Q&A: WordPress & GPL

In this one we cover the GPL and how it benefits WordPress, why WP is under the GPL, commercial themes, how the GPL fosters innovation, creates value, and affects themes and plugins.

23 thoughts on “Q&A: WordPress & GPL

  1. Did you cover why Automattic continues to develop proprietary services like Akismet and tie them in tight to WordPress, if the GPL is truly the way to go?

    I’m not meaning to be rude, I really would like to know. You seem very enthused about the benefits of freedom and open-source-ness, and I’d like to know why the disconnect. Are there situations where the GPL is not the best way to go?

    1. Not in this video, I have spoken about that a few times before at WordCamps though, and I’ve thought about it a great deal. In the case of the Akismet server, you have a utility that it generates from blocking spam at an incredibly high accuracy rate, partly due to the spammers not knowing how it works. Then you have the utility of the code being open. I believe the utility of the former is greater, and more good to the world is being done by the spammers not seeing the code and it protecting millions of people.

      Also the most interesting part of Akismet isn’t necessarily the code, it’s the data, billions of comments over 4 years that it has seen now. That couldn’t be shared regardless because of privacy reasons. In the practical case of someone running their own Akismet server, the API itself is so simple that it’s not hard to implement, as Six Apart found when they cloned the API call-for-call for their Typepad Anti-spam service, which they claim is open source (I think they just made a API wrapper for the Dspam email project). Finally, of course, the plugin is fully GPL and they used that to their degree by just replacing the hostname in the plugin and releasing their own version of it under their own name, the rest being identical line for line. That surprised me, but it’s totally within their rights under the GPL.

      In theory we could also open source the Akismet server API wrapper and keep all the good bits secret, but that would be mostly for PR only, I don’t think it would be that useful to people as the API itself is really easy to implement and there already is a OS implementation in 6A’s code.

      1. Interesting! I’m not sure I agree, but it’s clear that you’re not just ignoring the contradiction, and have in fact given it thought.

        What about Gravatar and Intense Debate, though? Don’t these merely lock people into a proprietary platform provided by Automattic, especially since the former is now integrated by default into GPL-licensed WordPress? Or is there some value provided to everyone by their not being GPL-licensed?

      2. Gravatar is interesting only a service, a centralized place where you can give a URL and get an image, fast.

        Polldaddy, IntenseDebate, and After the Deadline are all candidates for being released under an Open Source license in the future, so keep an eye out there. We have released a number of infrastructure projects in preparation for that here:


  2. You ended this QA with “… suppose you come across something like ‘Thesis’ which is not [GPL], you’ll learn to avoid it.”

    Shouldn’t the community go further and insist that the authors of such themes release at least the PHP of their themes (as you mentioned earlier) under the GPL? They could still continue charging for their customisation services, artwork, access to the surrounding community etc.

    1. I would rather emphasize the positive rather than forcing authors to do something they clearly don’t want to, even though there’s a legal basis for it. Respecting authors is a Good Thing and in the specific case of Thesis they’ve got an excellent product and are smart guys, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they came around to the GPL-side of the fence on their own regard. The community already “insists” based on what we link to and promote, the rest is in the author’s court.

  3. Great video. Based on the video, is it not 100% legit under the GPL for a commercial theme developer to charge for anything other than an unlimited use?

    In other words, it is common practice for theme developers to sell a single domain lic and then also an unlimited “developer” license at a higher price. It sounds like the single domain license would be against the GPL?

  4. I love the videos and I especially love that you are spittin’ prosperity – “we should encourage people to adopt business models which function on economics of abundance, not economics of scarcity.”

    I know this video is entitled WordPress & GPL but for me it’s a business video. I think it is also important that people learn to live without a fear of loss.

  5. Don’t know how much of that was rehearsed or scripted before the interview, but it was very clear and well-spoken.

    I know at one point, you said you were sticking with GPL v2 and not going to GPL v3. Is that still true? Why that choice and do you think it will ever change? Or, is it not “correct” legally or morally, to change which version of the GPL WordPress is on because of which one it started on?

  6. Great information, Matt!
    Thanks for sharing this.

    Anyway, I created 2 WordPress tshirts (see the design in my blog). If you come to Indonesia again for WordCamp Indonesia 2010, one of this tshirt will be yours. Hahaha..
    Because I don’t know where to send via post to your house in US.

  7. Hey Matt, thanks for doing some education for the masses.

    I could only find a slight error towards the end as you spoke about distribution. You do not need a mass to have distribution, it’s enough if there are two people.

    So if I write you as my customer a theme, I must provide that one compatible to the GPL otherwise you could not use it (legally). In reality most customers do not care but I think it’s worth the education what free software is for those.

    The only exception to that is the case that I provide the theme to myself, then I can have it under a totally proprietary license in conjunction with a GPL licensed wordpress.