1. says

    Great post — and thank you for the kind comments.

    BTW I know Thesis has probably done well for you as a theme and affiliate program, but if you care about the philosophical underpinnings of WordPress please consider putting your support behind something that isn’t hostile to WordPress’ core freedoms and GPL license.

    • says

      Is that why Thesis seems to keep getting not mentioned in posts/WordCamp? When you spoke about the new possibilities that Frameworks provide, I would have thought you’d have mentioned Thesis – but I guess I see why you didn’t now.

      I don’t know a whole lot about licensing, etc., but it seems if there is a solid product like Thesis, which the WordPress community is certainly behind and so many people have moved toward using it was a framework, it’s probably not something that is trying to be “hostile.” Again, I don’t know a lot about GPL Licenses, etc., but these are just my thoughts.

    • says

      There are good reasons people pay for Thesis. The most important reasons (for me) are:

      1.) It gives you a plethora of options where even the inexperienced bloggers / website owners can create a somewhat unique site / layout without learning HTML, CSS and PHP. Many of my clients are not experts and this flexibility is of amazing value to them.

      2.) Developer wise, Thesis is a dream come true. Edit 2 files and achieve pretty much any design you want. I haven’t seen any other theme / framework with that kind of flexibility, minimalism and ease of use. When one couples this with WordPress and some of the amazing plugins the community created it is truly one of the best CMS systems out there right now.

      3.) Thesis saves such an incredible amount of time when developing websites. This alone would be worth triple the price it costs.

      Standing up for WordPress’ core freedoms and the GPL might make you feel good at the end of the day. However, business is business and there is no place for “feelings” there.

      A framework like Thesis, especially if you’re a developer, will save you so much time (and as we all know time equals money, so it’s actually making you money at the same time) that you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

    • says

      I actually mentioned Thesis from stage as something to avoid.

      The question isn’t about Thesis being cool or those guys being smart — they are!

      The only problem is they claim the license that everyone else uses doesn’t apply to them and apparently want WordPress to sue them to prove they should play by the same rules as everyone else. (I have a call with the FSF next week about this. But even the idea that a theme maker would want to lock horns legally with their underlying platform baffles me.)

      However you can vote with your dollars and your feet and move to a GPL alternative. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would trade freedom for convenience deserve neither. It’s a better choice in the long run anyway, history has shown just like WordPress passed up its proprietary competitors, the same will probably happen in the theme world.

    • says


      I think you will find there are plenty of worthy alternatives to Thesis that meet many of your needs. Granted, there is not a GPL compliant Thesis “clone”, but there are several excellent GPL themes and frameworks that offer many if not all of the features you are looking for and still maintain the spirit of the GPL and WordPress.

    • says

      Show me some. I have tried out many, and in the end none of them were up there with Thesis on features, ease of use and time saving.

  2. says

    Matt, Toni (your CEO) and I have been trying to work through our differences in legal philosophy regarding the GPL. I wouldn’t exactly call that hostile, since things are quite amicable between he and I. Please consider tempering your statements so Toni and I can work this out like real business people do.

  3. says

    Thanks for dropping by, Matt. I’m inclined to agree with you in this regard.

    Adam, you seem to be incredibly productive as a developer with Thesis and that’s aweome.
    But personally, having worked with some of the code and glanced at the licensing, I’m not really into it. As an abstraction, it’s a pretty huge one. But it’s also a somewhat closed abstraction, meaning that if you find yourself stuck with working in its constraints in a manner that discourages hacking of code, sharing results, submitting patches, and creating forks, well, that’d be a real bummer for me.

    I really appreciate the spirit of encouragement and collaboration in the Ruby community. From my experience in the WP community, I found it there as well (though I discovered that releasing any code was a dangerous proposition, as one would soon be inundated with requests for help and “kthx”-style feature requests).

    But yeah, when it comes to development frameworks, I’m absolutely a GPL/BSD/MIT-style sort of guy. Come to think of it, I’ve never paid for a development framework, but I tend to get a lot out of them and contribute back once I’m up to speed. It’s a nice way to work and build community.


