to Drupal (I’ll not comment on WP… ;-), as somebody who built sites with both Drupal and Joomla (prior to starting Acquia), I feel Drupal offers a much better technical / coding platform. Yet, my customers would frequently be able to _find_ a (usually) commercial theme for Joomla on their own, which would then tend to suggest Joomla be used as the platform for their solution. For low-end sites where there wasn’t big money available to develop a custom theme – or even port a Joomla theme to Drupal – this had an effect on CMS choice. It would seem, therefore, that a healthy “premium / commercial themes” marketplace is good for the underlying platform.

    4) (pro-proprietary) Acquia has a commercial relationship with some commercial theme vendors, and we value those relationships both as a way to both add value to our Drupal distribution, and to help promote the number of high quality themes that exist for Drupal. They’ve done great work to create unique themes we’re bundling in our distribution because we want some high-quality ones to show up. We want these themes, and themers to remain viable, and if helping the people behind them remain viable is crucial to that, we at Acquia would opt to help them build a commercial business around their work.

    5) (pro-proprietary) By it’s very nature, design is used to promote uniqueness. Having the same code run lots of sites makes sense because the more people who use it the faster it will become better. Themes work the opposite way. The more sites that have the same theme, the less valuable that theme becomes.

    So, all that said, the current state of things suggests there is something qualitatively unique about themes as compared to plug-ins / modules. Maybe the graphical nature of theming involves a more scarce kind of creativity than coding, and its higher scarcity value implies a different value equation than arises in the coding world. Maybe, though, it’s the mere existence of this “history” of commercial themes that gives rise to a lack of interest in open source communities to spend time working on them.

    However, I guess if I had my druthers, even though there are more reasons to suggest a pro-proprietary state of things, I’d personally prefer to see less of a “premium themes” world, and more of the same open source contributor vibrancy and variety in the theme world that exists in the core / plug-in / module world. If themers started redirecting their energies towards building a community of contributors around some really great core themes, they’d do less work (vs. doing everything themselves to create an equivalent “commercial” theme), the attitude distinction between coders / themers would disappear, and maybe there would be more high quality themes. Then, they could make money “supporting” those themes – the way RedHat (/Acquia) make money supporting open source code. In “my” (Drupal) world, I think Drupal needs more good themes (a’la Joomla) et al to draw folks into Drupal, and a more robust open source community making them would be good IMHO.

    Oh, and of course, throughout this comment I’m speaking as much about Drupal as WP, but I think the principles apply equally in both.

    -jb

    • Jay, great comments.

      FWIW, after 1.5 years of coding Drupal I gave up and switched to WordPress because creating attractive themes was just too damn hard. That and the craziness of trying to teach an end user the admin interface.

      • Mike –

        When did you switch away from Drupal? I’d point out several things as an encouragement for you to consider coming back and doing more Drupal themes:

        1) Drupal’s back-end admin UI is undergoing a dramatic overhaul in Drupal 7. Acquia (my company) has hired some world-class UX people, and they’re working with the community to eliminate the admin interface issue you cite. Check d7ux.org, and twitter #D7UX.

        2) There are some pretty significant projects happening in Drupal to make creating Themes much less crazy. Examples: The skinr project, and many others. These are driven by designers who are both passionate about Drupal, but who have the same feeling you do about “craziness,” and want to solve the problem. Lots of good work happening very fast, and it’s getting much less crazy very quickly.

        3) Acquia is also just now getting a project off the ground to try to create a more designer-friendly atmosphere (at design.acquia.com). Drupal.org is – admittedly – very developer-centric. And its policies and practices sometimes go at cross-purposes to design activities. For instance, drupal.org only permits GPL themes to be listed there. However, there are themes that have a CC license (whether because of some code, or media assets, or …). These can’t be listed at drupal.org; but they’ll be listable at design.acquia.com, where our licensing policy will be much more flexible. We’re also going to start to give direct visibility to theme providers (via listings). Over time, we’re considering creating a commercial theme sales platform here (for third-parties to sell their themes.) We’re also hopefully going to create a set of content / training resources there that will help new Drupal themers come up to speed quickly.

