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Hi. I'm Jake Caputo, Director of Design at
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Automatically Blackballed

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 Software Freedom Law Center explains that when it comes to themes, the GPL covers the PHP but may or may not include the CSS, JavaScript, and images. So legally, this is the bar that has been set.

The WordCamp guidelines state that volunteers must:

Embrace the WordPress license. If distributing WordPress-derivative works (themes, plugins, WP distros), any person or business should give their users the same freedoms that WordPress itself provides. Note: this is one step above simple compliance, which requires PHP code to be GPL/compatible but allows proprietary licenses for JavaScript, CSS, and images. 100% GPL or compatible is required for promotion at WordCamps when WordPress-derivative works are involved, the same guidelines we follow on

As a themer, that means everything in my themes including the images, CSS, and JavaScript must be covered under the GPL. No big deal, right? I’d have to include things under the GPL that aren’t legally required to be under the GPL, but I have no problem with this.

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.

Now let’s talk about licenses. The only license available to authors on ThemeForest is a split license. The PHP in our themes is covered under the GPL, but the images, CSS, and JavaScript are not. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I also have no problem with this; But it doesn’t meet those guidelines for WordCamps that I mentioned earlier.

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, 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 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:

That sucks.

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 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

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, 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

Update 2-28-13: Things have been cleared up. See Un-Blackballed..

314 Comments on "Automatically Blackballed"

  • Pippin says

    This is simply ridiculous.

    Let me first be very clear on my stance: I have zero problem with requiring that all code / assets being GPL and I have no problem with Automattic and the WordPress Foundation enforcing this.

    I have a serious problem with Envato authors getting punished due to licensing that they have no control over. When a person decides to sell items through Envato, they do NOT get a choice of the license the items will be sold under. The only choice in terms of licensing is whether to sell through Envato or not to sell through Envato.

    As I know Jake is well aware of, and many, many others, Theme Forest provides a huge reach for WordPress themes, so arguing that “you can just sell elsewhere” is not a valid argument. Sure, it’s always an option, but let’s be realistic. Who is going to literally forgo their entire monthly revenue in order to “be in line with licensing”?

    Matt can say “I’ve taken risks many times” all he wants, but very, very few of us are in even close to the same position. Last time I checked Matt also has millions in funding. Nice try, but the comparison simply doesn’t fit.

    I have nothing but respect for WordPress product shops that do it on their own, and I have just as much respect for those that use the Envato marketplaces. The mean by which the author’s revenue is generated does not make an impact on the knowledge the person possess.

    To say that someone cannot share their knowledge at WordCamps simply because they utilize the Envato marketplaces to provide for themselves and their family is an atrocity.

    If WordCamp Central wants to put down a rule that says no one is allowed to talk about products sold through Envato, fine, but preventing people from speaking at all is a shame, and does nothing but hurt the individuals affected.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for WordCamp session topics to be limited to ones NOT related to on central to Envato, but it’s ludicrous to rule that author’s can’t speak at all.

    I know dozens of phenomenal developers and designers that are part of Envato that are now blacklisted, simply because of their affiliation. Them not being able to share their knowledge is a shame and in perfect opposition to everything that makes open source beautiful.

  • I completely agree with Pippin. There is no way to say it, other than to say that this stance by the WordPress foundation / WordCamp / anyone is ridiculous.

    This stance just punishes people that care about the platform. Matt or whoever and Envato need to settle their differences – fine. But do not punish people that are a part of that ecosystem, and make their living building products on WordPress.

    As a meetup and WordCamp Co-organizer, I’m extremely disappointed to hear about this. Some of the people I respect most in this community are part of the Envato network, and I’d love their input at events I help put on.

    • Pippin says

      The question to me is: will I be getting black listed?

      If you’re familiar with any of my work, then you probably know that I actively sell on Code Canyon (one of the Envato marketplaces). I also actively speak at and help organize WordCamps. I’m also a plugin reviewer for and am helping write the new Plugin Developer’s Handbook.

      Am I going to be getting this letter and forced to remove all my items from Code Canyon if I want to continue my “contributions back to WordPress and WordCamps”? Or are they going to let me slide under the radar because of my role in

      If they let me get by because of my contributions then it simply shows the hypocrisy of it all. Obviously I don’t want them to blacklist me but I want to bring it up as it illustrates how ridiculous this is.

      • While I didn’t want to single you out, you were one of the few I was talking about… as I’m sure you guessed. 😉

      • Great questions and thoughts. Will be interesting to see.

      • it sounds quite possible that you will be getting a notice… you’re fairly active in the community.

      • Jaki says

        Ironically, this would make a GREAT session at a WordCamp. Too bad you guys might not be there to participate in the discussion in person. This is truly a shame. Thanks for highlighting the issue so clearly. I hope this will help change the policy on WordCamp speakers.


  • Jake’s right. Matt’s wrong. Pippin is spot on!

    No more WordCamps for me until this is changed.

  • Rhys says

    Interesting thoughts Jake, and sorry to hear you’re not speaking at WordCamps :(.

    I publish premium products, though not through Envato sites. I do find myself shaking my head in disagreement with WordPress & Automattic’s actions here, and can only harm future WordCamps, not only for current speakers, but also for future speakers.

    I was strongly considering talking at a WordCamp this year, but as a premium plugin publisher, I’m a bit concerned that something I may say may be perceived as promoting non-GPL content…

  • This is the reason why at times, I dislike WordPress. I have seen things like this in the past that makes this “community” feel less like an open source initiative and more like a dictatorship. At what point will the blacklisting stop? There are at times, where comments have been made, that I feel designers and developers must constantly walk on egg shells to avoid retributions that could be detrimental to their business. Is this the true spirit of open source community?

    It’s easy for Matt to suggest forgoing profit – or your way to make a living – when he has millions in funding and other income producing ventures tied directly to WordPress. If it were me, I would put profit over principles in this case because it’s NOT a question of your values or integrity because you are doing you very best to honor the GPL.