    • says

      Great points — building on a proprietary framework is like putting your house on a sand foundation. Even if the proprietary code is better today, it’s less likely it’ll be better tomorrow and much less likely it’ll still be on top next year. It’s hard to compete with the collaborative force of hundreds of people around the world working together, as competitors to WordPress have found.

  4. says

    Seems like the only thing hostile to good innovative development is the Automattic Team who is clearly afraid of other companies and individuals making a great product that has been purchased by numerous respectable folks in the WordPress community. And that gives back to the community at large through improved innovation and simplicity of great online publishing.

    • says

      Felix, it’s comments like yours that really make people think Automattic has anything to do with the way the WordPress project is handled. Matt has stated numerous times that he loves to see people use WordPress in such ways that brings them success. Why would Automattic, a company with millions of venture capital give a damn about someone selling a theme. That’s stupid anyway you look at it. Their interests lie in web services and

      I won’t get into any GPL debates here as I don’t have the legal knowledge to stand on one way or the other. But the trend I am seeing is more commercial themes relaxing their license restrictions and instead, opting to be GPL compliant alongside of WordPress. This is a great thing for the WordPress community instead of theme authors thinking they can lock you inside their little box after you pay them money.

    • says

      I’m not speaking on behalf of Automattic, but as the leader of the project for the past 6 years.

      There are a ton of people making a ton of money without violating the GPL license, in fact one of my announcements to 700+ people at WordCamp on Saturday is that we’re launching a page highlighting all the people doing that with themes.

      GPL and business are not incompatible, in fact billions of dollars of industry have been built on and around GPL code like Linux. (And WordPress. :))

  5. says

    Matt’s right when he says that Thesis is at odds with WP’s GPL license. I’m not completely up to snuff on the GPL, but basically proprietary themes like Thesis are violating the spirit of, if not the letter of, the GPL by building on WP in a non-open source manner.

    Thesis works well because it mirrors a lot of the apparent aspects of an open source project: passionate user community, mutual support, etc. By all accounts it’s a great product, but just try changing it or including bits of it in another project and you’ll see that it operates very differently from WP itself.

    • says

      True, often it’s things that are “open enough” that are the most dangerous because you have the illusion of freedom and can be in for a rude awakening. MT had a passionate user community, hundreds of plugins, tons of documentation and support when their users woke up one day and found the license had changed. Even though the community had pored their blood, sweat, tears, and money into the product, they never really owned it. Brian and Chris probably wouldn’t do that, but their last 4-5 themes have been sold to someone else and if the same happens to Thesis who knows what the new owners will do with it.

    • Matt G says

      Your comments about Thesis being sold are unfounded and, most importantly, unethical. I don’t know you at all but I know you are very young which makes me wonder if you shouldn’t take a few professional ethics classes. Perhaps you should also consider a healthy diet of economics literature to better understand markets, incentive structures, etc. Maybe you have taken both already. If so, get the old books out and reread them.

      Now, explain to me what the advantages of a GPL compliant Thesis would be. As far as I can tell there would be none (other than satisfying your desire ideological homogeneity).

    • says

      My comments are founded because the PressRow theme is now owned by “find credit” and Cutline by Tubetorial, which is in turn owned by SplashPress, so there’s precedence. Business continuity is an important topic for enterprises and freelancers alike, I go through a “what if” scenario for everything we rely on.

      With GPL-protected code one of the end options regardless of what happens is to take the code either in house or to another developer and continue right where you left off. (This is how WordPress itself got started, as a fork of B2.) This is an extreme action not to be taken lightly, but at least it’s always an option.

  6. Carl Hancock says

    Matt: When you launch a page for GPL compliant commercial themes, how about doing the same for GPL compliant commercial plugins? Seems only fair. We have a very polished professional plugin that we will be releasing information on at WordCamp Chicago that is going to add significant functionality to the WordPress platform. We plan on releasing it as a commercial product that is compliant with the GPL.

    • says

      Sure, there are a ton of GPL-compliant commercial plugins in the directory already (probably hundreds) and there’s no reason we couldn’t have a special tag for them.

  7. Carl Hancock says

    I understand there are GPL plugins in the directory, but we don’t want the files stored in plugin subversion repository. Is that something the plugin directory already does?