        So, come back and look at Drupal “real soon now.” :-)

      • When did you switch away from Drupal?

        Shortly after Acquia started creating authorized partners. That wasn’t exactly the reason but it was the timeframe.

        1) Drupal’s back-end admin UI is undergoing a dramatic overhaul in Drupal 7. Acquia (my company) has hired some world-class UX people, and they’re working with the community to eliminate the admin interface issue you cite. Check d7ux.org, and twitter #D7UX.

        Two things: 1.) Not meaning to be crass but I’ll believe it when I see it, and 2.) WordPress 2.8 is here today, Drupal 7 isn’t.

        2) There are some pretty significant projects happening in Drupal to make creating Themes much less crazy. Examples: The skinr project, and many others. These are driven by designers who are both passionate about Drupal, but who have the same feeling you do about “craziness,” and want to solve the problem. Lots of good work happening very fast, and it’s getting much less crazy very quickly.
        3) Acquia is also just now getting a project off the ground to try to create a more designer-friendly atmosphere (at design.acquia.com). Drupal.org is – admittedly – very developer-centric. And its policies and practices sometimes go at cross-purposes to design activities. For instance, drupal.org only permits GPL themes to be listed there. However, there are themes that have a CC license (whether because of some code, or media assets, or …). These can’t be listed at drupal.org; but they’ll be listable at design.acquia.com, where our licensing policy will be much more flexible. We’re also going to start to give direct visibility to theme providers (via listings). Over time, we’re considering creating a commercial theme sales platform here (for third-parties to sell their themes.) We’re also hopefully going to create a set of content / training resources there that will help new Drupal themers come up to speed quickly.

        Again, that sounds great but it’s future. It’ll take a least a few years for the community support to catch up with WordPress.

        So, come back and look at Drupal “real soon now.” :-)

        Even though part of me really wants to, it’s not likely. Here’s why:

        1.) For every page load Drupal generates an insane amount of SQL calls and executes an insane amount of PHP code. WordPress is heading in that direction, sadly, but the Drupal architecture just can’t fix that and caching, while helpful, is not a pancea.

        2.) Core Drupal code is so incredibly generic that debugging Drupal code using a PHP debugger (PHPEd) when building modules I find myself spending far too much time tracing through Drupal core, often getting mentally lost and not enough time actually debugging my own code. Again WordPress is heading in that direction, sadly, and again the Drupal architecture just can’t fix it.

        3.) And probably the most important reason I do WordPress instead of Drupal: I do freelance work because I want to get really good at developing sites so I can develop them for myself. I do *NOT* want to launch an Drupal development agency and optimize my life around chasing and developing for lots of clients but locally there is a company MediaCurrent that does exactly that.

        With respect to Drupal, MediaCurrent “sucks all the oxygen out of the room.” It is practically impossible for me to get a reasonable paying freelance job in Atlanta on Drupal because MediaCurrent is so aggressive in their marketing and sales efforts, and admittedly if I was a prospective client I would probably choose them over me. And while I’ve offered to subcontract for MediaCurrent they’ve been able to continue hiring Drupal devs for less money than I can afford to work for.

        OTOH with WordPress I’m able to find a lot more jobs than with Drupal. So while I might otherwise consider doing some Drupal work it is highly unlikely because I can’t even begin to make a living from it. So unless you can change that for me I’ll be promoting WordPress over Drupal in Atlanta every chance I get.

        Besides, after working with Drupal for ~1.5 years and then WordPress for ~1 year I really do believe that WordPress is a better solution for ~85% of potential clients.

