WordPress, Themes and GPL

Here is an idea for all the ‘premium’ theme authors out there. How about releasing themes under GPL and making style.css the only commercial asset. This would even fall into a much lighter gray area compared to Automattic’s own ‘Custom CSS’ feature (which in fact is a feature provided by GPL code) for $15/year. Ironically, this is a fee for the ability to modify a theme released under GPL.


  1. Nathan Rice says:

    Mainly because it’s not necessary.
    CSS is easy to steal.
    Developers put a lot of time into the PHP code, and they’d rather not give it away for free unless it’s profitable to do so. It currently isn’t … for anyone other than automattic.

    • Kaspars says:

      Nathan, you are right — CSS is very easy to steal. However it is also very unlikely that these people will ever consider paying for a theme.

      Here is a solution — create a website that list all those who are using stolen stylesheets and make it rank first for their target keywords (business name, domain, etc.).

  2. David Coveney says:

    Sadly WordPress.org won’t play with themes from contributors who do *any* non GPL themes. Of course, it’s their repository, so it’s their choice.

    It’s a rather hardline attitude to GPL, unfortunately.

    We have plans to work with this. We’ve realised that, rather like MP3s, if someone wants to rip off our work, they can. I’m reliably told that copies of most premium themes are available from torrents already anyway. So instead we’ll probably just use easy licensing. Funnily enough, one problem with it is that it increases our costs somewhat – if we buy in image licenses and track legal downloads we can cost them out quite economically… but if the GPL is going to be applied to the image we have to pay, and pay heavily.

    We’re still trying to work out the exact model to apply. Being frozen out of WordPress.org doesn’t appeal, but neither does losing money. We have to be careful. Anyway, interesting plugins you have – well done :-)

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