    I can’t imagine GPL compliant premium theme developers are going to want direct downloads. They, like us, would want the user to purchase it before downloading it.

    • says

      Oh I see what you mean — no plans for that currently but tell me more about what you had in mind at WordCamp Chicago this weekend, preferably over a drink. :)

  8. Carl Hancock says

    I would be glad to, I think you will be impressed with what we are working on. Are you planning on being there Saturday or just Sunday?

    • Carl Hancock says

      Great Matt. We will have to have a drink on Saturday, I assume you are going to the after party at Morton’s. I can fill you in on what we are working on and i’d love to give you a firsthand demo. You’ll love it.

  9. says

    I’m wondering if the complaints here are Thesis-specific, directed at all/almost all paid themes, or somewhere in between? Because it’s not really clear from the comments here which way it’s going.

    Insofar as the “they could sell you the software, stop developing it and you’d all be up a creek” arguement – sorry, but this seems like a misdirection. First of all, this would be a potential of any paid theme or addon to WP, or any software purchase, for that matter. It’s far less likely when a product is very successful and from what I’ve gathered, Thesis squarely falls into this category. I can’t help but wondering if Thesis singled out because it’s level of success?

    And the proprietary framework arguement doesn’t work for me, either. So what if, ten years down the road, because of whatever future developments in WP and/or free options, Thesis no longer “delivers” a better experience? If Thesis doesn’t innovate and provide you with more, better than you can get without the investment, it will die on it’s own, as it should be. The cost of a liscense to any software is not a golden oath that the software will always be the best answer to the purchasers needs forever.

    This discussion seems framed as a Thesis liscensing issue, but the arguements are more about a generalized Open Source vs. Paid Software question. I believe there is room for both.

    • says

      It’s important to differentiate between “paid” and “proprietary.” There are plenty of paid themes that are also GPL, and I don’t see any licensing issues with those. They’re innovating, providing value to people, and making a living off it. That’s good old-fashioned capitalism, and doesn’t require a proprietary license.

  10. says

    I think it’s rather funny that yet another post turns into a GPL war – thankfully, I’ve made my decision to license all StudioPress themes with the GPL license and have moved on from this soap opera. I will point out that my transition months ago hasn’t affected my business and I really am looking forward to the upcoming premium theme directory on the WordPress site.

    Back to the main point here, which was the actual post about why people should switch to WordPress – very well written, and well covered. I know for a fact that a year and a half ago when I left my dayjob to pursue freelance as a WordPress developer/consultant I woudn’t regret it. And still don’t…

  11. says

    Matt, I love that I emailed you an hour ago with specific items so we could settle this, but no response. You have time time to keep commenting, why not take time to solve things?

    That is what you want, right?

    • says

      You had said you were already talking to Toni, so I was waiting to hear back what that had involved, but it sounds like nothing had really been discussed. If you guys are considering switching to GPL that’s fantastic news for everybody, most especially your users and community.

  12. says

    adam, maybe you’ve seen this thread before.

    the spirit with which Pearson seems to be conducting his business goes against everything WordPress and free software stand for.

    • Matt G says

      First of all, you are speaking in half-truths like most pro-GPLers. The GPL does not cover trademarks. And, if I were to guess, you don’t know the difference between a trademark, copyright or a patent. Your blogigs friend was being both academically dishonest and unethical. In this case, imitation is not flattery – it is robbery.

    • says

      I agree here, even if you’re using GPL code it’s bad form to call your derivative product by the same name of what you started. It’s confusing to people, which is why trademarks exist in the first place.

  13. says

    I agree with Brian, this is a soap opera and it doesn’t do any good to WordPress and the community with all this articles about people fighting the GPL just to make a quick buck and lock customers into their own little business, to all this people making non-GPL themes/plugins and getting (a lot) of money for doing it please align with the licensing of the platform that you are developing for or just move on to another one, but don’t try to take advantage of it …period.

    Excuse me for my english, it is getting better every day.

