Themes should be 100% GPL

If you haven’t heard, we love the GPL (and other open source licenses) around here. We take this love of open source pretty seriously. Sometimes, we even have crazy, all-out Internet brawls that last for months about it. 🙂

On a more serious note, I was sent messages by three separate people in the past week noting either GPL violations or the policy that all theme/plugin code must be under a 100% GPL or compatible license. The other admins and I discussed this privately and opened it up for some discussion in the meeting.

We hold theme authors to a high standard, and we hold them to the highest standard when it comes to licensing.

An educational issue

From what we’ve been able to gather, most of the issues reported were largely sorry-I-didn’t-know issues. And, most have been cleared up quickly.

This post is going to address this because it’s the most important thing the Theme Review Team should be looking at. If you have questions regarding licensing, now is a great time to ask.

GPL themes in the directory

Perhaps the most common issue is not adding copyright and license notices for third-party resources. @chipbennett wrote an awesome tutorial for everyone last year. Make sure to read that. It lays things out pretty clearly.

For the most part, our reviewers have done an awesome job catching these issues, and theme authors have quickly corrected them. So, great job! Let’s keep it up.

Promotional tool for non-GPL themes 🙁

This is where we’re hitting problems, particularly with a few upsell themes. In several cases, upsell versions of themes were including proprietary-licensed code that is not compatible with the GPL.

Even though these are a separate product, WordPress.org is being used as the promotional vehicle to sell users code that goes against the WordPress philosophy.

In a nutshell, if you want to have themes in the directory, all the WordPress themes/plugins on your site need to be 100% GPL or compatible. No split licensing with part of the package under a more restrictive license.

Restrictive terms and FAQs

The other issue we ran across were additional restrictions noted in TOS and FAQ pages, such as the following examples:

  • You can’t use Example Theme on more than one site.
  • You can’t resell Example Theme.
  • You can’t distribute parts of Example Theme.

That’s a problem. The following four freedoms cannot be restricted in any way:

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, giving the community a chance to benefit from your changes.

To simplify that, you can’t place restrictions on use, modification, or distribution (modified or unmodified).

To theme reviewers

We need to step up our game. Before ever beginning the review of any theme, make sure licensing is taken care of. If you have a question, ping any of the admins on Slack or CC us on a ticket. We’re here to help.

Consequences of violations

Most of us don’t want to do anything drastic if we can simply solve issues quickly. We understand that it’s often simply a mistake or misunderstanding and will work with you to correct any problems. If we can get things squared away quickly, we’ll be OK.

However, any direct GPL violations on themes distributed from the repository will most likely result in suspension until the issue is cleared up. This is not a punishment. It’s simply that we need to keep the theme from being downloaded until it’s licensed appropriately.