    I respect the idea of GPL and the stance of Automattic, but there is also a time where we need to evaluate these issues in a realistic, common sense mindset.

  • Otto says

    Question: Why can’t you choose your own licensing terms on ThemeForest/CodeCanyon? I mean, it’s your code, shouldn’t you have a say in the license it’s sold under?

    • I agree that doing that would be a step in the right direction, but I can’t tell you why Envato doesn’t have an option for that.

      I can tell you that while I was speaking with Andrea she told me that declaring my themes 100% GPL on ThemeForest still wouldn’t satisfy the issue because I’m still selling my themes on a network that sells other items that are not 100% GPL.

      • Oh FFS, I’m hosting my plugins on an Internet that hosts non-GPL code!

        Ban me! Ban me!

    • I have an email somewhere from one of the ThemeForest higher-ups. Basically, they simply won’t allow it. I asked if I could upload a 100% GPL-licensed theme. They told me I couldn’t.

    • Otto:
      Question: Why can?t you choose your own licensing terms on I mean, it?s your code, shouldn?t you have a say in the license it?s distributed under?

      • There are a variety of GPL-compliant licenses you can release your code under on What you can’t do is use a closed-source license on — the kind of closed-source license that is used in the split licenses used by ThemeForest (and Thesis, and others)…and the reason for that is that everything on .org needs to be 100% GPL compliant — to give users the ability to do whatever they want with anything they download from the .org repository. If there’s any closed-source code or resources (js, images, css) in a theme or plugin on, it would take away the users’ freedom to do whatever they want with it (including rip it apart and put it in something else they’re working on).

        • Rarst says

          You are conveniently omitting that open source license that are NOT GPL compatible are forbidden in repositories and until recent changes that included such prominent and popular ones as Apache License 2.0

          I second Doug – the fact is dot org repos are themselves being restrictive in what licenses they allow, the only difference is in agenda and specific licenses involved.

          • You’re right. I wasn’t deliberately trying to obfuscate the fact that there are other open source licenses that are not GPL-compatible, just trying to say that you do have a choice of what license you use when you host your plugins/themes on It’s not every license, ever, but it’s not the Gnu Public License and that’s it, either.


          • …the other thing here is that we’re talking about the GPL here, not WordPress and not is simply being in compliance with the GPL which is the license under which the WordPress software is released. If you were going to release your code under a non-GPL compliant license for distribution you’d be in violation of the GPL, anyway. And this would apply to any GPL-licensed software, not just WordPress.

          • Chris:
            Please describe to me the method for releasing GPL’d photographs.

        • Chris:
          I word-for-word copied Otto’s query, with a couple of substitutions, to make a point.

          It’s Envato’s playground — they set the rules.

          In other news: these omelettes are tasty.

          Sure are a lot of broken egg shells sitting around, though…

          • Otto says

            Doug: The difference is that is a *free* code hosting service, where you can’t sell things or set prices. Last I checked, Envato’s services let you actually sell your stuff.

            I think that difference is a substantial enough one for my original question to be valid. If you disagree, then that’s fine, but it was a simple question. If you’re selling things, why don’t they let you sell them under your own terms?

        • Rarst says

 is simply being in compliance with the GPL which is the license under which the WordPress software is released. If you were going to release your code under a non-GPL compliant license for distribution you?d be in violation of the GPL, anyway.

          The only license that GPL derivative can be licensed under is GPL. Thus the so-called “viral” nature of it.

          The fact that GPL-compatible licenses (that are not themselves GPL) are allowed actually proofs that insistence on derivative nature of WP extensions had been de-facto dropped. One cannot derive MIT or BSD code from GPL code base.

          Simply put any pretense of legal / licensing basis in these arguments is long gone. We are in realm of “important people like / important people hate” coordinate system.

          • Otto says

            The only license that GPL derivative can be licensed under is GPL.

            This is incorrect. If I write a piece of code, then I can release it under any terms I choose.

            If I write a piece of code that is derivative of another, then I must obey the terms of that code. A “GPL-Compatible” license is as-free-or-freer than the GPL itself. For example, the Expat License (often called the “MIT” license), places essentially no major restrictions on what others can do with the code. If I release my derivative-code under Expat, then I have obeyed the terms of the GPL’d code from which I derived my code from.

          • Rarst says

            This is incorrect. If I write a piece of code, then I can release it under any terms I choose.

            So the problem with Theme Forest licensing is what precisely?.. 😉

          • Otto says

            Rarst: Who said there was a problem? All I did was to ask a simple question. Please don’t assume more than I’m actually saying.

          • Kevin H says

            @otto: That’s not how the GPL works. The GPL is more restrictive in its viral clause. Which is why you can take code that’s MIT licensed and turn it into GPL code, but not the other way around. GPL code and all of its derivatives will always be GPL code, unless all of the owners re-release the code under a new license.

      • touch

      • Otto says

        Also note that I used “sold” in my very first question intentionally. Doug’s changing that to “distributed” invalidates his response. IMO.

        • Not in the slightest. “Sold” is “distributed, but for money”. My point was: Envato makes the rules for distribution on their site, just as the Foundation makes rules for distribution on .Org. Since split-licensing doesn’t violate the spirit (or the letter) of the GPL (i.e., as long as what you’re distributing the whole package as identifies which parts are licensed under which licenses), then there’s no legal problems.

          There is, however, a I-set-the-rules-take-my-ball-and-go-home problem.

          • Otto says

            I believe that it does violate the “spirit”, however that is irrelevant and not what I was talking about in the first place.

            If you do not believe that there is a substantial difference between free-of-charge and paid-for, then you’re obviously not a person who is capable of answering my initial question. Thanks for the snarky attitude, though. Always brightens my day.