  14. says

    Well…I certainly didn’t think that writing my WordPress post would end up getting us into a GPL-licensing fight…

    Matt, I really appreciate and respect EVERYTHING you’ve done for the WordPress community. It’s an amazing gift you’ve given us – and so I respect where you are coming from with this.

    And yes, Chris Pearson can be a little over the top sometimes, but that’s what makes him Chris ;) He’s done some great work for the WordPress community and I certainly didn’t think I’d find myself BUYING a WordPress theme, but his was the first WordPress Framework-style theme I came across and the community and support is really helpful. People put a ton of time into collecting resources and making them available to the entire community of users.

    Anyway – hopefully we can all appreciate the hard work done by everyone in this community and…well, carry on with our blogging…?

    • says

      As I’m reading this enthralling debate between the higher-ups of the WordPress world, imagine my surprise when I stumble on a link to my site! Thanks, Adam!

      And I echo your point, the prompt and eager support community surrounding Thesis is almost worth the entire purchase price by itself. I’ve had Thesis for a while and still consider it one of my greatest web development/design purchases.

      At the same time, I understand both sides of this argument and I can only hope that people much smarter and harder working than myself resolve all of these issues quickly!

    • says

      I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve purchased themes, and pretty much everyone echoed the sentiment that the most value they got for their money was from the support and customization help around the theme, which like you said makes it worth the purchase price alone. I think this is why many popular premium folks have been able to switch to GPL code and design without negatively impacting their business in the long term. Sure someone could rip-off the theme and even sell it themselves, legally, but while it’s easy to clone code it’s hard to clone community.

    • says

      I will wholeheartedly agree here with Matt – my business has not been affected after the switch to the GPL and the success that StudioPress has had primarily revolves around how happy our community is. Geesh, an hour after we released the Education theme (which supports localization) we had a member translate into their language and shared their file with our us. Now that is what community is all about. Won’t be getting that when you download a ripped off version.

    • says

      I also want to point out how many times I’ve been thanked by people for having a support forum where they received answers in minutes. This isn’t a testimony to how great a theme is, rather how a community responds when fellow theme users have questions. With over 47,000 posts and 25+ moderators, I know the value in my business lies significantly with the community, which is why I felt that I could safely move to a GPL/support based model.

    • Matt G says

      You certainly shouldn’t feel guilty for using Thesis. If you want to feel guilt, think about the children working in sweatshops that made your Nike shoes, or the medical products you use that were tested on animals. Heck, you could even feel guilty about your environmental impact. The licensing of Thesis is probably the most trivial thing in your life.

  15. says

    Still no response from Matt to my email about our bringing Thesis under the GPL.

    Is this about the GPL, or is Matt on a personal vendetta against Chris and I because of personal issues? A lot of people already know that answer.

    I guess I’ll keep you updated until Matt steps up.

  16. Mitch says

    It’s unfortunately that the GPL, in all its greatness, seems to have created such a hostile environment.Can’t we all just get along? If Open Source will prevail, as it probably will, then maybe it is better to just let it do so then to create a big scene. I fear WordPress will start suing designers, which would be unfortunate.

  17. James Bryan says

    I didn’t think you could have advertising on WordPress? Is pomomusings WordPress with advertising?

    • says


      You can’t advertise on (free-hosted) blogs, unless it’s a VIP account, etc…. However, Adam is running a self-hosted blog, and those blogs are allowed advertising, and whatever else the owner wants.

  18. says

    I’m kind of in the boat with Adam. I run Thesis, and yes, I wish it feel under the GPL, that I could do as I pleased with it, etc… However, I have tried every other GPL compliant framework theme, and none of them really match Thesis as far as ease and options in design and well, pretty much everything.

    If there was one that was a strong competitor to it, I would definately use it. I use GPL stuff on client themes that I do, and even other sites of mine, but I think we all agree it’s a superior product and that’s hard to give up.

    That said, hopefully the WordPress community will continue to built better frame-work themes. There will be something that is as good or better than Thesis soon enough and I think most WordPress users would choose the GPL-compliant over Thesis, if that was the case. Right or wrong, I think Brian and Chris have put out an excellent product and at the very least, has challenged theme designers to built better themes with the user in mind.