  3. Pingback: Will the premium WordPress themes controversy ever end? : WordPress Themes

  4. Pingback: Revolution Theme To Become Open Source | Theme Lab

  5. Pingback: The Blog Herald interviews Brian Gardner :: WPLover

  6. Hi.

    i see that point pretty easy: making your buisness with work, based on another work is ok. you simply can´t work without the work of others. sometimes you have to pay for that work and sometimes not. on the one hand: the point i would really think about is paying royalty to the creator of the original work. if you could ever manag paying royalty to the creator who pays royalty to the creator and so on…
    on the other hand i see it as a must to publish under the same (gpl) license, that made your work possible. that generates one wonderful effect: much faster development and much more perfection in detail of the “community work”.

    it´s so clear and easy that you should charge for your work as long as you find someone who pays for it. but if there´s always someone who can make your work a little better, the development will be going on and the result will evolve with every step.

    wish you all best!

  7. Pingback: Talking to WP Theme Developer Justin Tadlock « Web and New Media

  8. Ian:
    As it sit here today seaching for a new theme (one that works) for my site I happened to run on to your article and after reading it felt I might offer the following.

    I am sure most of your readers are experienced with blogs and using formats such as WordPress. I am not but am learning. The problem with my learning curve is that I have experienced more problems that not with free themes. It seems that tech help is almost impossible to come by, at least in a timely fashion.

    Today finds me searching for a premium theme hoping that my luck will be better, at least on the support end.

    I know WordPress isopen ssource but I respect those that spend some of their valuable time producing something a cut above the rest and would like to get a few cents to compensate them for their time. I have noticed that some that offer premium themes also have listed free ones on WordPress. I think the two compliment each other.

    Albert

  9. bob says:

    its simple to understand – I am a professional designer and if you want my work, then you pay for it.
    I have to earn a living regardless of whether you want free wordpress themes – and no one is forcing you to buy anything.

    Just because the platform is free doesnt mean my time or creativity is.

    If I do make free themes then its to drive traffic to my site to get paid work and you can use themes as to what I grant you – but even giving templates for free has issues with people removing copyright text – see, people even steal free stuff or claim it as their own.

  10. Kat says:

    Honestly it is a slippery slope. Many scenarios are available and sometimes it seems like it cant/wont/shouldnt be the same in both directions.

    Scenario 1a: You are making a client’s site with wordpress. They want a theme using thier logo and a particular color scheme. Can you modify an existing free theme (changing colors, headers, tweaking layout widths and margins, adding company’s logo, etc) and get paid from the company despite that you took from this person’s free design?

    Scenario 1b : You are making a client’s site with wordpress. They want a theme using thier logo and a particular color scheme. Can you modify an existing *premium/pay* theme (changing colors, headers, tweaking layout widths and margins, adding company’s logo, etc) and get paid from the company despite that you took from this person’s free design?

    What about taking what you learned from client commissions and selling themes modified from free or premium/pay templates. Less importantly, How different does a design have to be?

    All these questions seem to not be answered from any official WP program developer (no documentation on either wordpress sites). Worse, there are conflicting conclusions you can make when looking at terms and conditions of premium wordpress theme creators *as well* as free designers.

    http://www.serverpoint.com/english/wordpress-themes.phtml

    From this guy’s terms, it would seem that you cannot do diddly with a free theme, including modifying it and simply redistributing it….even with crediting that your site was based off of ___.

    Then there is this, which seems closer to what open source might be about:

    http://themetation.com/terms/

    Would love clarification.

  11. Samuel Thurston says:

    @Kat – your response speaks again to the common misconceptions about what Free Software in general and specifically the GPL are about. Free software licenses are NOT designed to remove value from the software development chain. There’s no slippery slope because the rules are well-defined. Regarding your scenarios:

    It’s ok to charge a client for ANY custom work you do, whether you base it on a free or premium theme. The terms of the GPL are very clear in this case, however advocates for both stances like to interpret them in ways that favor their opinion. The GPL allows you to modify and redistribute under the terms of the GPL. Those terms, as apply to both of your scenarios are explicit; you must retain the GPL copyright notice. You must distribute source IF and ONLY IF you distribute BINARIES, and you must distribute that source only to those who specifically receive those binaries. The GPL applies to derivative works, and it is strongly arguable that ANY theme is a derivative work since themes rely on internal WP functions to do their work.