          • Otto:
            You’re reading too much into my words — no snark intended. I seem to recall this is something that you often encounter, so perhaps you can relate. *grin*

            I’m comparing Envato and the .Org repos as methods for distributing your code. In both cases, if you wish to have your code hosted by a third party, you have to abide by their rules. (The implicit license for plugins on .Org is a clear example of this argument.) Both venues enforce strictures consistent with their view of the GPL, the value of code, etc.

            Hope your day goes better.

          • Otto says

            Doug, you seem to be arguing that they are doing nothing wrong by choosing their license, and on that point I agree. But that is irrelevant to the original question I asked, entirely.

            It was a simple question. It had no subtext. I had no hidden agenda. I just find it difficult to understand why a place where you can sell your code would not let you choose your own license under which to sell it. This makes zero sense to me.

            I find it perfectly understandable why a hosting site which hosts code for free would only want to host code under specific licenses for free. The situation is not at all the same thing, and your replies to this point are totally irrelevant to my original question.

          • Otto:
            Your point would hold, except for liability. If I made a plugin and then licensed it as MIT+, with the “+” indicating “ANY AND ALL HARM THAT MAY COME TO YOUR SYSTEM, CODE, PERSON, HOUSE, PETS AND/OR BODY THETANS IS STRICTLY THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ENVATO, INC.”, then you could surely see that Envato would rather not sell such a plugin, no? In fact, under US law, if you pay for a product, there is generally a higher level of liability that attaches to the seller/distributor than if you receive it for free. There is an implicit contract in place in the buyer/seller relationship that doesn’t exist in the provider/downloader one.

            Does that make sense?

          • Nathan says

            Can’t reply to this ( so replying here.

            Great point. Is that why does not distribute premium themes on their own site?

    • Otto, hit it on the head! These were my thoughts. Envato says they are doing it to protect the Authors” If this were the case the Authors would have an opt-out option. They simply Dont and they simply should.

      I support Matt’s stance. And no author is loosing ANY income by NOT speaking at Wordcamps. So just suck it up and share your info some other way.

      Start a site for banned authors who unite to share on that site
      OR start a WordPress authors UNION and plan a walkout of Enveto. I bet when they loose sales ffor a month, they will abandon their choice.

      Point being, you are not removed of power here, You have options, you simple want your cake and eat it too. Well the Universe is saying, no! You must choose a 3rd option. So simple accept this situation where you find your self and create a 3rd option. All suffering comes from not accepting what is.

    • S.K says


      Just like different products sold in a supermarket sold with different terms, licenses, warranties etc. Why should the supermarket impose its own terms on the wares sold, except for the commission?

      As you correctly observed, if it is free then it is different.


  • The WordPress Foundation won’t let anyone involved with anything remotely non-compliant with rules to be involved (even if it’s OK by GPL standards). Envato will not allow you to create 100% GPL themes or plugins (I’ve asked). So, who does that hurt? Well, certainly not the WordPress Foundation or Envato.

    As adults, we learn that we cannot always be 100% true to our “principles” in the real world unless we either have nothing to lose or enough 0s at the end of our paycheck to back those principles. We try to stick by them as best we can, but the world simply doesn’t work that way.

    • I find a lot I like about this. Execution is difficult to begin with because of some of the GPL wording and then, of course, the organizations behind it.

    • Rich Staats says

      objective as always.

    • I can’t think of a better way to word it Justin.

  • There’s nothing stopping anyone from throwing a non-Camp WordPress event. It’s been done in Minneapolis and Glasgow. I agree with Pippin and Jake and Brian that it’s ridiculous that developers are getting caught in the crossfire, but at the same time, I’d love to see more diversity in WordPress-related events. They don’t all have to be Camps. Yes, Camps get to use WordPress Foundation funding, but the first Camps didn’t, and the idea is that you can still throw a Camp (or WordUp, or whatever) for little to no cost if you are able to secure sponsors and get a venue — which is all the same stuff you’d be doing if you were organizing a WordCamp. If this is what it takes to finally fork the WordCamp ecosystem as a whole and start a more independent event, so be it. That said, it seems unreasonable (to me, as a non-author on Envato) that authors can’t change the license under which their code is released. Leave the current license as a default but at least allow people to make their stuff 100% GPL if they want to.

    • …looks like I was too late. Justin already answered that question (choosing a 100% GPL license on Envato)…

    • No Way! says

      Right – and soon you’ll be blackballed for running a non-compliant WordPress event.

      Seriously, there’s some dubious stuff going on here. It’s one person (Matt) using his strength to set things his way.

      This can’t and won’t end well. Maybe that’s what he wants.

  • JLeuze says

    I guess it’s time for WordPress developers to start adopting secret identities, I’ll get my cape!

    • I have little doubt this is probably already going on, and things like this will perpetuate that practice. Which is sad.

      • JLeuze says

        Yeah, wish I was joking… But it could be fun too, PinkPonyPress gone pro!

    • Kyle U says

      This is truly the best option. We themers should have a secret hideout in the woods somewhere. TO THE THEME FOREST! wait?

      • Bryan says

        They took all the clever hideout names!

      • JLeuze says

        Lair, secret volcano lair…

  • Perhaps it is time for to step up their efforts to allow for GPL compliant premium themes and plugins to be purchased via their site. Or a new non-profit alliance started to create a site for premium themes and plugins to be sold in a central location. I think most of the “second markets” have failed because of splits being too high. If it was structured as a membership non-profit or co-op, perhaps it could get enough traction to be useful to the community and generate enough traffic to be useful to theme and plugin developers.

  • I too am an author at ThemeForest, part of the Envato Network and reading this (along with hearing about this on the podcast) I’m a little confused and troubled by the official WordPress rant on the situation.

    It does appear, quite clearly, that this is an argument to be had by the 2 parties in question, Envato and WordPress, not authors wanting to share knowledge, time and, yes, money to go to these events.

    Attitudes like this do nothing but harm relationships and the community at large, sitting down and working things out helps to push things forward and grow, but it seems as previously mentioned that this is almost a dictatorship, something we as the community should not allow to happen.

