Last year I attended three WordCamps and spoke at two of them. This year I was on the planning team for WordCamp Chicago and was asked to speak again. I am passionate about WordPress and want to give back to the community.
On Friday, January 18, I was told that I may no longer participate in WordCamps.
More specifically, I was contacted by Andrea Middleton (Dot Organizer for Automattic). She said according to the WordCamp guidelines, I may not speak or volunteer at WordCamps while I sell my themes on ThemeForest with their split license as is.
This post is not to argue about GPL (although I’m sure it’ll come up in the comments). But, the GPL is the reason why I am not able to participate in WordCamps. This post is to talk about those of us stuck in the middle. So while I don’t want to talk about the GPL…
Let’s Talk About The GPL
The WordCamp guidelines state that volunteers must:
Welcome To ThemeForest
In March 2012 I made the move to selling themes full time. I chose to do so on ThemeForest, mainly because of their reach. At the time of writing, they have 2,310,790 members. That’s a lot of people. I make a very comfortable living by selling my themes on ThemeForest, and it accounts for nearly 100% of my income.
I Am A Casualty In A War Between Giants
At this point, I have one option that I personally can do; Remove my themes from ThemeForest. Doing so would mean my income would drop to $0 and I would have to lay off my one employee. This is not reasonable. Even if I moved my themes to another marketplace I’d take a hit of thousands of dollars a month.
And this isn’t just about me. Any Envato-er is not allowed to contribute to WordCamps. There are brilliant people who sell their items on the Envato network including contributors to WordPress Core, WordPress.org plugin reviewers, highly respected members of the WordPress community, and even some of the biggest theme shops and frameworks out there (I won’t name names unless those people want to be named). The reach of this issue is much bigger than anyone may have initially thought.
While I may not be the most important casualty, I’m merely one of the first.
So What’s The Answer?
I’m not going to take sides. I won’t say that WordPress.org should bend their rules, and I won’t say that Envato should change their licensing. But we’re talking about two very heavy hitters here; Surely something can be figured out, right? Well, no. Not yet.
After I received my ‘notice’ I was invited to chat with Matt Mullenweg about the situation via Skype. His answer:
Matt explained why things are the way they are and why he/they won’t budge on principles. In the end, the conversation had no answers.
Jake: So in my shoes, what would you do?
Matt: as I said earlier, it’s a sucky situation
Jake: But in the short term, the answer is that I just don’t participate and hope for the best?
Matt: I have forgone profit for principles many times and been lucky pretty much every time, but not everyone always is and I can’t speak to other people’s backgrounds or obligations
While I couldn’t get a straight answer out of Matt, it seems like he thinks it’s worth bringing in no money in order to participate at WordCamp.
We spoke with Japh Thomson (WordPress Evangelist at Envato) on Please Advise Episode 08 and he explained Envato’s side of things.
So the idea behind the split license is to protect authors in terms of their designs and things like that. The parts that have to be GPL are GPL, the parts that don’t have to be, we’re happy to provide that license to help you protect them. The other thing is that on the [Envato] marketplaces there are smaller component style items, so you could buy the extended license on the marketplace, and use that in your WordPress theme. And if you then make your WordPress theme 100% GPL, you just disregarded the license of the item you put into the theme.
So as you can see, nobody can give a straight answer and nobody is willing to compromise. And really, this does not effect WordPress.org (WordPress Foundation, WordCamps, etc.) or Envato as much as it effect’s the WordPress community. As I said before, there are over 2.3 million users on the Envato marketplaces. Simply by being a member there you are promoting ThemeForest, by promoting ThemeForest you are promoting the split-license, and this is against the WordCamp guidelines. Note that it isn’t “promote at a WordCamp” but rather just promote period.
Do not promote others who fail to respect the WordPress license or trademark. If a person or business does not distribute WordPress-derivative code, but promotes those who do, those they are promoting should meet the guidelines above. [The guidelines above in this post.]
Something needs to be fixed here and I’m not sure how, nor have the power, to fix it. Over 2.3 million people are hanging in the balance. People who can’t speak, share their ideas, or share their expertise, at a WordCamp. Simply by Being part of the largest WordPress theme marketplace, we’re automatically blackballed.
Edit: It’s been pointed out that this has nothing to do with Automattic, but rather WordPress.org.
Update 1-24-13: Matt has responded in and to the comments on this post as well as many others that have popped up around the net. Collis (CEO of Envato) responded in a post at wpdaily.co, but he has not yet joined the community and replied to any comments, included some Matt left on his post. For now, it sounds like no change is coming.
Many have tried to point out ways that I could still volunteer at a WordCamp, but that’s not the point. This isn’t about me; It’s about the community.
And to be clear, I wasn’t “singled out” and Matt didn’t do anything personally. I simply showed up on the radar and the WordCamp Foundation did it’s job by informing me I can’t volunteer while I sell on ThemeForest. ThemeForest breaks the guidelines, so by selling there I break the guidelines. It’s as simple as that.
Update 1-29-13: Collis has posted a plan to survey the authors of WP products on the Envato Marketplaces. You can read about that over at wpdaily.co.
Update 2-28-13: Things have been cleared up. See Un-Blackballed..