July 14, 2010
If you’re at all involved in the WordPress community, whether you’re an established or aspiring theme or plugin developer, or contributor, or bug squasher, then you would be aware that there has been a long-standing conflict between WordPress’ founder, Matt Mullenweg, and a number of premium theme developers who refuse to abide by extensions of the GPL towards themes.
Matt suggests (I think accurately) that a theme that is provided for WordPress (it does not work without WordPress) is a derivative work and requires GPL compatibility. He also suggests (accurately, I think) that GPL compliance would only enhance DIYTheme’s business as evidenced by countless other proprietary software providers who have gone open source.
I agree with Aaron’s parenthetical opinions, but have to add that the GPL’s extension is towards the PHP code only and that images and CSS that comprise front-end may be licensed under another license. I also have to add that the GPL is extended to themes that are released “for distribution,” which protects my work when I develop a custom theme for someone.
Of the very few non-GPL-licensed theme developers, the most notorious is Chris Pearson, developer of the Thesis theme. I missed the interview mentioned by Aaron, given that it happened during office hours and I was at work, but I saw tweets, and it seemed the conversation ended on a very open-ended, but acrimonious manner. Chris Coyier has a (mildly humorous) summary. It looks like we’ll be seeing a court case soon enough.
My opinion on this matter, just as about almost everyone’s opinions on this, does not matter. What matters is that WordPress is a community project, and that the rules of game theory apply. Isolation in this project is worse than death.
I’ve been a critic of the WordPress project’s leadership, but never personally, and always on matters which I considered material and I’ve always tried to suggest, no matter how mean I’ve become, a course of action. A lot of Matt’s critics, however, are nihilistic and have nothing to offer. They don’t even have an endgame. They just revel in the power and authority that notoriety affords.
I have made my peace about the GPL-ness of WordPress themes. The safeguards to protect my intellectual property with regards to design already exist. I really don’t have much else to add, except that I personally would rather get back to work and leave this conflict to the courts.