    Jake I feel for you bud, I really do, it’s almost like the bully in the playground telling you what you can, and cannot do. “I have forgone profit for principles many times and been lucky pretty much every time” is quite honestly, a ridiculous and elitist statement coming from Matt.

    People such as Jake, Pippin and a huge amount of other authors and developers that sell on the Envato marketplaces have literally helped me to become far more knowledgeable on developing for WordPress via their FREE offers of information, tutorials, code snippets and personal advise. If WordPress has it’s way this kind of sharing ‘behavior’ from these peers will be forced to stop – and that would be a loss to thousands of eager WordPress converts, and the community as a whole.

    • Thanks man. That’s all I’m asking/hoping for: a sit down between Envato and to help Envato get things worked out while honoring the GPL and both businesses.

      • Nathan says

        The GPL is being honored already…the case is one of principle, for both parties. For that reason alone, I don’t think you’ll see a resolution unless Envato decides to cave.

  • I’ve never heard of anything like this ever come up with OSCON, FOSDEM, DrupalCon, SCALE, or pretty much any other conference focused on GPL and open source in general.

    Maybe Envato could go one step further by licensing at least the JavaScript and CSS under the GPL (or at least offering the choice to), but even if they don’t, why should that stop anyone (including Envato themselves) from contributing to WordCamps? I don’t see GPL licenses attached to JavaScript code in admin.

    I also don’t see releasing several of their internal plugins they use. You can’t even confirm that their plugins are properly licensed under the GPL – they just aren’t distributing them. Given that without distribution, they aren’t violating the GPL in any way, however, it’s not what the “spirit” of the GPL is. The “spirit” includes contributing that code back. Should Automattic, and anyone using be blacklisted?

    This is just such a ridiculous reason to blacklist someone from contributing back to WordPress by sharing knowledge at WordCamps.

    Certainly this makes sense block presentations when they obviously only involve advertising some proprietary product or service – trying to get around actually just sponsoring a WordCamp, but this is something else entirely.

    • … or better yet, should these factors blacklist anyone from contributing code back to WordPress core?

    • I absolutely agree. Keeping actual WordCamp content 100% compliant, I can understand…but blackballing a user because of what they do with that code seems rather ridiculous.

      Keep in mind that, with this mindset, anyone who uses Twitter Bootstrap for a WordPress theme and sells it is potentially blackballed (Bootstrap is Apache licensed). Same with Skeleton (MIT License).

      jQuery is MIT licensed; does that mean if I include it in a theme I’m selling I’m in violation?

      IANAL, but these are questions that will need to be clarified if this is going to be brought up again.

      • Rarst says

        There is no issue with incorporating MIT in GPL code. For incorporating Apache License 2.0 need to use GPLv3 (not v2).

        The problem is that these situations have very little to do with licensing or legal side. Theme Forest is currently in perfect license compliance to own opinion of acceptable theme licensing. However when there is no real issue (“you are breaking license”) it becomes petty “you are not breaking anything, but you are not good enough for us”.

      • Nathan says

        Well it seems it is being brought up again, and you make great points.

        We have:

        A) WP logo is included in the install but protected
        B) WP logo’s type is licensed via 3rd party
        C) jQuery is not GPL licensed
        D) Boostrap violates the GPL when distributed in a theme
        E) etc

        At some point we’re going to have to stop this craziness.

    • With all due respect, I don’t get this argument at all.

      The spirit of the GPL only applies to distribution. That’s what a license is.

      “You received this code, and your rights to modify and redistribute it are protected. If you choose to redistribute it, you can’t deny others those rights”.

      Themeforest is denying the rights they enjoyed from WordPress to their end users.

      What on earth has that got to do with things you don’t intend to distribute? So we all have to open source our websites now? Of course not.

      Themeforest is against the spirit of the GPL by enjoying freedoms granted by but not passing those on.

      I don’t necessarily agree with the action taken to bar participation — that seems a bit counter-productive to me. But I *do* agree with the spirit of the rules, very much.

      • Dan says

        Yes Mr Wells you are right.. This is about distribution and if anyone needs more information on this see Brian Gardner over at studiopress..They go with a GPL and are doing just fine..

        On a Side note..
        A lawyer friend of mine said this is just the tip of the ice berg.
        Authors will find out that its not just WordPress that is the problem..If this escalates all the code from the google fonts they call in to the HTML and CSS will go under scrutiny and in the end some firm will run a class action out and no one wins.. We need or Themeforest?Thesis/? needs to find a solution..before the world lawyers up we end up in a law suit hell..if you think this sounds silly just look at the factual basis and legal ground of the last 5 major class actions..
        It wont take you long to realize, one small kernel of harm to many can trigger law firms on a feeding frenzy to seek a remedy. Themeforest and other companies with apparent deep pockets ( note I say apparent as its not certain) Is all the legal industry needs to move forward.

  • Envato should just let you pick your licence. Problem solved.

    • That still doesn’t solve the problem because as long as Envato allows sales of non-GPL themes, you’re not allowed to speak at WordCamps (per Jake’s earlier comment)

      • You mean this comment: “declaring my themes 100% GPL on ThemeForest still wouldn?t satisfy the issue because I?m still selling my themes on a network that sells other items that are not 100% GPL.”

        That part is iffy to me. There’s no way that’s true because the entire internet is a “network”. We’re all part of the internet and lots of non GPL stuff happen on the internet. Someone should confirm that.

    • Rarst says

      Envato should just let you pick your licence. Problem solved.

      People have been smacked in similar ways for as little as having banner to “wrong” theme on their site.

      How about problem be solved in by WordPress foundation stops selectively bullying people they don’t like? And I don’t mean by necessarily changing rules, I would be just fine with seriously enforcing rules.

      Kick every plugin and theme with licensing issue from repositories, kick every person that is not 100% GPL compliant from repositories, forums, make sites, wordcamps and trac. It won’t be pretty but it would be honest.

      Singling people out to smack them down isn’t.

