Tag Archives: Andrew Warner

WordPress requires themes to be GPL

Andrew Warner at Mixergy has published a discussion [MP3, transcript] between Chris Pearson (founder of Thesis, a very advanced WordPress theme) and Matt Mullenweg (who I’d call Mr. WordPress). This is a perfect example of what the debate between the copyright industry vs. iPirates (intellectual property pirates) is like. A very interesting software license and copyright debate, if you ask me.

Matt responds well to a long rant (blah blah, can’t make money if it’s freely licensed) by Chris. Start listening at 16:30 if you wish to hear the end of the rant and the response. The bottom line is that Chris Pearson sees Thesis – which requires WordPress – as entirely his own property which no one can use. He’s just out to state that “he’s not a follower” and says that Matt is trying “to dictate” usage through the GPL.

Chris Pearson refers at 8:30 to “Mike Wasylik” (he says Brian), an attorney who has written “Why the GPL doesn’t apply to premium WordPress themes“. However not related to the same kind of dilemma WordPress vs. Thesis is about. Mike Wasylik’s examples are related to the Game Genie’s modification of running binaries of Nintendo games – which does not apply at all to the source code license which the GPL is.

Also, Chris mentions that WordPress “is only a backend” and that “WordPress [on its own] only serves a blank page”. What he forgets is that WordPress also serves an API over XML-RPC etc….

But, to the point of license debating. Mark Jaquith posts the most convincing argument in this debate:

It isn’t correct to think of WordPress and a theme as separate entities. As far as the code is concerned, they form one functional unit. The theme code doesn’t sit “on top of” WordPress. It is within it, in multiple different places, with multiple interdependencies.

Basically: Thesis (or any WP theme), when used, becomes a part of that running copy of WordPress. At source code and PHP interpretation level. Thus, at that specific point, the GPL must be followed. To clear things up, Mark Jaquith also mentions the API system:

WordPress has many external APIs that spit out data. Interacting with these APIs does not put your code on the same level as core WordPress code.

(Oh, and Thesis have actually copied large pieces of code from WordPress.)

Update: Thesis now has a split license PHP code is GPLv2, everything else (CSS, images, added JS etc.) . Probably because of the bad press. Unfortunately this means that Chris Pearson probably didn’t learn anything in the process except perhaps humility. It’d be cool though if the license for CSS and images were Free too. At least it’d mend the community’s wounds a bit.