    Thus, whether you start with a premium theme or a free theme, yes you can charge a client for customization work, and no you don’t have to give that work to anyone but the client. Developers T&C’s can be interesting, and they can exist as long as they don’t directly conflict with the GPL. But most do, and therefore are invalid. Images and color schemes are in most cases not covered by the GPL (since they aren’t derivatives), and so can be covered by developer T&C’s.

    How you distribute work that is based on paid client work depends very much on your specific agreement with the client, but most “work for hire” cannot be redistributed by anyone but the copyright holder, which ends up being the client and not you.

    You won’t find as many answers specifically from WP developers in this arena, because it has more to do with copyright law in general and GPL in specifc. You’d be much better off getting advice from a lawyer, which, I must disclaim, I am not. This information however has been collected from over a decade of software development in proximity to GPL software, so it is based on sound information.

    I do hope this answers some of your questions.

  12. Pingback: Ukas frilanser: Webdesigner Magnus Jepson | Frilansinfo.no | Informasjonsportalen for kreative frilansere |

  13. Dan says:

    As a purchaser of a premium theme, the reason I paid up was because it was what I was looking for (and I found it!). The website that was selling the theme was well optimized for SEO and also for my scanning eyes. It alerted me that this theme was what I was looking for.

    Much of the value of that purchase was in my ability to find this theme when I had not found any others that were GPL. I presume it was the profitability angle that made this possible

    …of course all the GPL’ers can’t be a bamf like Ian and Thematic..

  14. Pingback: Design Intellection

  15. Pingback: Design Intellection

  16. Since WordPress is open-source, shouldn’t all its themes be also open-source? Hey, but open source means its free to be edited and modified, right. I think only by releasing open source themes like Thematic, can we make the public aware about this.

  17. I think that in this case, if you accept Matt’s position(which I’m not sure I do, even though he is a much more reasonable guy these days when it comes to making money) that you could separate a theme into 2 components and not charge for the code in the theme while actually charging for the graphic design that makes the theme look the way it does.

  18. This discussion is an interesting one – but points out a much larger issue…. that there are valid reasons to avoid using the GPL, or basing your products on GPL’d code. Simply put the situation is, in practical terms, so grey that it is completely reasonable to opt out of the whole mess.

    I am happy with the open source community (as a contributor and user) to be sure – but when push comes to shove and I need to invest a lot of my time to a project or intellectual property I stay far away from possible GPL infections.

  19. Pingback: One Peeved Off Theme Maker - Page 7 - WordPress Tavern Forum

  20. Pingback: Thesis Wordpress Theme - No Big Deal About It - copyblogger, isotherm theme, SEO, Thesis, Thesis theme make money, Thesis theme marketing, Thesis theme review, Thesis wordpress theme, Wordpress, Wordpress Themes - Technically Personal!

  21. A Honest WP User says:

    Attn everyone….
    Some one is using a free GPL license Theme and selling it by just changing a few lines of CSS
    Look at the linkedin Page Discussion… This is complete violation of intellectual property rights and also will make people stop using wordpress if such cheaters grow
    He is offering a template @ USD 10.00 which is dirt cheap and the intention of making a quick buck is so clear

    http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?gid=154024&viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=3322213

    WP Theme is for sale at http://www.freshlimesoda.us/wp-themes/freshtrailers/

    Pls take some action against this cheater.

    • The theme is a fresh development from scratch and is sold for $10 under free GPL so that people who purchase can modify and re-sell if they want. This is completely in spirit of GPL and no violation.

  22. @A Honest WP User

    Unfortunately, one of the limitations of the GPL license is that it is completely permissive. It allows you to do literally anything with the code, as long as you don’t place a non-GPL-Compatible license on the theme. That means that a person could be well within their rights by downloading a GPL theme, making minor changes (or none at all) and redistributing it. The GPL doesn’t prohibit the sale, either.

    So, whoever this is that is selling it … if the theme was originally GPL … they are perfectly within their rights to do what they are doing. It’s not illegal, and in fact, is completely within the spirit of the GPL.