      • Yeah sure. Automatic should be unified in their stance and Envato should allow people to choose their licence. It’s not that difficult.

        • Rarst says

          Envato should allow people to choose their licence

          Why? No, seriously. They are a company, they run their business how they see fit, they are not breaking any laws or licenses or whatever…

          Because WordPress foundation ( / Automattic / Matt – just underline, I am tired of trying to make sense who speaks for what) said so? And to what extent that entity gets to tell people how to run their businesses?

          • Kyle U says

            Envato should allow people to choose their licence, not because .org says so, but to encourage good relations between itself and .org, itself and its authors, and its authors and .org. “Sell Your Themes Here and Be Disenfranchised By the WordPress Foundation!” isn’t exactly the best sign to put in your window.

          • Rarst says

            ?Sell Your Themes Here and Be Disenfranchised By the WordPress Foundation!?

            So WP foundation can just blackmail businesses and tell them how to operate? It’s not quite their mission statement, or is it?

  • Ozh says

    While that really sucks to the point it’s completely unbelievable, you should not give a fuck. WordCamp organizers are not Automattic and Automattic don’t organize all WordCamps. If a WC org wants to invite you, they invite you. Pick a pseudonym, or go incognito, or convince organizers to rename their event ‘WorcDamp’, or put your theme activities on hold for 2 days before the event and then start again.

    tl;dr: Seriously, Automattic, go home, you’re drunk.

  • Donnie Brascoe says

    StudioPress is listed on ThemeForest, and yet it’s involved at WordCamps, they speak at WordCamps, and sell themes on

    So it seems you have a case of inconstencies…. ?

    • Like I said, I didn’t want to call anyone out 😉

      • Chris Kelley says

        There are a few others on the commercial themes list that also sell on Themeforest 😉

    • Nothing inconsistent about the situation anymore.

      • Did you & the others get the same letter?

        • No, I didn’t get any letter — it was a choice we made a month ago, and began to carry it out then, only to finish yesterday.


  • anonymous coward says

    I’m just curious, do you sell + create your themes via a company/LLC/etc? You mention you have an employee, do you have “DesignCrumbs LLC”/similar, and does that entity technically own the rights to your works?

    Assuming so, technically you could assert that DesignCrumbs LLC is the one who publishes the software and decided to chose ThemeForest’s only license option. Then you could further assert that you personally – as Jake Caputo – should be allowed to participate in volunteering at WordCamps.

    • If such a tactic is necessary, then it’s the perfect showcase of how screwed up the policy is.

      We’re adults. Games like that are for congress. This reminds me of a trillion dollar coin.

    • Hans says

      Sell your Themes Under a company not you.

      Problem solved.
      You really should be doing this for tax and business purposes anyways.

  • WordPress being against split licenses is categorically illogical. CSS and images are in no way apart of GPL protected code. Seriously, by this logic the images we use in our post can be considered GPL, because they pass through the same amount of system architecture as the theme. Makes no sense at all.

  • Matt says

    Many things about this make me sad, including Envato forcing their authors to break guidelines and all that entails.

    But the larger point is that part of why you’re willing to forgo the community you’ve been a part of for 5 years is because Envato writes you a big check every month, and there is no one else who can do the same for the same work (selling a premium theme on a marketplace with a built-in audience).

    I’ve made the case to Envato before, and will continue to do so of they ask, but I’m more interested in promoting someone doing the right thing rather than focusing on what they’re doing wrong. (They’re smart and they know what they’re doing, it’s not an accident or the BS about themes being a small percentage of their “items,” they’re a huge percentage of their revenue. The fact they won’t even let authors choose to have OS is very aggressive.)

    So what are the 100% GPL theme marketplaces out there we can promote? I’ll put them on the homepage of

    • Matt says

      To quote Senator Lamar Alexander from the inauguration yesterday, “The late Alex Haley, the author of Roots, lived his life by these six words: find the good and praise it.”

      • Funny, seems like Jake should then be praised for wanting to give back to the WordPress community.

    • Chris Kelley says

      So this is a pissing match between Automattic and Envato? Jake also sells his themes on which is 100% GPL

      • Matt says

        This has nothing to do with Automattic, the guidelines have been part of our community for years now, and the GPL requirements of our directories predate Envato selling themes or plugins. People seem to conflate the two, often maliciously, but if I and Andrea didn’t work for Automattic the guidelines would be exactly the same.

        WordCamp guidelines are actually being reviewed right now by Dee Teal, Karen Arnold, Tony Perez, Dustin Filippini, Aaron Hockley. However we’ve always been pretty consistent that, all things being equal, we’d rather promote people and products that offer their users the same freedoms that WordPress itself does, which in practice means 100% GPL or compatible.

        • Pippin says

          To go further on a point I made above, how about simply not allowing Envato authors (and others breaking guidelines) to present on subjects related to their products that break the guide lines? These people can still have a huge amount of knowledge to share, and blocking them from doing so is an injustice to all. If Jake wants to present on theme design, and agrees to never mention anything about Theme Forest, he should be able to do so.

          • So what happens if he accidentally mentions Theme Forest? Is someone going to monitor these talks and be a tattle-tale to Automattic if he slips up? That doesn’t make any sense.

          • Pippin says

            It’s better than be blacklisted completely.

          • I don’t know, I think I’d rather be blacklisted than know someone is monitoring me. I don’t dig on the big brother b.s.

          • Matt says

            If I see a cool presentation at a WordCamp, I’m naturally going to want to go to and check out that person’s business or products and patronize it, regardless of whether the presentation was about their business and products or not. What we do is have clear guidelines that are clear-cut and don’t require going every presentation with a fine-toothed comb and people can self-select whether they want to participate or not, as Jake has above. As Dave points out, it’s not worth trying to watch every word.

            Jake (and others in the past) essentially asked me if we could make an exception to the guidelines because he wanted to participate in WCs and continue promoting his stuff on ThemeForest. I said no because that breaks the point of the guideline in the first place. All things being equal, of course I’d prefer Jake did participate in WordCamps and everything else.

