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Crap, GPL Questions Once Again

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Recently, someone sent me a private message on the BuddyPress.org community network. They had joined WPMU DEV and acquired all of their premium plugins. They wanted to know it they could, “release those plugins all to the buddypress / wp mu community without consequences.”

I wrote a response but decided to share it here as I periodically receive similar DMs, PMs, and emails. So, the next time that someone asks my opinion on this issue, I can simply point them to this post and be done with it.

Although this topic seems to rear its ugly head periodically, it clearly will not die. This is not an attempt to reignite any of the heated debates of the past.

Please respectfully add your comments and thoughts. I will include all that stay civil.

My Response

You have specific freedoms with all GPLed themes and plugins. To find out what those are, you should read the appropriate version of the license under which a given theme or plugin is licensed.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. If you turn around and release any premium GPLed theme or plugin to the public, you will have to offer support to anyone who uses it or tell them that there is no support offered. Most authors of premium themes and plugins will not provide support for thier work if it was obtained from another site.
  2. The community in general frowns upon people who take someone else’s work and profit from it—even though it may be perfectly acceptable under the GPL. So, if you decide to redistribute someone else’s premium work for a fee, then you should be aware that it may cause some backlash. If you are using someone else’s premium work as the basis of a new product, in other words you will be adding additional value to it, that is a different issue. The value added should be appreciable, you must always give credit to the original creator, and the work must remain licensed under the GPL.
  3. You will have to provide your own download site. Since you are not the author of the theme or plugin, the WordPress repository will most likely not accept it for inclusion. The exception to this would be if you are creating a new version of the original theme or plugin, if you are adding additional, substantive value to it as detailed above. One scenario would be updating and rereleasing a GPLed theme or plugin that the original author no longer supports.
  4. Many people within the greater WP community frown upon such maneuvers in general. Both premium theme designers and premium plugin developers donate a considerable amount of time to designing their themes and coding their plugins. They are simply trying to earn an honest living from their generous contributions.
  5. There is nothing in the GPL that disallows theme designers or plugin developers from charging a distribution fee or a support fee for their work. The GPL is about usage freedoms, not about free-as-in-cost software. There is nothing in the GPL that differentiates between a designer’s work being fundamentally different than a developer’s work. So designers and developers are operating within the rights of the GPL when they offer their work for a premium—as long as they are only charging a distribution and/or support fee. When it comes to offering premium themes or plugins, any talk about the differences in rights between designers and developers is outside of the GPL, is a matter of opinion more than legal fact.
  6. Currently it seems that in the WordPress community, premium theme designers are accepted in general whereas many premium plugin developers are not. I believe this disparity, this inequity, cannot last for long. The community needs both designers and developers. If developers are not afforded the same opportunities, then some will move on.
  7. See my post in the following thread for my additional thoughts and opinions on this topic.

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