Is the WordPress GPL Being Abused?
The GPL licence, which is the foundation of WordPress and all plugins in the WordPress repository, is a great licence, no doubt. It has permitted WordPress to become what it is today, and have such a wonderful community form around it.
I’m lately seeing a small surge in the number of people who are taking advantage of the GPL in what many consider an unethical way. I’m talking of the WordPress plugin stores that are cropping up and selling plugins developed by other people.
We’re not talking about ripware sites here, but rather of new and real businesses built solely on the selling of products which they themselves did not develop.
This raises a few questions:
- Is it ethical to profit in such a way on another developer’s hard work?
- How will we make sure end users know that they need to make this decision between buying from the original developer or a third party?
- What kind of support can such reselling companies offer?
- Are these companies sustainable, how long will they be around?
- Isn’t it bad for customers that some of these companies operate anonymously?
My personal opinion is that such endeavours will damage the reputation of the WordPress community in the long run, and so my gut feeling is a bit negative. Of course, the people behind these companies (most of them anonymous), will argue that all they are doing is doable within the GPL licence, and they are moreover doing a ‘Robin Hood’ act of making plugins and themes more affordable. It’s a very grey area however and I feel that there should be more discussion about it.
Here are some of the most famous sites that fall under this category.
So what do you think? Lets have some discussion here…
Update: Take a look at these related articles:
Ren Ventura’s reply to this post:
There’s also been two follow-up posts which are an interesting read, and also have some great comments:
I’ve also done some more reading about this myself, and dug up some interesting snippets.
Here’s what Justin Tadlock, a very prominent theme and plugin developer in the WP Community, says about the subject:
“The act of copying my themes, making no changes, and selling them is perfectly fine. I gave you permission to do so by placing it under the GPL license. Just in case that wasn’t enough, I’m giving you or anyone who wants to do so permission right now. It is not unethical for you to do these things so long as you do them within the confines of what’s allowed by the license.”
BraveNewCode, makers of the super popular WPtouch Pro plugin (licences available in the range of $49 – $999), state on their website:
“Licenses sold for WPtouch Pro are for support + product updates only. No fees are charged for the GPL software license and its freedoms attributed to this software.”
Presumably therefore they would be perfectly OK with their plugin being resold or re-distributed in the manner discussed above, since their value is mostly in support.
For those not very familiar with the GPL and what it entails, here’s a video from Matt Mullenweg himself, in which he explains the GPL and its ramifications in simple terms.