          • This is a great point. Pippin, as a purchaser of your products on codecanyon, I would assume that with the income brought in by that outlet you are afforded the ability to create more products that benefit the WP community at large. With the time afforded by the envato income you, like many others are able to become even more well versed in your craft which in large part happens to be WP. I understand if wants to not feature envato on their site. However, I simply do not support singling out developers and banning them from WC’s simply because they sell their items on an envato site. As many of use know, it is tough to gather an audience of enthusiastic buyers, and not everyone is involved with an established themeshop. Envato allows us the opportunity to sell our wares for a profit, while at the same time fueling the larger WP community. At the end of the day though, I am appreciative of both companies. I make my living using a piece of free software.

        • Anu says

          This has nothing to do with Automattic, the guidelines have been part of our community for years now

          Well, the community seems to be saying strongly that they don’t agree with the guidelines here. So, will the guidelines be changed?

        • Caspar says

          While my first-hand experience with the Foundation reduces to simply being ignored with my emails, I can’t spot them doing anything significantly wrong here. Their purpose is to protect a trademark. Or 2 trademarks, as WordCamp has become one, too, lately.

          In order to fulfill their purpose they established a set of guidelines for others to evaluate their own actions with.
          According to these guidelines (which practically can be seen as a sort of license agreement to make use of the WordPress and WordCamp trademarks) you can’t sell themes in the Forest and speak at a WordCamp the next day. So what? Set your priorities. If you need to feed your family and selling themes over there is the best way you can think of, go ahead.

          Of course, there’s consequences, and you knew about those beforehand (or could have known, at least). What’s the point blaming the Foundation for doing their job? Do yours, let them do theirs, isn’t it?

          If you can’t think of an alternative way to share your knowledge and give back to the community but speaking at a trademarked WordCamp, you’ve got a whole different problem and that would be lack of fantasy. Sure, the ?guerilla? camps out there may not provide you with the same type of audience, promotion, reputation, feeling of belonging or whatever may be the most preferred side-effects from a WC gig. But they exist (for multiple reasons) and you can go there. You just cannot have all your way.

          (?You? being the you-me-them-us kind of you, not necessarily the author of the original post alone?)

          • Caspar says

            Seems I messed up my email address in my first comment. Here’s the correct one.

          • Rarst says

            The issue, as I see it, is not with existence of rules and consequences of breaking them.

            It is rules that make no practical sense and are applied on a whim to “inconvenient” people and companies.

            Yes, it is technically in the right. It is also dishonest, unfair, infuriating and guess what – of course some people will call it just that, rules or not.

      • I’m not sure whether the agreement for Theme Forest is the same as Code Canyon, but on Code Canyon, you’re not only agreeing to the split license, you’re agreeing to sell exclusively on Code Canyon.

        • Chris Kelley says

          You have a choice on any of the Envato marketplace whether to sell exclusively or not, the only difference is how much profit you can make( non-exclusive 33%, exclusive 50-70%) I believe you’re exclusives by default when you create an account(this maybe wrong)

    • Rarst says

      including Envato forcing their authors to break guidelines

      Could you please elaborate which guidelines selling split-licensed theme on third party site is breaking?

    • Rarst says

      (sorry, screwed up markup above)

      including Envato forcing their authors to break guidelines

      Could you please elaborate which guidelines selling split-licensed theme on third party site is breaking?

      • Matt says

        It’s in the giant blockquote at the beginning of Jake’s post.

        • Rarst says

          Sorry, I got confused for a second by you calling it like “ guidelines” rather than WordCamp guidelines.

    • But at what point does Envato breaking WordCamp guidelines mean that Jake, who only sells his themes on Envato (but otherwise has no relation to Envato), should be banned from contributing to WordCamp? He could still speak on a topic that doesn’t even involve any of his items in Envato’s marketplaces.

      What if Jake didn’t sell his items on Envato under an exclusivity contract? If he has his items for sell elsewhere under the full GPL license, would it matter that he also sells it on Envato?

      WordPress has always tried to encourage everyone to contribute back to the project in numerous ways besides just code, and here Jake is contributing/sharing knowledge and experience through WordCamp. If it’s all on the same level, this WordCamp policy is the same as saying that anyone using Envato should also be blacklisted from contributing patches to WordPress as well. Then again, if I was blacklisted from WordCamp, I probably wouldn’t feel compelled to contribute patches back to the same organization anymore anyway.

      I’ve just never heard of an open source project discriminate on an aspect like this just for a conference, not even GPL-only projects.

      • Matt says

        Jake is breaking the guidelines. Envato breaks the guidelines, and in an evil twist, forces everyone who wants access to their marketplace to break the guidelines too. All of these actors are doing it of their own volition. We publish and promote the guidelines, and ask that when people break them they don’t speak at or sponsor our official events, giving people and companies who don’t break the guidelines the opportunity to. There are many tens of thousands of people and organizations who don’t break the guidelines, enough to sponsor and fill every speaking slot at WordCamps for years to come.

        • …and there’s the bottom line. How does anyone have a reasonable debate after you take THAT position?

          I don’t even sell anything on Themeforest and I have lost all interest in anything WordCamp related. Seems to me that the target is really on the back of anyone who does anything WordPress related and doesn’t give away everything they own and follow the cult of automatic, (sorry, the company is not getting off the hook).

          Today it’s Envato, tomorrow it’s anyone who writes a book or develops a website using WP and doesn’t do it for nothing. Quoting politicians only confirms the greed and evil behind this IMO. Surfs can’t kiss the ring if they can’t eat!

          • Jeez… I can’t even code a simple blockquote properly… 🙂

    • ‘Sucks’ is an understatement. Correct me if I’m wrong, because I don’t speak legal-ese (I can’t even spell lisence). I’m not in the trenches on this but from my point of view this doesn’t sit right.

