WordPress.org

Ready to get started?Download WordPress

Forums

[closed] Theme licensing (22 posts)

  1. rebanyo
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    I've seen tons of themes being distributed that are licensed under GPL incompatible licenses (like CC-sa, nd, or nc). Since WordPress is GPLed, and themes use WordPress code, aren't those themes violating the GPL?

  2. Samuel Wood (Otto)
    Tech Ninja
    Posted 7 years ago #

    Depends on how you look at it. The short answer is technically yes, however, themes have been generally considered to be exempted from the more rigorous GPL requirements, because they represent a more artistic work instead of simply being derivatives of the WordPress codebase.

    For example, the codex's Theme List asks for themes listed there to explicitly specify their licensing scheme.

    Since a theme generally defines a look and feel and may include graphics and such, these are more the property of the person who created them. Simply adding in template tags to make them WordPress compatible doesn't really make them enough of a derivative to count. That seems to be the general consensus, although I cannot find anything explicitly stating that.

    Of course, this all depends on what the WordPress devs say. But that's what I think is the general feeling. I may be wrong.

  3. ceejayoz
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    I'd say no, it's not a violation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work#Derivative_work_of_software

    If the original software was designed to accept plug-ins or drivers using a defined mechanism, such a driver or plug-in does not form a derived work.

    I'd say "designed to accept plug-ins" is the key bit here. Themes plug-in to the WordPress code without necessarily using any of it - they can just use the API.

  4. rebanyo
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    @ceejayoz: But themes aren't plugins. You can't use WP without one. Sure, the backend will run just fine, and you'll get a beautiful database full of stuff, but you won't be able to display your posts. Since at least one theme is necessary, I tend to think of them as an integral part of the software.

    However, reading the GPL FAQ, I find that this isn't necessarily so: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#WMS

    However, the WP license doesn't seem to have an exception for templates that link to the WP code. I suppose that the devs' intent is to permit publishing of templates under any license, which is ok with me. However, It would be a good thing if the next versions of WP included an exception like this one.

  5. pizdin_dim
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    "But themes aren't plugins. You can't use WP without one."

    I don't think that's true, for two reasons:

    1. The main WP index file has a "define('WP_USE_THEMES', true);" statement, which seems to suggest that it should be possible to use WP without any themes, even the "default" one. Although, setting the constant to false or commenting out the line didn't do what I expected (present a "bare" page), I believe that was the actual intent by the developers.

    2. Prior to WP-V2, there used to be a file called "wp.php", which when renamed as "index.php" effectively acts as the "bare" theme, producing output without any stylesheet rendering. If you download this file from one of earlier versions of WP, you will see that WP still works perfectly.

    So, what I'm trying to illustrate is that WP is fully functional without any themes. However, no WP theme is functional without the WP core. Therefore, WP themes cannot be seen as "derivative works" and if that's the case, there's absolutely no requirement for identical licensing.

    My conclusion: No theme violates the WP core GPL. That of course implies that themes (a) can cost money and (2) can preclude you from modifying them.

    My thoughts only, of course.

  6. MichaelH
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

  7. rebanyo
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    Pizdin: Thanks for the tip. Still, "themeless WP" is a personal modification with WP 2.x. It's a workaround, not the normal way to use it (at least, reading the text files included in the downladable archive). If I install WP following the standard set of instructions, and delete all my themes, I get a beautiful blank screen.

    As for working without the WP core: If some piece of software you write is linked to a GPL library (without a linking exception), then you must GPL it. Your software wouldn't work (just like a standalone theme) but the library would still serve its origninal purpose (just like the WP core). However, the comparison is flawed when we analyze the scope of the pieces: a WP theme is a VERY minor contribution when compared to WP.

    However, I think there still needs to be some clarification: GPLed themes CAN be sold. The FSF sells much of it's software. Actually, something under a noncommercial license isn't Free Software at all, as defined by the FSF, or Open Source Software, as defined by OSI.

