Last night, a visitor named Mike left a comment to my post WordPress, Themes and the GPL:
What am I missing? A site like Elegant Themes distributes their themes under GNU Public License. They charge a fee for doing it, which is obviously supported by the license. However, anybody who gets the themes has the right to redistribute the themes and not charge a fee, right? Why isn’t anybody doing it?
My initial response was:
That is an excellent question, Mike. Since I purchase at least a theme a week, I have built a very nice theme library myself. However, it has never occurred to me to redistribute a theme free of charge. May be it is a matter of ethics, a feeling about right and wrong.
Not All Themes Are Full GPL
Anyway, whoever has the intention to redistribute premium themes should be aware of the fact that a theme comprehends several components: PHP, CSS, and artwork. And not all these elements are necessarily licensed under the GPL.
Furthermore, when I am considering a theme, I evaluate the theme in a slightly broader perspective. For me, updates and support are an important part of the theme. Should we include those too?
The PHP of a theme interacts with the code of the GPL licensed WordPress and therefore inherits the same GNU Public License.
Premium theme vendors have the right to choose their own policy when it comes to the CSS and the artwork involved. They can opt for a full GPL license or a split license. In the latter case, the PHP is licensed under GPL, and the CSS and/or the artwork are accompanied by a proprietary license.
WordPress And Theme Updates
When it comes to of updates and support, it is quite a different story. Mike mentions ElegantThemes. Well, this morning I was notified that ElegantThemes has released updates for several of their themes because of incompatibility issues with WordPress 3.4.
WordPress 3.4 was released June 13, 2012. When a day later, the theme vendor releases updates to straighten out incompatibility issues with this new version (like ElegantThemes) – or informs you by e-mail that they have checked their themes with the new WordPress version and write “Go for it, you should safely be able to update to WordPress 3.4!” (like StudioPress) – you can only be happy having such a pro-active partner for your web endeavors.
And I do not think that I am alone in this – especially not among the non-geeks. It is probably something that matters to the majority of us when running a website for your profession or your business. I like to be assured that I will get updates for WordPress as well as the theme installed whenever necessary.
Regular and necessary updates are only one of the reasons why I prefer premium themes above gratis themes – free is not about price in GPL terms. In my opinion, premium themes have better designs, incorporate more functionality, and – most important of all – offer professional support.
Responsive Support Forums
The matter of support is again a sort of insurance. Is not it a relief to know that when you have a support question, that you can browse a support forum, add a comment or start a new thread? And that you will get a reply within a reasonable timeframe so that you can continue with your project?
And in the case of ElegantThemes, are those updates and support alone not worth the $39 per annum? According to Richard Stallman – the founder of the Free Software Foundation – it is not a problem at all when companies charge money for distribution, support or training.
Aside from the legal issues, there is also an ethical aspect. May be it is just me and my false sense of what is right and what is wrong.
However, I think that most premium vendors ask a reasonable fee for their themes – including updates and support. As far as I am concerned, I hope that they will be able to continue doing so.
So far my two cents. I am looking forward to your opinion.