      A community is great, but making a living and providing for a family is greater. This doesn’t seem like he’s foregoing the community at all though, it’s like he’s being exiled, or blocked from giving back to the community he’s actively engaged in simply for being successful and earning a living via a third-party he has no control over. Sure he could go elsewhere, but that shouldn’t be the point here. Who’s to say the ‘elsewhere’ stays from the ‘approved’ methods? Move again? The only case here is to set up your own shop and do it all yourself, and since we all have that kind of time on our hands…

      I think it makes sense for WordCamp and WP to restrict the content of the presentations and make sure they focus on giving back and promote proper licenses. Don’t reject bright minds from participating. That seems a closed restrictive system, and not conducive to the whole ‘Free as in Freedom’ movement.

    • Phil says

      tl;dr was tl – We need some clarification.

      tl;dr – I think that we may all need some clarification about the rule. Is it just about WordPress-related products or anything potentially non-GPL? One of the notes to Jake from Andrea makes it sounds like supporting non-GPL organizations is a no-no.

      Matt – thank you for entering and giving your thoughts directly. Obviously it’s a very heated issue.

      I do not intend my questions/statements to be argumentative, I am honestly curious and unclear in some areas.

      Initially, I have a couple of cases in mind. For #2 and #3, I am extrapolating out Andrea’s note to Jake about it not being enough to declare his themes 100% compliant because, basically, he’s still selling them on / supporting a network that doesn’t promote 100% GPL. That was my immediate understanding of her note, at least – which is why I think we could use some clarification on what’s expected of community contributors.

      1) Someone who wrote a book about WordPress, which was published by a company that also sells split-licensed themes. They were approached by the published, they did not seek them out.
      2) Someone who works on WordPress projects for clients, but also works on projects on systems that are not GPL compliant – they have the skillset from their past experiences and, let’s face it, it pays the bills – doesn’t make extravagant amounts of money, but puts food on the table.
      3) Someone who purchases software that is not GPL compliant.

      Do these rules affect either of these people?

      I have a lot of respect for the things that WordPress stands for. Promoting GPL wherever possible is extremely admirable and something that I strive for personally, but to say that those who are allowed to “officially” contribute back to the community must live lifestyles that are 100% GPL is not realistic and can only serve to hurt the community.

      Are there examples of other open source projects that require something similar?

      As I look at the Mac on my desk and all of the software that is on it, I can’t help but think that, based on a strict reading of the rules in question, I would automatically be disqualified.

    • Rarst says

      By the way I just remembered Envato was major largest-tier sponsor for WP Community Summit just recently.

      Why wasn’t that a problem with guidelines?

    • @Matt

      This seems like the perfect time to bring up I recently spoke with Otto about getting one of my theme companies listed there and he said that he couldn’t because that page is no longer being updated and that frankly, the whole thing needed to be rethought out and updated.

      Naturally I started thinking about other marketplaces then at that point including Theme Forest to list premium works (before I knew about this whole issue).

      So, instead of linking to marketplaces in which are GPL compatible, sounds like the perfect time to finally create an official .org marketplace where we can stay in compliance with the GPL and promote our premium themes/plugins.

      Then you could send out a “come on home” email to all those that have been banned and invite them to take their works down from other marketplaces and bring them over to the new official one where they can not only be 100% GPL compatible, but can bring their works to the huge .org audience that exists.

      Kills about four birds with one stone.


      Thanks, Bryan

      • This would be great. I would like to see a native “Premium” shop.

    • Dave N says

      So Matt, you have deep pockets that allow you to live in another reality… Why not hire Jake and bring these incredible premium themes into the free WordPress repository.

      Or, why doesn’t offer it’s own marketplace with revenue sharing?

    • rox0r says

      > But the larger point is that part of why you?re willing to forgo the community you?ve been a part of for 5 years is because Envato writes you a big check every month

      You’d rather have people incorporate LLCs and selling things anonymously, so they can feed their family and not get blackballed? Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?

  • I’m not going to comment on the war of the roses because I don’t know enough about it. But i feel obligated to leave more of a personal note about some of the developers listed here, in order to support their work.

    I’ve purchased tons of items from envato (including one of your themes Jake – which I love.) I’ve also used Pippin’s products for myself and my clients.
    Top notch work – so much better than 90% of the material available for free or at cost from the WP Repository.

    The support I’ve gotten from you guys has been second to none. Even just the guidance on twitter has been great.

    I’m sorry you’re put in the position you are regarding WP, but know there are people out here who support your work, and will continue to purchase it (wherever it may be offered) because we see the value in what you provide.


  • Anonymouse says

    Unfortunate, but I’m not surprised. And none of you should be either.

    It’s the long hand of WP reaching out for control, just as it has with Meetups now.

    Don’t let the “we want to pay for your meetup” guise fool you either. It’s to control authority and own something you busted your ass building.

    There are successful people out there making a shit ton of money utilizing WP, that have never step foot in a meetup or WordCamp. You should just do the same as them. Make your money, cause luck isn’t going to do it for you- despite what Matt implies.

    Yes, it sucks not being able to give back.. but it’s shady from the ground up my friend.

    Where does all that left over money from WordCamps go, anyway?

    • Where does all that left over money from WordCamps go, anyway?

      Back to the WordPress Foundation

      The WordPress Foundation is a charitable organization founded by Matt Mullenweg to further the mission of the WordPress open source project: to democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software.

      • Anonymouse says

        And spent on what?

        • Mostly WordCamps that can’t break even on their own. That aspect of the foundation is fantastic imo – to keep the community strong where the budgets are not.

          • this is true. we’re in the middle of organizing one and it’s tough to make ends meet. the goal has never been profit… and that’s the freakin’ truth.

    • Also, I’m sure you have reasons for staying anonymous, but I’d respect your opinions much, much more if you were willing to put your name to them.

      • Anonymouse says

        I ‘understand’ where it goes- but I don’t KNOW where the money goes.

