A Word of Warning for Wordpress Theme Developers

This is a word of warning to anybody thinking of releasing a free Wordpress theme with dreams of having it included in the excellent Wordpress Theme Directory. You must not support paid themes in any way for it to be included. I sent in a theme that I created a little while ago and received this e-mail back:

Thank you for submitting the Elegant Blog theme, however it has not been selected to be part of the theme directory. Themes from sites that offer or support non-GPL themes (matthewlyle.com) are not included in the directory.

- Wordpress Theme Directory

I asked for more detail and it was because I have posts related to the Thesis theme and Theme Forest.

I’m a supporter of GPL themes and think they do great things for the Wordpress community. I’m also a big supporter of a free market and a designer having the right to choose whether or not to sell their theme, and license it in whatever way they feel comfortable with. This isn’t ok. You must choose a side to be on. You’re either for GPL or you’re against it.

This post isn’t meant to be snarky; if a directory wants to not include a theme for any reason it’s their right to do so. This is just meant to give a little heads-up to somebody who supports a free theme market and would like to send in a theme they’ve made to the Wordpress Theme Directory.

You must either create a separate website to house them, or remove any “support” of non-GPL themes from your website. This would include advertisements for something like the Thesis theme, ThemeForest, and also any paid themes that you’ve created in the past that are not GPL compatible.

Thoughts?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

jesseluna February 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I can see how this makes sense for WordPress. They have to draw a line in the sand somewhere or there'd be a bunch of free themes with links pointing to sites laden with paid themes.

I've created several custom themes but haven't tried submitting them to the official theme directory yet so this info is very useful. Thanks for the heads up on this!

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Jeffro February 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm

I'm confused as to why ThemeForest would be an issue considering they switched to be compatible with GPL while giving theme authors the chance to license the CSS and images differently than the code.

The Thesis part makes sense.

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Leland February 21, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Jeff, it doesn't just have to be GPL compatible, it has to comply with WordPress.org's definition of “100% GPL Compatible” which includes artwork and CSS.

ThemeForest, while the PHP portion of the code is licensed under the GPL, the images, CSS, and JS are still under their standard license which forbids distribution.

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Ben Cook February 21, 2010 at 6:50 pm

What exactly did they say in regards to Thesis? For example I have ads & offer free skins on my website, are they saying the precludes me from having a theme included in the repository?

I knew that they'd cracked down on promotion of non-GPL themes but I thought that meant non-GPL theme sellers couldn't put themes in the repo, I had no idea you had to pledge allegiance to the GPL for themes in order to participate in the theme repo.

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Ben Cook February 21, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Leland,
I thought WordPress was fine with the artwork and CSS not inheriting the GPL? Isn't that what Matt's lawyer concluded?

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Leland February 21, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Taking what I see at the bottom of this page: http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/commercial/

“Distribute 100% GPL themes, including artwork and CSS.”

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Ben Cook February 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Ahh, looks like you're right although it would seem like they need to explain that to be included in the repository you should only support 100% GPL themes, because as Matt's own post suggested, ThemeForest certainly is GPL compatible.

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Chip Bennett February 21, 2010 at 7:32 pm

So, let me see if I get this straight: the theme repository moderator not only has to go through each submitted theme with a fine-toothed comb looking for malicious content and anything that might violate the repository guidelines, but then *also* has to go to the developer's web site, and search for any non-100% GPL themes, ads for non-GPL themes, posts supportive of non-100% GPL themes, links to sites that host, sell, or support non-100% GPL themes, or any similar content?

Wash, rinse, repeat for every theme submitted.

As you said: wp.org are free to set whatever guidelines they desire for their hosted repository. However, I don't want to hear about the theme repository moderator being over-worked, when 75% of that overwork comes from an asinine and draconian guideline that goes far beyond mere adherence to 100% GPL for all hosted themes, to unreasonably and unjustifiably draconian adherence of the theme developer to wordpress.org's (i.e. Matt Mullenweg's) interpretation of the free software/GPL philosophy.

Actively stifling dissent and freedom of thought and expression cannot possibly be congruent with a movement that purports to extol the virtues of *freedom*.

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Chip Bennett February 21, 2010 at 7:44 pm

So, let me see if I get this straight: the theme repository moderator not only has to go through each submitted theme with a fine-toothed comb looking for malicious content and anything that might violate the repository guidelines, but then *also* has to go to the developer's web site, and search for any non-100% GPL themes, ads for non-GPL themes, posts supportive of non-100% GPL themes, links to sites that host, sell, or support non-100% GPL themes, or any similar content?