    We should all think about that before we willingly submit our work to the GPL license.

  23. Pingback: Where to buy Premium Wordpress Themes | theWPresser

  24. If you are a talented theme designer, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t charge for your efforts, time and energy that you put into your themes.

    These haters have thousands of free themes to choose from. They’re just a bunch of elitist cheapskates IMO.

    Personally, I find that a lot of free themes aren’t even worth downloading let alone installing. That said, there are a lot of decent free themes.

    I prefer to create my own themes. However, I might consider paying for a high quality premium theme if necessary. Rarely would I consider using a free theme. I’m all for premium themes.

  25. John says:

    Lots of good discussion here and a very hot topic. But my question is for Matt, if his schedule permits him the time to answer (I can only imagine how busy he must be developing this great platform) or anyone else.

    Matt says “I want to empower and reward designers in the long-term, and I think that’ll come from multiple people collaborating in an Open Source manner, just like it has with WordPress.”

    Matt: can you please explain to me how this translates into a viable, stable income with which I can feed and clothe my family?

    Because here is my opinion.

    I will release commercial themes and plugins if the fancy hits me.

    I see no difference between building a custom theme for one client or building that same theme and distributing it to 100′s.

    Now I will most likely release those commercial themes and plugins with the sale price going for support access (forums, personal support options etc), updates and the like. But thats just because it makes better business sense and NOT because of a license restriction.

    Any business model that encourages relationships being developed will always be more valuable.

    Will I allow someone to redistribute my commercial theme? 80% of the worlds population lives in places where IP rights are barely if at all protected. The other 20% live in places where people routinely disregard those rights (just look at the piracy of music and video). So most likely I will not expressly forbid someone from doing something they will and can do anyway and do so without my being able to prevent it.

    It seems to me that this very problem presents an opportunity. Let your theme/plugin be pirated, perhaps even ENCOURAGE it just be sure to include a link in the theme itself (in the dashboard somewhere) that allows the downloader to come and join your paid community to get the support, updates and so on.

    Even better, give the theme away as GPL (that way it gets into the theme repository) but include the information needed as above to encourage people to join your support community.

    One last question: does this mean that the developers of the wp-commerce plugin and wishlist membership plugin (to name just 2) are in breach of the GPL licence? I have used both for one of client projects in the past… does this mean I have built my clients website on “stolen” code? Have I disrespected a community? and is it disrespect when most of the community is unaware that this discussion is even happening?

    Not only do they sell it, but they also require it to be activated which makes redistribution ineffective should someone want to try.

    GPL allows selling of the product and expressly forbids the forbidding or redistribution… so if wishlist and wp-commerce were to GPL their plugins (in the case of wp-commerce the gold cart plugins), not prohibit distribution, include source code (wishlist encrypts their source code) and require activation through a license key are they still within the limits of GPL. They have sold the plugin; They are not expressly forbidding its redistribution; the source code is included; but they require you to activate it with a license?

    There is a huge community built up around wordpress, most of whom are not concerned one way or the other about licensing. Yes I know the purpose of the GPL is to protect the rights even though you may not even know you have them, but really: shouldn’t this be about what wordpress is about: empowering people to express themselves online without having to be web masters to do it. Bringing a voice to all.

    And if commercial themes and plugins help empower those people, and if they are HAPPY to pay for it. What’s the problem!

    Seems like we are making a tempest in teacup over an issue that isn’t really an issue. Let us developers build themes for free or commercial AS WE CHOOSE. Let the market decide which themes have more value. Leave it at that.

    Matt and co, if you want to profit from it, build a marketplace and let us developers sell our themes through your market place, of course then you will also have to let us sell them through any other market we choose as well. I realize that you don’t want a templatemonster kind of site, but what about themeforest?

    No one forced you to build wordpress, Did you do it with the intentions of getting rich? I doubt it, you built it because you wanted to, it was a challenge, it was fun, you thought you could offer something better… and so on.

