A 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 important discussion and the end result could dictate how premium themes are developed over the next few years.
Andrew Nacin, a core developer of WordPress, noticed that some code in Thesis was copied directly from WordPress. One of the original developers of Thesis, Rick Beckman, has since come forward and apologised for copying this code.
Even if code was not copied in Thesis, it would still be violating the GPL license as all WordPress themes have to be GPL. This is because any code, be it a plugin or theme, which is built on a GPL platform has to be GPL as well (one of the main features of the GPL license). Mark Jaquith explained this really well in his article ‘Why WordPress Themes are Derivative of WordPress‘.
Styling such as images and CSS can be given a different license by theme developers if they want to protect their work. WordPress only advertise themes on their site which is 100% GPL (i.e. PHP/HTML code, images and CSS) though this is understandable as it allows people to build on the work of others. It’s also worth noting that any CSS code which is copied from a GPL theme would also be GPL.
I am not a lawyer though it is apparent that the Thesis theme is in violation of the GPL license. Therefore I fully appreciate why Matt has been so vocal on this. I’m glad that Matt has resisted going through the courts to sort this whole issue out. No doubt it would be a long drawn out affair regardless of the outcome. On the one hand, winning a court case against Chris Pearson would highlight that all themes have to be GPL. On the other hand, I wouldn’t like to see a theme developer being taken to court when their main concern is not the license, but protecting their source of income.
Whilst I don’t agree with Nathan Hangens view that the GPL license is marxist, I must admit I’m not a fan of the way Matt Mullenweg is trying to encourage WordPress users to switch from Thesis to another premium theme.
I don’t believe we have seen the end of this debate. Chris feels quite strongly about Thesis not becoming GPL and in his interview with Andrew Warner he made it clear that he would go to court if he had to.
Matt Mullenweg is right to be bringing this issue up as Thesis is breaking the license which WordPress is built upon. Though I can’t help sympathise with Chris Pearson’s situation. If Thesis goes GPL then he is going to have a lot of competition as others will release their own versions of Thesis and offer their own support packages.
Matt points out that Thesis would get a huge amount of exposure on WordPress if it went GPL so any loss of income from rivals would be made up from the increase in sales from the promotion on WordPress. He’s probably right.
Even though Thesis is violating the GPL license, I do understand why Chris has been so reluctant to change the Thesis license, but change it must.