It seems to happen once every few months, but another GPL licensing debate has cropped up, this time surrounding ThemeForest authors being involved in WordCamps. Jake Caputo, a theme and plugin developer, has received notice from Andrea Middleton that he is no longer welcome to speak or help with WordCamp unless he stops selling themes on ThemeForest, which licenses WordPress themes and plugins under a split license.
The driving force behind decisions like these are really difficult to pin down because if you ask, the answer is never clearly stated as to why innocent theme developers who are trying to make a living with WordPress are seemingly alienated for something they can’t control without drastically changing their approach to selling their products.
As far as I can tell, the decisions that are made surrounding this topic are derived directly from the goals and objectives of the WordPress Foundation:
- We’d like to make it easy for anyone to use the WordPress or WordCamp name or logo for community-oriented efforts that help spread and improve WordPress.
- We’d like to make it clear how WordPress-related businesses and projects can (and cannot) use the WordPress or WordCamp name and logo.
- We’d like to make it hard for anyone to use the WordPress or WordCamp name and logo to unfairly profit from, trick or confuse people who are looking for official WordPress or WordCamp resources.
It then goes on to state this:
Please note that it is not the goal of this policy to limit commercial activity around WordPress. We encourage WordPress-based businesses, and hundreds of them are thriving while in compliance with this policy (Automattic, CrowdFavorite, and StudioPress are a few examples).
The WordPress Foundation was founded as a non-profit organization that exists to manage the WordPress brand and enforce its proper usage. One of the “improper” uses is profiting from WordPress in some way without (fully) licensing your WordPress-based product under the same license as the software it is a derivative of. I think we all understand that and appreciate it.
Sellers on ThemeForest/CodeCanyon are being forced to dual-license their themes and plugins by Envato, which I can only assume is because Envato wants to make it as difficult as possible for people to take WordPress-based products from ThemeForest/CodeCanyon and resell them on their own site or in a different marketplace. If you were trying to legally resell a WordPress product from Envato’s marketplaces, you would need to rip out the images/CSS/JS and rebuild those assets yourself. Good luck with that. My point is – Envato turns a profit selling software that ultimately cannot be redistributed without a lot of extra work. To many GPL supporters, this is evil. To Envato, this is a necessary evil in order to prevent unlicensed redistribution. So you may think – Envato is in the wrong for forcing authors to sell dual-licensed WordPress products.
But this is where it gets wonky.
So who is really in the wrong here?
The WordPress Foundation, who asserts that not only must your PHP code be GPL-compliant, but also your assets, in order to be redistributable? Or is it companies like Envato, who want to protect themselves and also offer theme authors recourse in enforcing that their WordPress products are only distributed through their marketplace?
The short answer: I don’t know.
It makes perfect sense for the WordPress Foundation to only promote full GPL products in order to keep everything simple for distribution. It would be a complete train-wreck to allow WordPress.org theme authors to use dual-licensing in themes and plugins. The review process and knowledge required to navigate all that would become cumbersome and overly complex. I understand all that and I accept it. It doesn’t work with free products hosted on a foundation-run website. But I personally don’t care about that side of it.
The main issue we’re running into is that people building commercial products that ARE compliant with the GPL, but not in the way the WordPress Foundation prefers, are being ostracized from the WordCamp community. What the…?
OK, so back to the WordCamp thing. If one of the goals of the Foundation is to keep non-GPL products out of the mouths of WordCamp speakers, organizers, and sponsors, I think that’s been done quite effectively so far. As the primary organizer for WordCamp St. Louis, we got our fair share of “marketing gurus” and people trying to make a sleazy profit from speaking at WordCamp. We rejected those speakers and sponsors. But this goes so much deeper than the surface level WordPress “profiteers.” We’re talking about banning everyone who sells in a particular marketplace just because that marketplace licenses their WordPress products slightly differently than the WordPress Foundation prefers. Is it illegal? No. Does it violate the GPL license? No. Is it morally wrong? No.
The WordPress Foundation entire purpose is to exert whatever control it can over the licensing practices of everyone building with WordPress. If that means playing dirty and singling out individuals to make an example of them, then that’s what they’re going to do until every last human being using WordPress understands that they should be following their rules.