    So now why are you counting other peoples money? Thats a basic rule my father taught me long ago: never count another man’s money.

    So what they made that money building on your platform? You built it and gave it to the world. let the world do with it as it pleases. No matter how many commercial themes and plugins there are, they will never hurt wordpress, never stop the development of free themes and plugins and never do anything other than add another layer of richness and depth to the ecosystem created around your platform.

    And this disrespecting the community issue. Please enough already. Disrespect is not disrespect unless the person being disrespected thinks so. And most of the wordpress users DO NOT THINK SO!

    Lets face it you platform would be valueless if no one was using it. The same goes for any commercial theme. And if enough people want to pay for a commercial theme or plugin thats not a breach of law: its a market signal!

    The whole web 2.0 is powered by people building off each other. Facebook has value only because of the millions of users adding content everyday. WordPress.com the same. If no one used them they would be valueless… just how much money has been given back to the users of wordpress.com or facebook.com or myspace… and so on?

    Just so you know I am an avid user of open source software. I run linux on my computers, use linux for servers, and use opensource solutions wherever possible – in part it is because I believe computing to be a right and not a privilege, but in part its because I find many open source apps to be better then the commercial alternatives (like Linux is better than windows). But I also pay for solutions when the paid version is better. A commercial theme does not- in any way, shape or form – harm the opensource app it has been built on. Nor does it in any way limit the general publics ability to exercise their right to express themselves online though that open source app.

    • It seems to me that this very problem presents an opportunity. Let your theme/plugin be pirated, perhaps even ENCOURAGE it just be sure to include a link in the theme itself (in the dashboard somewhere) that allows the downloader to come and join your paid community to get the support, updates and so on.

      Excellent comment John. This is actually how several software products in the PC-DOS era because runaway hits; dBase II and WordStar were pirated like crazy.

      One last question: does this mean that the developers of the wp-commerce plugin and wishlist membership plugin (to name just 2) are in breach of the GPL licence?

      That’s a great one to bring up. There’s lot of brouhaha around commercial themes but what of commercial plugins? Why has Matt stayed silent on them?

      And this disrespecting the community issue. Please enough already. Disrespect is not disrespect unless the person being disrespected thinks so. And most of the wordpress users DO NOT THINK SO!

      John, it’s not the WordPress *users* who are being disrespected. I’ll explain in a subsequent comment.

  26. Pingback: WordPress テーマの GPL ライセンス化のトレンド | detlog.org

  27. The idea of open source being free with non-free premium add-ons is awesome.
    Although, think it is only reasonable that the commercial community that profits from the open source application take it on as a charity giving back in time, money or support. It would be advantagious to stoke the fires of the engine powering the train.
    It is understandable that a business would want to pay another business for their theme and the support. Little Johnny can wait on support for his free theme on his snowboarding blog, but the snowboard company has a blog that cannot wait for free support and is willing to pay for premium service.
    More power to ya!

  28. I feel, after looking at the prices of the premium GPL’d themes up for sale, that the authors behind them are seriously undervaluing their time and effort. I also noticed that others haven’t GPL’d their premium themes (yet?). They are still charging a lot for ‘developers’ packages, which I think is fair. But what struck me as a co-incidence is the similarity between the GPL’d premium themes and the ‘developers’ packages that we’re all so used to (except for the GPL part ;-)) so why aren’t the guys selling GPL premium themes charging the same price as the ones selling ‘developers’ packages? WooThemes and StudioPress for example are very cheap compared to some of the others and I take it some of the more expensive WordPressers are still in business despite sticking with the non-GPL business model.

    I do intend to try out the GPL business model, but I won’t be selling cheaply. I also have fears of cheap Indian workers buying my themes and reselling them, whilst undercutting me. My intuition (hey women’s intuition is a great thing!) tells me this sort of thing is what will ruin my business, and others too in the long term. So if I’m still not comfortable with that business model after a while, I will have to switch to a non-GPL business model. I know that won’t necessarily stop folks from stealing the themes and reselling or whatever but at least I’ll have a leg to stand on (maybe not legally but hardly anyone understands the GPL license properly anyway so a scare tactic or two might work).

