Frequently asked questions about the GPL

Anyone involved in a WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. in an official role is representing WordPress. Because of this, it is important that organizers vet each person/company that wants to be an organizer, speaker, sponsor, or volunteer to make sure they meet the requirements for promotion by a WordCamp/WordPress.

I build themes for clients; can I still be involved in a WordCamp?

If your WordPress derivative is not distributed (a pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the Plugin Directory or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party you build just for yourself and do not distribute, or a theme you build just for a client), then there is no expectation related to the GPLGPL GPL is an acronym for GNU Public License. It is the standard license WordPress uses for Open Source licensing The GPL is a ‘copyleft’ license This means that derivative work can only be distributed under the same license terms. This is in distinction to permissive free software licenses, of which the BSD license and the MIT License are widely used examples. because you are not distributing (whether for free or for payment) the WordPress derivative.

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Can a company that sells proprietary software still sponsor a WordCamp?

The GPL expectation relates only to WordPress and derivatives of WordPress.  Hosting does not relate to the WP license, as it is not a WordPress derivative — the same goes for software owned and distributed by Microsoft, Apple, etc. If a company were to start distributing WordPress derivative software like a theme, plugin, etc., then we would expect that derivative software to carry with it the same freedoms that WordPress itself provides to the user:

0 – The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
1 – The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish; access to the source code is a precondition for this.
2 – The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
3 – The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others; by doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

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What about plugins and themes with a “Premium” or “Developers” license?

The freedoms above mean that WordPress plugins and themes can be loaded onto as many sites as the user wishes for as long as the user wishes. Many theme and plugin developers sell support and facilitated updates on a year-by-year and/or site-by-site basis, and this practice does not violate the GPL, as it does not limit any of the above freedoms — the GPL does not require that a user get free support or that the software author facilitate the user updating this software.

Requiring that a user buy a license to use a plugin or theme on a certain number of sites or for a certain amount of time, DOES violate the GPL as it limits the four freedoms of the user listed above.

Note: If a company’s terms and conditions state “all plugins (or themes) are 100% GPL” but then limit the user’s four freedoms to another place in their license, the derivative is not actually GPL. 🙂

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What is considered “promoting”?

Agreement among WordCamp Organizers, Speakers, Sponsors, and Volunteers states, “don’t promote companies or people that violate the trademark or distribute WordPress derivative works which aren’t 100% GPL compatible.” Here, we define ‘promote’ as the act of providing support or active encouragement.

These are some examples that would be considered “promoting” in this context:

  • A speaker mentions a non-100% GPL WordPress derivative work in their slide without mentioning that they don’t intend to promote it.
  • A sponsor’s website presents non-100% GPL WordPress derivative work as an acceptable product.
  • An organizer has affiliate banners/texts/links of a service by a company that violates the trademark.

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I have more questions. Who can help me?

We communicate in the #community-events channel on Slack. You can also email with any questions about licensing or trademark issues.

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Where can I learn more about WordPress and the GPL?

Here are some great resources:

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