  19. James Bryan says

    Melissa, so with a self-hosted jobby you can do ads. Is it then simply a matter of using google adsense or something? Thanks.

  20. says

    Guys, the assertion that the GPL applies to Thesis is absurd. No reasonable intellectual property attorney who doesn’t work for a free software organization would say otherwise (and I’ve spoken to plenty). The GPL applies to derivative works of the original software. To qualify as a derivative work, the new software must use a “major” portion of the original code. A few function calls doesn’t get you there.

    Matt has other good points though. I have some ideas about how Thesis could work with the GPL (which is why I’m even discussing it with Toni), but ultimately it will be up to Chris. My only wish is that we could work through these things like reasonable adults and spare the propaganda.

    Matt, sorry if I jumped the gun on your non-response to my email. I sent similar questions to Toni, so I’m sure one of you will give me the info I need. I’m really interested in a dialogue on this, but I’m afraid that the current approach of bashing us as “hostile” will make it impossible for Chris to see the possible benefits of the GPL. He’s poured his heart and soul into Thesis, and you have to realize that the level of emotional investment and passion he has for his “baby” is similar to what Matt feels for the WordPress project itself.

  21. says

    First off, I want to join in with many others in commending you Adam for the post and for promoting WordPress, a powerful platform that we all love. I am also grateful to everyone else who has commented, because the subject of whether WP themes should be GPL is of great interest to me. I firmly believe in the open-source movement and am convinced that it provides a sort of value that is not achieved with closed-source software. At the same time, I am a capitalist. In my 60 years on this little planet, I have seen that you often get only what you pay for. If it sounds like I am a person who holds conflicting beliefs, then the sound is right: humans are very good at simultaneously holding a slew of conflicting beliefs.

    In reading through the comments, I feel good about my decision to stick with Thesis. I think Brian Clark’s points above are the most convincing. It takes more than a few function calls to be classified as a derivative work. Chris’ work is so much more than a derivative of WordPress … it is a framework for providing good SEO, and it is a framework for helping design-clueless guys like me wind up with designs that are appealing and useful to our readers.

    I know others, such as Brian Gardner, have a model that is both GPL and profitable. I also own the StudioPress developer’s license in addition to the Thesis developer’s license, because I support what BG is trying to do. And, I have tried my hand with the Carrington design (still don’t understand it, but it is impressive).

    But, when all is said and done, I am happy in sticking with Thesis. I am still open to hearing more on this, but right now, Brian Clark’s comments leave me feeling pretty comfortable that I am not violating any licensing terms in using Thesis.

    • says

      I don’t think Thesis is a derivative work either, the part of the GPL it triggers isn’t derivative works but linking, which even using a few functions would trigger. (“A few functions” is a bit of a downplay — the theme would not function without WordPress.) This is the viral aspect of the GPL. Many functional libraries use LGPL, MIT, or Apache licenses because they have no virility triggered by linking.

  22. says

    I’m going to respond to this from an academic standpoint. Matt has been in touch with me and our attempts to see eye to eye have nothing to do with law.

    OK, Software Developer 1 creates a program, and licenses it under the GPL.

    Software Developer 2 develops a program that works with Software 1.

    If Software 2 is a derivative work of Software 1, the GPL applies to Software 2. If not a derivative work, Software Developer 2 enjoys full copyright in Software 2 from the moment of its tangible expression.

    In other words, if Thesis is not a derivative work of WordPress, it’s game over. GPL adoption would have to be voluntary, because there are only two possible states – derivative work or full copyright protection. An outside license cannot dictate anything to someone who enjoys full copyright.

    The “linking” theory is not something separate from the concept of derivative work. It’s an attempt to expand what constitutes a derivative work. In other words, instead of requiring a “major” use of the code of Software 1 in Software 2, it’s the position that because Software 2 doesn’t work without Software 1, Software 2 is a derivative work of Software 1, and therefore subject to the licensing terms set forth by Software Developer 1.

    I keep using the word “theory” with regard to linking, because that’s all it is. It’s never been tested in court, and if it ever is, it will likely fail.

    Why? Because it’s an unprecedented expansion of the current established definition of a derivative work. Such an expansion with regard to copyright would have ramifications throughout the field of intellectual property law in the United States.