  8. pizdin_dim
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    "If I install WP following the standard set of instructions, and delete all my themes, I get a beautiful blank screen."

    Yeah, that's right. But like I implied in point (1), I think that's either a bug, a non-implemented feature or a silly name for a constant. Maybe I'm wrong, but to call a constant "WP_USE_THEMES" definitely suggests to me that setting it to "false" will not use themes for presentation. The constant is used in "template-loader.php" and I expect it wouldn't be very complex to extend that code to present unstyled output, which is what I think the developers intended. So, I'm assuming that that will be something that will work in a future release. If that's so, then an out-of-the-box installation will support non-themed output.

    "If some piece of software you write is linked to a GPL library (without a linking exception), then you must GPL it."

    That's contrary to my interpretation. The Wikipedia entry does state that "plugins" are not derivative works, so the GPL can't be enforced on them. And strictly speaking, a theme is a plugin.

    No definitive answers, just opinions. Just goes to show that GPL is still confusing after all these years.

  9. Matt Mullenweg
    Troublemaker
    Posted 7 years ago #

    I don't remember what the heck WP_USE_THEMES does, it's probably a vestigial backward compatibility thing, but rebanyo is correct that themes link and use lots of internal WordPress functions, which make them linked under the GPL and subject to being a GPL-compatible license.

    If a theme (or a plugin) used no internal WP functions or APIs, then it could probably be considered independent, but that would be really really hard for a theme.

  10. rebanyo
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    pizdin_dim: Wikipedia isn't written by lawyers. The GPL, on the other hand, is. It is also a binding contract to which users and devs subscribe, so it's an enforceable rule (like a written law, but of lesser hierarchy). Courts have already ruled against people using GPLed code in non-GPLed apps.

    Matt: Whoa, I never thought I'd get an answer from you. Thanks for the clarification (and technical insight, for those of us who can barely read some simple PHP).

  11. Samuel Wood (Otto)
    Tech Ninja
    Posted 7 years ago #

    WP_USE_THEMES makes WordPress actually display the page instead of just loading the page and all the WordPress functionality. By leaving WP_USE_THEMES set to false (or unset at all), one can include the WordPress functions inside of another piece of PHP software and use it that way.

    It's not supposed to display "unstyled" output or anything. Okay, so it's badly named, but the goal with that set to false is to make it not display *any* output, to load the functionality only.

  12. TomK32
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    The issue is analog to the (still disputed) issue wether or not a non-GPL software (here theme) can dynamically link (themes are normally distributed without WordPress) to a GPL software (here wordpress). So, if you want to know it for sure, sue someone who did a non-GPL theme and find out.

    Additionally you can use GPL-software (let's say gcc) to generate non-GPL software/content.

  13. ceejayoz
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    rebanyo is correct that themes link and use lots of internal WordPress functions, which make them linked under the GPL and subject to being a GPL-compatible license.

    Not a problem for me - Tarski is GPL - but perhaps this should be stated somewhere slightly more prominent on WordPress.org? There are hundreds of non-GPL themes out there, and you just said they're effectively illegal.

  14. Samuel Wood (Otto)
    Tech Ninja
    Posted 7 years ago #

    Like TomK32 says, that sort of thing is still disputed and has not been decided in the courts.

    So, if you want to know it for sure, sue someone who did a non-GPL theme and find out.

    LOL. Guess that's one way to do it. :)

  15. rebanyo
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    TomK32: Of course you can use GCC to compile non-GPL stuff. the FSF's Freedom #0 is the freedom to use the software for any function. About linking to other non-GPL programs, that's what the LGPL (or GPL with a linking exception) is for. The GPL I received with my WP tarball doesn't explicitly state that I can link non-GPL software to it, so I presume it can't be done.

    As for suing people: I'd rather wait for them to sue me for copyright infringement when I modify their spammy themes (cause that's my main issue).