Wash, rinse, repeat for every theme submitted.

As you said: wp.org are free to set whatever guidelines they desire for their hosted repository. However, I don't want to hear about the theme repository moderator being over-worked, when 75% of that overwork comes from an asinine and draconian guideline that goes far beyond mere adherence to 100% GPL for all hosted themes, to unreasonably and unjustifiably draconian adherence of the theme developer to wordpress.org's (i.e. Matt Mullenweg's) interpretation of the free software/GPL philosophy.

Actively stifling dissent and freedom of thought and expression cannot possibly be congruent with a movement that purports to extol the virtues of *freedom*.

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Chip Bennett February 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I have no problem with the repository dictating what links can be in the submitted theme itself.

However, it is patently wrong (and totalitarian) for the repository to dictate what the theme developer hosts, writes about, promotes, or advertises on his own web site.

As it is, if a theme developer cannot so much as writes a positive review of a non-100% GPL theme, his theme will get rejected from the repository.

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matthewlyle February 21, 2010 at 9:00 pm

“One of the first things I look at is the site that the theme is from -
http://matthewlyle.com/ – since sites that offer or support non-GPL
themes are not eligible to be in the directory. The Thesis theme has
licensing terms that are not compatible with the GPL, and that was the
first thing I noticed on your site. Also ThemeForest licensing for WP
themes is not compatible with the GPL.”

That's from the e-mail I received when I questioned. So yeah, you have to pledge allegiance to the GPL.

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David Coveney February 22, 2010 at 2:53 am

As you say Matthew, the repository is theirs and they can put whatever restrictions they like on what is and is not included in there.

BUT…this has tinges of extremist behaviour. That is you're not pure, you can be included. It's a common issue that psychologists observe in all sorts of organisations, in particular those based on ideology. Members want to show that they're better than others, that they're more 'pure' than their comrades.

Moderates end up exasperated, and slowly leave, leaving the group to become distilled into ever more extreme behaviour. Eventually it all blows apart.

WordPress the codebase is bigger than WordPress the project – the simple long-term consequence is that someone may opt to fork the project.

I don't have much time for Chris Pearson and his Thesis Theme, to be fair, but why marginalise him? What WordPress is doing there is creating a community of clever and well funded people who aren't included any more and who may well end up having the motivation to fork WP if the project continues to treat them like a bad sibling.

And where does this stop? It appears to be a little arbitrary. I often post up information on getting things working in Windows – for example, a recent post on getting XAMPP in Win 7 and mySQL WorkBench to play well together. That's me showing support for both GPL *and* non-GPL code. Is that playing with fire?

It isn't healthy – WordPress needs to mature now, or it'll split… and that's damaging for all of us.

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Chip Bennett February 22, 2010 at 5:56 am

Ah, yes, so we must add to the list:

* The developer cannot be *using* a non-100% GPL theme on his own, personal site.

This is Stalin-esque.

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David Coveney February 22, 2010 at 6:06 am

It's not hugely different to the policies spelled out in the great theme withdrawal of just over a year ago.

I don't think it's Stalin-esque, because we still have the freedom to go elsewhere. WP is given freely, and if the core project isn't run in a way that we're unhappy with then the GPL actually gives us the freedom to walk away with all the code and do what we like with it. Its beauty is that although a radical desire to protect the GPL can drive people away from a project, the GPL still protects our rights and ability to continue using the software.

It'd be much worse in a closed environment – try being an iPhone developer. But even then, you can just switch to Android, or WinMob, or Symbian… or any other, really.

As far as I'm concerned it doesn't actually matter nearly as much as I thought it did, so if I were you I'd not stress too much about it. So long as WP continues to be popular, we can live with it.

I disagree with the stance taken, the attitude and politics in some elements of the core project and so on. But it doesn't matter – I don't, today, have the power to change it – all I can do is express my opinion, as here, that it could be done better and that in the long run it could lead to forks taking place that will be direct competition for WP.

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Brian February 26, 2010 at 7:53 am

We've developed WordPress plugins for years, and it's the same sort of thing. If you want it to be included in “Extend” then it must be GPL. But I've not heard of not being allowed to offer both free & “premium” plugins and I know of at least one that would fall into that category.

As far as themes go, I can't say for sure, but I do know that there was a major problem some time back with sponsored themes (company X designs a theme for company Y then company Y offers it for free in order to have their site linked to all over the place).

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Max Richardson August 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

Great post, I love the font you use on your site Matt, so clear! Which font is it? What’s the spacing / kerning etc? Thanks for your response in advance!

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