Support » Themes and Templates » What to do with ‘dead’ themes? Licensing

  • Hi board,

    on my WP-blog, I’m using a theme, Minima Plus, that seams to be no longer in development. The creators havn’t posted any updates since Feb-2005. It’s hard to get in contact with them, as they don’t reply to emails.

    What to do now? I took the effort to adapt the theme to WP2.5-technology (widgets, options-page, ajax-commenting, support for various plugins).

    If the original theme would have been released under a free license (e.g. GPL), I would be happy to share my adapted version with the community. But unfortunately, Minima Plus does not come under a free license. The files do not contain any licensing-information.

    So I’m afraid, I can’t release my version of Minima to the public, as long as there is not clear licensing-information on the original theme — am I right?

Viewing 8 replies - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Justin Tadlock


    WordPress God

    There’s a lot of debate going on about this at the moment — themes and GPL.

    From what many think (I think Matt Mullenweg is in this camp too), all WordPress themes are licensed under the GPL no matter what license is packaged with the theme, which would allow you to redistribute this modified theme.

    Licensing aside, as far as redistributing others’ work, it is more of an ethical concern for me. I alway say don’t do it.

    However, you’re presented with a unique situation. If I were you, I’d assume that the work is already licensed under the GPL. I would try to contact the original author a couple of more times, clearly stating your purpose. If you don’t hear back within a couple of weeks, release the theme. Make sure you give credit where it’s due.

    Minima Plus was adapted from Douglas Bowman’s Blogger template, Minima. So it’s him you need to be asking. Or, more likely, Google, who hired him to produce it. Good luck with that.

    There’s never been any consensus on whether WP themes ported from non-GPL templates inherit their licence from the original template or the WP functions added to it. Common sense suggests the former (it would be fairly outrageous if you could relicense someone else’s creative work simply by adding a few GPL’d functions to it) but common sense and licensing issues don’t always go together.

    Also, while it might be legally defensible to argue that all WP themes are GPL regardless of authorial intent (I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer) I don’t think it’s ethically defensible to disregard the wishes of the creator.

    Justin Tadlock


    WordPress God

    Since notthatugly’s revelation that the template is not originally a WP theme, I would say ask the original creator, not of the theme, but of the template itself.

    Since it’s not originally a WP theme, I would disregard what I said earlier about “assuming it’s GPL.” I would argue that you can’t release it without the owner’s permission at this point.

    greenshady, you’re totally off-base with this “all themes are GPL” stuff… you could argue that the templates are GPL maybe, but my CSS and my images, the contents of my functions.php, and the intangible artistry in my colour choice, and whatever else I include with it is ALL MINE if I say it is.

    there are wordpress themes available for sale, and the notion that they’re all suddenly GPL because Matt says so is ridiculous, and I doubt he would have ever said anything like that unless extremely drunk at the time.

    I agree and I’d like to know where greenshady got that notion. If that were true with regard to WP themes, there would be no need for this, would there?

    I’ll save you from having to click:

    If you are listing a Theme here in the Forums, please also note the license (e.g. GPL) under which you are releasing your theme.
    If your theme has any sponsored links, please note that also.
    Threads that don’t comply will be deleted.

    Justin Tadlock


    WordPress God

    Just to clarify: I’m not saying that I think themes have to be GPL. I release themes without it myself.

    From my original reply:

    From what many think…

    I never said I’m in this camp.

    Matt wrote this post on sponsored themes just a little over a year ago. He talks about the GPL and themes there. And again, just to clarify, I’m not entirely behind him on this. There are a lot of people that disagree in the comments of that post too (170 comments). This is not the only time he’s touched on this issue.

    I certainly don’t want to get into an argument over the legality of it because I believe my work is my work.

    Getting back to the title of the post, “What to do with ‘dead’ themes?” If it’s been a couple of years since an update, the theme is GPL, and you’ve cleared it with the creator (or they won’t respond for some reasonable amount of time), release it. When I first wrote, I didn’t realize that the theme was not originally a WP theme either. That’s an entirely different issue than what I originally thought.

    Moderator Samuel Wood (Otto)

    (@otto42) Admin

    The issue with regard to what must be made GPL and what must not be is unclear and will likely remain that way for some time.

    The two points of view are:
    1. WP Themes derive from WP and so must be GPL.
    2. Themes are original creations and so are not derivative except insofar as they use certain WP-specific functions and such to work.

    Both points of view have some backing behind them.

    What’s not stated is that arguing them is more than a little pointless, because here’s the real truth of the matter: Unless the copyright holder(s) of WordPress wish to assert their copyright and take somebody to court over it, it’s a bit of a moot issue. Nobody else can call them out on it, since *if* a theme author is infringing copyright by not releasing their theme under GPL, then they’re infringing the copyright of WordPress itself.

    So as long as Matt and the other WordPress copyright holders don’t call lawyers, there’s really nothing to discuss.

    Back on the original topic:
    If the theme is GPL, then of course, you’re free to rerelease.
    If not, or if it’s unclear, then you should try to get somebody’s permission first.
    If the theme, as it is in this case, is derived from another theme in the first place, then look for a license there. If that one is GPL, then so is this new one, and you’re good to go.

    Also, consider the possible consequences. Worst case: Somebody says that you’re infringing their copyright, you remove the theme, done. It’s highly unlikely that any court action will happen, and if it did, it’s highly unlikely that they’d be able to prove any damages, since the original theme was a) free and b) non-functional before you fixed it up and rereleased it.

    Thanks everyone for this lively discussion 🙂

    To come back to the subject: I tried to get in contact with Douglas Bowman, the creator of the Minima-Theme for Blogger. I also tried to contact the creator of Minima’s first WordPress-port, Theron Parlin.

    Neither of them replied so far. Both themes are lacking a free license at the moment.

    As far as I am concerned, I won’t release my version of the theme as long as both predecessors are not GPL-licensed.

Viewing 8 replies - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
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