    • Just a little comment about how i’s all very well being in the spirit of the community etc, but as business owners, you have to do what’s best for your pocket, ultimately.

  29. Pingback: WordPress, StudioPress, The GPL License (Let’s Move On) : Brian Gardner

  30. Pingback: Are Wordpress themes GPL? | azzx.org

  31. Pingback: The Ethics of WordPress Themes at a Premium | Jealous Designs | Web Design and Development | Hosting | Graphic Design | General Nice Guys

  32. Pingback: Where to buy Premium Wordpress Themes | yourfever

  33. Pingback: Where to buy Premium Wordpress Themes | styl.eti.me

  34. Pingback: I’m Boycotting The Spread Of FUD

  35. Pingback: WordPress Plugin Developers Versus Matt Mullenweg

  36. Well I think best themes should be provided for free, so that every one could get the hang of it. I think it will also give more exposure to the theme creators and fans too. What can be the better reward then getting acknowledged for your creation.

  37. This is blog is wonderful that it provides such valuable information, and above that the general post, the discussion is so vital that it adds colors to the post. Thanks a lot All.

  38. Maeve says:

    I am new to wordpress and am totally hooked . not a total newbie as I learned html 10+ years ago , but let it all go as I hated updating my old site. WordPress is great. I am putting up my own website and introducing friends to it too. The issue of premium vs free etc which I am reading is quite valid, I agree that you should charge for your work, but having wordpress open source always means that there is an openness which is invaluable and is it’s real value – - already I am setting up 3+ friends with good websites and look forward to more. Give and you will recieve.

  39. Sean says:

    @John: I believe computing to be a right and not a privilege,
    While I agree with most of your comment, I take objection to this statement and this points to a larger philosophical issue that may not have been touched on in this lengthy discussion.
    A right is an abstraction, such as here in America, we have the right to freedom of speech, or the right to vote to choose a representative form of governance.
    Your idea of a ‘right to computing’ doesn’t really make sense, in that computing requires the efforts/sweat equity of a producer to produce the software, or as you put it, the ‘computing’. And because we as humans living on the planet have a responsibility to work, to ’till the earth’, in other words, to produce some type of good or service for society in exchange for other goods or services, your know basic economic marketplace exchange, etc, then really no one has a ‘right’ to the output of some one else’s labor.
    However, in the case of freely distributed software (such as WordPress or even a Facebook or Myspace), the developers have chosen to freely give their time and efforts to produce something, give it freely to the world under a condition such as the GPL which specifically allows for the redistribution either for free or for profit. Therefore, because of this original intent and distribution model, the developers of WordPress should in no way object to a marketplace building around and utilizing their GPL licensed code.
    If they had wanted to develop WP and charge for it, that would have been wonderful and fine, as it is a great great great software tool and worth paying money for it. But the fact that they have chosen the open source route is exciting and wonderful too, and has been a main reason it has grown to such status and been so widely adopted.
    The idea that premium, paid themes are ‘evil’, as was mentioned way back early in the discussion, is just plain silly and smacks of – dare I say it – socialism. It is just plain common sense that people need to work to make money for life, and the concept of commercial themes built around the WP platform is wonderful entrepreneurial spirit that should be applauded, encouraged and embraced – especially in such dire economic times as these.
    I also would like to second the mention that Apple has created a wonderful marketplace for small business developers with the app store for iPhone and iPad, and the commission based model wherein Apple take a small percentage but in turn creates the entire marketplace has proven to be very exciting and future thinking, and has benefited individuals and the big company alike.
    There is a valid place for both open source/free as well as paid / subscription models in the WordPress community, and as long as the commercial developers are not lifting people’s credit card numbers, installing trojan viruses or stealing candy from babies, I think we should encourage and support whilst leaving rhetoric such as ‘evil’ out of the discussion.
    Great discussion by the way, interesting to see it span almost 2 years.

Comments are closed.