PliablePress and the GPL

Update 15 July 2010: PliablePress is now 100% GPL compliant! Read more here. I still stand by most of what I said here about product quality being more important than a license, but I was wrong to underestimate how important the GPL is to a lot of people. Thanks to everyone for the enlightened discussions we had here, the change is because of you all!

There has been another GPL storm going on in the WordPress world in the past few days. Yep, again.

I don’t normally make a comment on them, but given that I’m directly involved with it now through PliablePress themes (All of our themes have to come with some sort of license, right?), it seems time to finally step in.

An Ultra-Fast Backstory

WordPress is licensed under the GPL, which means anyone can copy, edit, sell or redistribute it. Obviously if you’re going to sell themes (or plugins) though, that license poses a bit of an issue because it literally means people can buy it once and sell it for less (or for nothing!) elsewhere.

Matt Mullenweg (Founder of WordPress) wants all themes to be GPL. He’s said he will never take this to court, but he is using his resources as founder to do his best to promote GPL themes (e.g. GPL themes are promoted on the site, whilst non-GPL themes aren’t allowed to be mentioned anywhere on it).

The latest fuss is because Jane Wells has taken over as the central point for WordCamp info and now says that anyone who sells non-GPL products is forbidden from speaking at a WordCamp, or advertising.

What Exactly Is the PliablePress License?

I’ll answer this quickly before I get into the main point; PliablePress doesn’t have a real license. It has 5 lines that I wrote about 3 hours before we went live. It basically says that you can do anything you want with your theme, so long as you don’t sell it on or give it to someone else.

So you can edit, customize and expand on it as much as you want, for every single site you have. But if your friend wants to use it, they have to buy their own copy (Though you can totally get them to buy it through your affiliate link and earn yourself 33% back!)

Now here is the interesting part; I don’t actually mention the license anywhere on the site until you’re in the checkout. And in the 11 days since we launched, I’ve been asked hundreds of questions from different people all about PliablePress and our themes.

Want to know how many asked about the license? None (Okay, one person, but he’s a special case and you’ll be hearing much more about him on the PliablePress blog soon!)

That’s the important thing to realize here, just how few people really care. At PliablePress, we’re going to do whatever it takes to make your site the absolute best it can be. And that’s all our customers seem to want so far. One license or another doesn’t help them with that.

So Why Not Go GPL?

Because it’s a very big decision!

Once you GPL a product, you can’t undo that. That’s kind of the point. If we go GPL, it’s permanent. That kind of decision needs some serious thought, and you know what? I have better things to do.

Chameleon packs in an absolute boat-load of functionality, and we had 5 full themes on launch. I don’t think we have a single customer who would have preferred that I’d spent the time looking into this GPL issue and left out some of our features. And that’s what it’s all about, doing what is best for you, our customers.

Since we’ve launched, I’ve replied to questions about any kind of issue our users have met. I’ve built new features into the themes because people wanted them already, and I’ve written entire chunks of code for individual people just so they can adapt their theme the way they want it.

In short, I’m making sure you can take one of our themes and make it exactly the way you like. And we’re yet to have one dissatisfied customer, so I think we’re doing a pretty good job!

If you can show me how the “license” I mentioned above stops me from doing that, well, maybe I’ll go GPL after all then! It’s like I said; whatever it takes to make your site rock.

Will You Ever Go GPL?

Maybe. But to be honest, it’s not likely to happen in the near future.

There are too many things happening (Like the number of “bundle” theme sites opening lately), and sometimes the whole thing just feels like a farce. It’s a great marketing trick for some companies (That much is clear when you realize that only their WordPress products are GPL. If they believe in the GPL, why not their other products too?), and it provides a lot of discussion for others (Including me now, it seems!)

The best route seems to be to sit on the sideline and work away at making our products the best they can be. When the storms all die out and the dust settles, we’ll check back in and see how things stand then.

What About the WordCamps?

I’ve spent the past 3 years writing hundreds of tips and tricks for getting the most out of WordPress here. I’ve brought dozens of clients to WordPress through our services, I’ve written around 1500 comments on this site talking to you all about it, and I don’t even want to think about just how many WordPress questions I’ve answered in emails.

And I’ve loved every minute of it. It feels great helping someone out and hearing them say they appreciated it. And with near 11,000 daily subscribers here, your guess is as good as mine at just how many people have made use of these tips!

And with the exception of the design services (obviously!), I’ve done all of that for free.

But now that I’m taking what I’ve learnt further and building awesome themes that let you do half the things I talk about here just by clicking a button, I’m not welcome in Jane Wells’ community?

Oh well.

It’s not going to change how I do things. You’re still going to get loads of great tutorials on improving your site, I’m still going to be talking to every single one of you in the comments, on Twitter, or anywhere else. And PliablePress is still going to create themes that make your site rock.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not totally aloof to it all. I do think it’s a shame I’m no longer wanted at a WordCamp, and it’s disheartening to see this weight-throwing by the WordCamp trademark owners (especially when WordCamp began as a way for WordPress fans to simply get together and learn from each other. Now count how many times Jane has used the word official in that short post. It was a lot simpler than that before).

But that’s just the way of it. If you don’t want to be part of that, then don’t be. Just get on with what you’re doing and make sure you’re taking care of the people who really matter, your readers and your customers. That’s what I do.

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