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Chris Pearson VS Matt Mullenweg

Posted on by in Blog

Thesis developer Chris Pearson and WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg got into a bit of a debate yesterday. In short, Matt believes that Thesis should use the GPL license that WordPress uses but Chris disagrees.

Andrew Warner was in a unique position of having interviewed both Chris and Matt recently on Mixergy so was able to hook them up for an interview.

You can download the interview via an mp3 file or you can listen to it with a video introduction on Andrews website.

Quick Summary:

  • Matt thinks it’s disrespectful that Thesis isn’t GPL since it relies on a GPL product. He also points out it’s a violation of the GPL license.
  • Chris believes that he should be allowed to put any license he wants on his products.
  • Chris believes that the GPL license is at odds against what he believes.
  • Matt points to top theme stores like WooThemes and StudioPress adopting a GPL license and states that they haven’t lost any income because of it.
  • Matt hinted he may sue Chris over this issue.
  • Chris says that Matt should back up his idle threats with real action.

I looked into the GPL license extensively a year or so ago when launching BlogThemesClub and was initially concerned that some people would distribute my premium themes for free. In the end I decided to go with GPL though many customers were still unsure about what GPL meant and assumed that they could pass on the themes for free (though I tend to agree with the thought that people who do this would do this regardless of the license a theme has).

I do not have a really strong view about this whole debate though. I am not sure if Matt is correct in saying that WordPress related products which don’t adopt a GPL license are violating the WordPress GPL license. If he is then I can fully understand why he is so vocal about this subject.

That being said, I still don’t think he should dictate how others run their businesses. Surely those who spend all their time working on a product should be able to dicate the license for it, even products for GPL platforms.

If you want to read more into this debate please check out the following articles:

What’s your view on this whole GPL license debate?


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Comments (18)

Comment by Link-urile de luni | Staicu Ionuţ-Bogdan - the Frontend Developer says:

[…] genul ăsta. Din câte am înÈ›eles, codul PHP va fi open source iar restul nu (css, js, imagini). DiscuÈ›iile aprinse între Matt Mullenweg Èâ„¢i Chris Pearson se pare că au avut un rezultat uÈâ„¢or neaÈâ„¢teptat. […]

Comment by Thesis Theme Now Has A Split GPL license says:

[…] have covered the recent debate on the Thesis theme not being GPL in my recent posts Chris Pearson VS Matt Mullenweg and Another Post About Thesis And The GPL […]

Comment by Another Post About Thesis And The GPL License says:

[…] few days ago I wrote about the GPL debate between Chris Pearson and Matt Mullenweg. I know many of you are not remotely interested in this debate though I really think this is an […]

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

no problem Keith. I appreciate you all contributing to the discussion.

I’m the first to admit that some of the terms of the GPL license seem a little vague to me and can be interpreted in different ways.

All of the themes listed in the Commercially Supported GPL Themes have to be GPL compliant but I am unsure if all of these theme stores are 100% GPL (i.e. images and CSS may not be GPL).

Comment by Keith says:

Right, and let me iterate that I am not a developer, but am a consumer of these products, and have spent hundreds, maybe thousands, on themes and premium plugins, so I am only just learning this whole GPL debate.

Glad I found a place that we can discuss it without any mud slinging (thanks Kevin).

Comment by John says:

Then are we not talking about 2 different things? Themes which are released under GPL (not necessarily on must only release the php under that license, but not the images or CSS to be GPL compliant. In order to show up on, everything in the theme must be 100% GPL.

I understand that position and it makes sense for WP to do it that way. To restrict people from advertising at WordCamps and speaking at them (if I understand the rules correctly) because they are not releasing themes that are 100% GPL-compatible (or may be involved with themes that are not GPL-compatible) seems excessive, but hey, it’s their show to run as they want I suppose.

Comment by Keith says:

What the SFLC states may conflict, but under their letter WP clearly states again that they will not promote or allow themes on that aren’t 100% GPL (including images and CSS).

Which conflicts what Matt said in his interview on Mixergy, seems like Matt doesn’t even know what states…

Comment by John says:

@Keith – compare the codex with what Matt says here:
conflicting information

Comment by Keith says:

“Theme, including all PHP, HTML, CSS, and images, must be licensed under the GPL or a GPL-compatible license.

* This requirement includes all PHP, HTML, CSS, and image files contained in the theme. ”

link to it:

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

I can understand why they do this on and why others who release free themes do this too. It makes sense for premium theme stores to protect their styling in their themes or someone else could just make a few changes and release a premium theme for free.

Some people may think this is a good thing but it would seriously harm the development of good themes in the community if developers were being ripped off.

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

Yes that’s what I thought (though I was starting to be unsure about this after reading so many articles about it the last few days).

Comment by Keith says:

Unfortunately, has a strong stance that nothing less than 100% GPL will be accepted for them to promote it.

Comment by John says:

According to the (legally untested) stance of WordPress and others in the community is that the php itself must be released under the GPL, but the images and CSS can be released under a separate license if desired

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

Some more interesting articles about the while issue:

I’m still not sure where I stand on this. It’s pretty clear now that any derivative of WordPress has to be GPL as well – that’s how it works.

But my understanding of it (from the research I done last year before releasing themes via GPL) is that the functions/code etc of a theme is GPL but the styling including CSS and graphical images etc are not.

Could anyone confirm this to me – I was always thought that the GPL excluded styling: am I wrong?


Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

I don’t think the community would lose out if they did go to court and Matt lost as the majority of WordPress theme stores have adopted the GPL license.

I’m not sure if Matt would be portrayed as a bully but I’m sure many people would be disappointed in him suing a prominent theme developer.

With regards to the GPL license, it doesn’t mean they can be freely distributed as the styling and graphics are not covered by the license.

However it does mean that users do not need to purchase multiple licenses and can use a GPL theme on as many themes as they wish.

Comment by Keith says:

I listened to the interview, I have scoured the web today for more information, and I come to a couple of questions:

Does the GPL license allow people to freely distribute premium WP products?

If Matt loses in court, will it hurt the entire community?

If Chris loses will it portray Matt as a big ol’ bully?

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

I agree with you. The end user doesn’t really care about licenses. The only thing GPL license is doing is confusing them.

This whole issue has dragged on for a few years now. I do think that the terms of the license could be more clear on the WordPress site though.

Comment by John says:

A bigger question that tends to go unanswered is how much does the license really impact a user’s use of WordPress and/or premium themes? I would venture to guess that 99% of users could care less whether the theme they bought allegedly violates the GPL or not and this whole debate is going on between 1% of the WP community.

That’s why even if Matt is in the right, he should shut up about it. Either take Chris P to court and settle the matter or drop the debate entirely and move on. Let the free (as in regulation) market decide whether Thesis is worth the purchase or not.

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