Can you make a ‘Premium’ Theme your own? And then release it? For free? Or for a fee? The answer is simple. Yes.
That is, if the ‘Premium’ WordPress Theme in question—premium meaning you have to pay for it—is licensed under the GPL. The GPL is the GNU General Public License; a document included with a bunch of different open source projects, like WordPress, that covers the terms of the release and makes sure that it always remains open source. Anyway, what does this mean for ‘Premium’ Themes, you ask.
It means you can take a ‘Premium’ WordPress Theme you bought and do whatever you want with it—except release it again as a ‘closed source’ project. The really cool thing? This gives you the freedom to take that project and improve on it.
Here’s an example. You’re a designer and you love working with Photoshop. But it doesn’t have an instant rainbows-and-unicorns button. Adobe won’t put it in. If Photoshop were an open source project you could take the code and add in the technology to instantly add rainbows and unicorns to every one of your photos—and then give your customized Photoshop [RaU Edition] to anyone who wanted it. Presumably, anyone who loved rainbows and unicorns as much as you.
Same thing with GPL WordPress Themes.
But is it right? Not everyone thinks so. Some people have suggested it’s sleazy (mostly in response to people buying a Theme and immediately turning around to release it for free). What follows is my answer to the question. It’s something I posted earlier on the WordPress Tavern forums and here now where everyone reading ThemeShaper can easily find it.
Ian Stewart’s 4 Ideas About Modifying Premium Themes and Releasing Them
1. Redistributing unmodified GPL code over the internet is not sleazy. Redistributing unmodified GPL code is what the GPL is all about—even if the author of that code is charging for it and depending on that income.
2. Redistributing unmodified GPL code over the internet is pointless and stupid. If you’re doing it as a matter of free open source principles, sure, I could see that—but you’re muddying up the web. It doesn’t add any value to the code and unless you plan on keeping up with updates to that code you’re actually doing everyone who sees that redistributed code a huge disservice. Way to go.
3. I say “everyone who sees that redistributed code” because that will be a small amount of people. A small amount of people who will be rightfully wary of downloading that code. The vast majority of people will choose to download that code from the original author. Anyone want to start downloading WordPress from “www.crazywpdownloadsite.com”? I thought so. Remember that “trust” and “authority” are huge things on the web. People selling GPL WordPress Themes: stop worrying about this.
4. Now that we know that people redistributing unmodified GPL WordPress Themes over the internet are stupid we need to recognize how awesome it is that people can modify GPL WordPress Themes and redistribute them online. Theme-sellers: this is how you got started selling themes. Every single one of you. Remember when you were nervously trying to lock up the code for your first theme options pages behind a restrictive license? The code that you essentially copy-pasted from the same 2 online tutorials I and countless others did? I’m looking at all of you. Anyway, where would you be if that code wasn’t given to you in the first place? Where would you be if you didn’t fork the Default Theme? Or Sandbox? Or Classic Theme? Where would you be if Matt didn’t fork b2? Don’t worry about people forking your code. The freedom to redistribute modified code is incredibly awesome and, no exaggeration, is quite literally making the world a better place.
You can find a whole whack of people releasing their Premium Themes under the GPL License on the official WordPress Commercial Themes Directory. You can find all my commercial Child Themes for Thematic in the ThemeShaper Thematic Theme Store.
Anyone ready to start making WordPress Themes awesome-er?