  16. Matt Mullenweg
    Troublemaker
    Posted 7 years ago #

    Here is a relevant FAQ from the Free Software Foundation:

    http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLAndPlugins

  17. Samuel Wood (Otto)
    Tech Ninja
    Posted 7 years ago #

    The GPL I received with my WP tarball doesn't explicitly state that I can link non-GPL software to it, so I presume it can't be done.

    Sure it can. Are you redistributing, or are you an end-user?

    Again, the GPL is about freedom, and it places no restrictions on how you *use* your GPL'd software. If I want to place my own copyrighted non-free code into a plugin that only I will use, then there's absolutely nothing preventing me from doing that.

  18. TomK32
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    matt: there's a "we believe they form a single program" and the paragraph below ends with "that is a borderline case". So I wouldn't count too much on the FSF's opinion on court.

    Just to a point clear: I prefer CreativeCommons (or public domain) for my work cuz GPL/GFDL just sucks and they are unable to fit it to european law as CreativeCommons did.

  19. pizdin_dim
    Member
    Posted 7 years ago #

    "Courts have already ruled against people using GPLed code in non-GPLed apps."

    That's not relevant to out discussions here, is it? A theme or a plugin is not an app, in both cases they're "plugins" for an app, which is WP.

    I guess if things were clear on this issue, we wouldn't be debating this.

  20. Samuel Wood (Otto)
    Tech Ninja
    Posted 7 years ago #

    The real crux of the issue is whether or not a theme constitutes an "original work" or is a "derivative work" of WordPress. I say that a theme is an original work, in most cases, because you can take an existing design/theme, and, for the most part, just plug in some function calls to make it WordPress compatible. You'll want to do some copy/paste work to fit the WordPress theme mold, but is this enough to make it derivative? It's a tough call.

    Given that I've seen themes for WordPress that were remade from themes originally made for other blogging platforms, I'd be hard pressed to say that they are derivatives of WordPress.

    I do not agree with the FSF's stance on "linking" in most cases, mind you, but I don't think that's really relevant to the argument. "Linking" when you're talking about scripted code is a fine line to begin with. Where does one end and another begin?

    Regardless, this is only relevant to the theme developer, not the end-user. The GPL intentionally says nothing about how you *use* code.

  21. Skitzzo
    Member
    Posted 6 years ago #

    Sorry to grave dig this topic but I've just encountered the issue on my own blog.

    I have a couple of questions on the issue. First of all, has there been any cases that offer precedence to this issue?

    Also, Matt, has your legal team advised you at all on this?

    If what Matt says is accurate (and I believe that it is), wouldn't I be able to modify and distribute a theme that had supposedly been distributed under the CC license?

    Here is the url of the discussion for reference: http://bloggingexperiment.com/archives/is-blogging-experiment-breaking-the-law.php

  22. dains
    Member
    Posted 6 years ago #

    Hmm, seems that modifying a theme that another developer has placed a distribution license on would bring your theme under their license. That really doesn't have anything to do with WordPress.

    However, most themes are modified from themes were released with WordPress and GPL licensed- says so right in their CSS file. Therefore all of those themes are derivative works, and are licensed according to the original theme.

    Were you to start from scratch or a purchased template, and input the WordPress tags (or widgets) to make WordPress work with your theme, there would be no legal issue at all- it's your theme, you're just calling data and using system logic from WordPress and the widget makers.

    I've found that it's actually not difficult to get a template, break up your template structure into the same PHP file structure, and put in the WP calls that you want.
    Even if you copy the WP functions used in other themes, that's still not copying someone else's original or creative design since those functions and parameters are provided by WP.

    It's definitely some work, but if you're developing for commercial purposes and need to make sure that your greedy, scummy competition doesn't demand that you release your theme to the public so that they can download and use it for free, it's the only safe road to using WordPress (or any other open source licensed platform).

Topic Closed

This topic has been closed to new replies.

About this Topic

Tags