Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

WordPress theme licensing

There is finally an official answer to the question of whether or not WordPress themes must “inherit” the GPL license that WordPress itself uses. Matt asked the Software Freedom Law Center to examine the WordPress source and how themes fit in. The final, official answer to whether themes must be GPL? Yes and no. 🙂

As many people have theorized before (myself included), the PHP files in a theme fall under GPL because they are reliant on the main WP codebase in order to function. The CSS, images, and javascript, however, are separate works which can stand on their own in other contexts, and therefore can be licensed however their creator wishes.

The Theme Repository at will only host themes that are fully compliant with the GPL. But they do now now have a directory of other sites which provide “commercially supported GPL themes“. I expect that the combination of the license clarification and the commercial directory listings will stir a lot of new buzz in the WordPress theming communities.

I imagine we’ll start seeing a lot of “free, basic” themes, with “premium” child themes that add fancier styling and javascript features [note: no “child theme” page in the Codex? Really?]. Another business model that commercial theme developers might consider trying is the “hostage-ware” model. This is where you only release the product after you receive $X in “donations” (see Kickstarter for an example of a service built on this idea, in a meta sort of way). However, I’m positive that we’ll also continue to see plenty of wonderful themes which are fully free (in both the “beer” and “speech” senses).

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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