    Think of the iPhone. Now think of iPhone accessories made by third parties, such as extended battery chargers. Those products don’t work without the iPhone, which is Apple’s intellectual property.

    Can Apple issue a license with the iPhone that controls the intellectual property rights of those third-party manufacturers because their products don’t work without Apple’s product? No, they can’t.. and an argument otherwise sound pretty ridiculous.

    But this is essentially the basis of the “linking” theory in the world of software copyright.

    A judge has to look at current law when deciding an issue. Since copyright law is established by statute, a prudent judge would indicate that if Congress wants to expand what constitutes a derivative work, let Congress do it. I don’t think that will ever happen, either.

    So this is why I suggested to Matt we consider a declaratory judgment action, a friendly type of lawsuit where two parties simply ask a judge to tell them the answer to an unsettled question. It wasn’t hostile at all… all we wanted is a resolution on an issue with no current answer (even though we’re fairly certain what the answer would be).

    • says

      Wow, Brian. Good points.
      I guess instead of flipping back and forth on this issue, because of how confusing it has become to me, the most appropriate response for me is to stick with Thesis and stand on the bylines watching how this works out. I am not a developer. I am a blogger. My job is to give my customers the best reading experience I can. WordPress and Thesis both help me achieve that. That should be all I care about at this point.

    • Dan Grossman says

      Finally, someone points out the basic legal problem with WordPress trying to impose terms on people that aren’t distributing their code. The licensing power comes from copyright law giving sole rights to make copies to a copyright holder. If a theme developer is not making copies of WordPress, then they’re not bound by WordPress’s license, period. And as Brian points out, there is no case law to substantiate this “linking” argument for calling a theme a copy of WordPress.

  23. says

    It seems that there’s a number of different opinions about this linking/derivative works issue which seems to be the unresolved point between the WordPress and Thesis camps. I tend to side with with the CopyLeft crew on these license debates because ultimately it is the GPL that protects me as a user/developer who has invested my own time and resources into this software project (WordPress). The GPL protects the WordPress community should Matt or the Automattic crew go nutty and decide to turn the project into magnetic resonance software to destroy the world with. I mean that the GPL allows us to keep the blogging platform we love, it wouldn’t protect us from the earth destroying quakes!

    Brian, the Thesis theme is excellent work and I think it’s success suggests a roadmap for further improvements to WordPress. I currently enjoy deploying it when I need something quick and clean and configurable. However I’m not sure your argument about the iPhone is on point. I’m sure if Apple did release the iPhone under the GPL it would have a significant impact on all those add-ons and accessories. We can only live in hope!

  24. says

    Adam, thanks for a great post on WordPress and hosting an slightly over-heated but very interesting and informative debate on the right and wrongs of Thesis being a non GPL theme.

    I think both WordPress and Thesis are brilliant. They have really changed web design and web development for the better and I have great admiration for both Matt’s and Chris’s organizations.

    Their differences seem to me to be a) philiosophical b) commercial and perhaps c) a little bit personal. Some good intermediation is required because the blogging community wants both WordPress AND Thesis to continue to work well together.

    I guess the routes forward with increasing undesirability might be:

    1) Thesis moves to a GPL/Support model

    2) A negotiated agreement where Chris still makes money but moves closer to GPL

    3) WordPress expands it own framework to include some of the features within the Thesis framework (specifically in the areas of SEO and of easy ‘custom’ styling through editing two files)

    4) Automattic and DIY Themes go out of business after blowing a few million dollars in the law courts

    5) Somebody types ‘Google’ into Google and the internet blows up (Copyright/trademark/patent is a UK comedy show called ‘The IT Crowd’. It really rocks so catch it on YouTube for light relief )

    Let’s hope the future of the WordPress and Thesis love affair is nearer the top of the list.

  25. alexanderf says

    I love wordpress!
    After the years of running my site on the other CMS platform i moved to wordpress with the help of automated tool cms2cms, since that time my website running is my pleasure. WP is really user friendly and has a great functionality at the same time! You just have to try it to make sure that WP is really awesome!

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