WordPress Themes are GPL

WordPress is an open-source content management system for websites that I use very often for my personal projects and client work. In fact, it powers this site as well. Recently there was a very contentious and public spat between Matt Mullenweg (original co-developer and primary frontman for WordPress and CEO of Automattic) and Chris Pearson (developer of Thesis, a commercial WordPress theme). The argument was over whether Thesis should be at least be partially licensed under the GPL (the license WordPress uses). I’m not going to rehash all the stuff that was said but my opinion is that yes, WordPress themes and plugins are GPL.

And I thought Pearson never provided any convincing arguments or facts supporting his position. How could he? The facts simply don’t support his position.

Pearson stated with a lot of conviction that Thesis would never be GPL, unless Matt sued him. I found this pretty incredible since he had such a weak legal position. It was even found that Thesis had copied some WordPress code verbatim. That alone sinks his entire case. It was almost like he was trying to call Matt’s bluff, when really it was not a bluff at all. As reluctant as he was to do so, Matt made it clear that a lawsuit was coming.

Well, what happened? For all his bravado and talk, Pearson later backed down and licensed Thesis’ PHP code under GPL. To me, he seemed to think this was just another worthless Internet argument or he was being trolled or something. I suspect being contacted by lawyers or realizing that he was really was going to get sued changed this mind.

And look, there are a lot of opinions on this issue but the truth is there isn’t any legal precendent regarding this because every party that has ever tried to challenge the GPL eventually backed down before going to court. So if you’re a developer of commercial themes or plugins for WordPress and you don’t want to use GPL, please go right ahead and challenge it in court, so we can find out once and for all.

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