December 24, 2008
I’ve designed WordPress-powered sites and blogs for almost five years now. I have my niche, for which I am grateful. Recently, I came across some huff-and-puff regarding Matt Mullenweg’s decision to remove over 200 themes from the repository, citing non-compliance with the GPL.
I have a feeling I’ve been living under a rock for the better part of three or so years. I’ve watched the WordPress community from the sidelines. I saw its expansion and internecine conflicts. I’ve remained silent on most issues out of being ignorant on so many of them and am not afraid to admit to being so.
However, recent events have raised questions and concerns. Jeff Chandler wrote a thoughtful post on Premium Themes and I am left with a few questions and thoughts of my own.
Allow me to introduce you to my design workflow. Whenever I design for a client my first step is to almost always begin with the WordPress Classic theme’s document structure. Old habits die hard and I have found it to be one of the most efficient ways to start off with a “naked” theme. I strip the CSS file of everything except the theme header, substitute it with a blank template of code of all the elements I use in almost all my designs, and start coloring and shaping. I have never, still do not, and perhaps never will, follow the Photoshop-to-code development workflow. If a client wants something exotic, like a horizontal navigation bar (with tabs!), I have a codebook for that too. Now, I tell my customers that the site I design for them is for use on that project only, or for whatever number of sites we agree upon. The combination of images and CSS code form a look which, I believe, is the intellectual property of either myself or my client (depending on the terms of the contract).
The question, then, is, what part of my design falls under the GPL? Does that mean that any one party can rip off an entire design I make, despite the inevitable embarassment at having me parade their lack of creativity for all to see? It’s so easy for me to reverse-engineer the look and feel of Jeffro 2.0 without looking at source codes for HTML and CSS, but I do not, because it is a professional embarassment to do so. What portion of his, or anyone’s, site can I “liberate?”
What is covered by copyright? I know that blocks of CSS code don’t get that benefit, and for good reason. Faux columns would never have caught on, for example. I don’t think that only the content presented by the blog is covered, though. The look and feel of a site are part of its identity, especially if the design is relatively unique.
What are the limits of the GPL when it comes to Themes, Premium Themes, and Blog Designs? This inquiring mind would like to know.