        Every year, around Christmas I donate a bunch of food and whatever extra funds I can to a local food bank/community organization. And every year, they give me a small printed newsletter that says how much money was brought in, where it went, etc.

        Shouldn’t the foundation do the same? Just out of respect for the people who spend so much time securing sponsors and working hard to organize and contribute back.

        I don’t necessarily care where it goes– I’d just like to know it’s going to good use!

        This was talked about at the summit and many questions were unanswered.

        • Remkus says

          I seem to remember a convo during the summit where there was stated that all financial insight will be given in the near future. Something about tax files and what not.

          • Dre says

            That’s correct Remkus, and taxes are still going. It would have been a quick turn around to see anything formal this quickly in my opinion.

            To that end, the WordPress Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which are required to publicize certain financial information:

            A public charity must make available for public inspection its annual information return (Form 990 series) with schedules, attachments, and supporting documents filed with the IRS.

            Reference: Compliance Guide for
            501(c)(3) Public Charities – IRS

          • Thing is, Dre, the Foundation has been in operation for years. It shouldn’t take this long.

  • Fritz Laurel says

    For what it’s worth, from a legal standpoint, Automattic can only require GPL on code that interfaces with WordPress libraries/API.

    What sticks out to me, though, is how Matt Mullenweg obviously isn’t above screwing the WordPress community for his own pleasure/musing/whatever the reason. And that’s a shame, but that attitude will ultimately be his (and Automattic’s) undoing.

    What I think should happen is Envato should seize this amazing opportunity and step in and start doing it’s own equivalent of WordCamps. They’re trying to become better perceived in the community anyway. I’ve never been a fan of how all the WordPress elitists insult and rag on ThemeForest authors anyway.

  • You should start your own Camp, and invite all the other people who don’t pass the Purity Test to join you.

    • Hold them right across the street from the acceptable camps… The Un-Camp. Let’s see who provides more value, those who do for nothing or those who make a living at it. Now I’d fly to SF for that!

  • For what it’s worth – this is not an Automattic thing. Do try to keep them separate. This isn’t Automattic requiring anything – – this is .Org/Foundation requirements

    WP Foundation = .Org/The Community
    Automattic = the largest commercial WordPress company, to date.

    It just so happens that the lines of division between the two entities are so blurry that almost everyone gets it confused everytime a topic like this is brought up.

    If Automattic were to go away tomorrow – – .Org and the Foundation would remain … albeit tattered and bruised, lacking staff and leadership, it would still remain.

    • This aspect has always frustrated/infuriated me. It allows for a huge amount of clown-nose-on/clown-nose-off speaking and makes a convenient foil, should the need arise. “I [was|wasn’t] speaking on behalf of [Automattic|the Foundation|.Org moderators|WordCamp]” is a consistent problem.

    • If WP Foundation = .Org/The Community then please explain to me which part of the community you’re referring to because it’s obviously not this part. Is it made up mostly of Automattic employees?

  • In the absence of any apparent harm being caused, Automattic should have let this one slide.

    Have the rules, sure, but be pragmatic in how you choose to enforce them, think about the likely longterm repercussions. Many active members of the community here in the UK are still sore, years later, over the culturally blind edicts regarding WordCamp naming conventions. Instead of acknowledging that there might be a problem, that the geographical realities of countries smaller than the US might require a more open approach, they simply switched to bull-dozer mode.

    Incidentally, Jake, the postscript you added that “this has nothing to do with Automattic, but rather”, well, sure, Andrea Middleton may not have been acting in her capacity as a full-time Automattic employee, but it seems strange that these pro-active enforcement controversies always seems to involve Automatticians.

    Over the years, I have sensed a growing elitist gulf between those inside and those outside the castle walls. Might it not be a good idea for Automattic to consider how this sort of thing looks, even if these employees are not, in that precise moment, officially acting in that capacity?

    I have huge respect for Automattic but their position of dominance calls for a more thoughtful sense of diplomacy, these needless displays of bullying overreach leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

    • Rarst says

      but it seems strange that these pro-active enforcement controversies always seems to involve Automatticians

      Is there actually anyone non-Automattician manning WP foundation?

      It is easy to point out how people mistake foundation for automattic, dot com for dot org, etc… But it’s not easy to distinguish them when it is same people, wearing different hats and Matt being the boss of all things simultaneously. 🙂

      • Sure, as Lisa points out above, there wouldn’t be many staff or leaders left if you took all the Automattic folks out of the .org project, but that is all the more reason for them to be thoughtful in how they choose to deploy their power, regardless of which hat they happen to be wearing.

        There are ways of doing things that don’t cause longterm resentment, that don’t offer rallying points to consolidate existing unease. Automattic no longer needs the community or the goodwill of other companies in the WordPress eco-system, they will be one of the great success stories of our early-Web era regardless, but surely it would not hurt to act more gracefully.

      • Mark Jaquith and Andrew Nacin are two names off the top of my head that don’t work for Automattic. Mark’s leading 3.6 right now, and Nacin has been lead on many 3.* versions.

        • Rarst says

          I was talking more in Foundation context, which relates to development… Who knows how. 🙂

          By the way Nacin works for Audrey Capital – which is another company of Mullenweg.

    • Well said.

  • The freetards have struck again!

    Don’t get me wrong: I love that there are so many open communities and people who are willing to give away what they work on. I have a few small open source projects myself. What I can’t stand are those who think that charging for software is a cardinal sin and that no one should profit directly from selling it. The spirit of freedom is allowing people to decide on what terms they are to engage with others – not in being forced to provide services for free.

    • Dre says

      Open Source or GPL does not mean you can’t charge for your creation. There are plenty of Open Source & GPL products that are not free of charge.

      • Nathan says

        It does mean that others can charge for the works of others, which is not only morally wrong, but IMO breaks the spirit of the license.

  • Earlier today we put together a small spreadsheet with all the WordCamps that we would like to participate as sponsors. It’s our 1st year in the market but things are going way better than expected so we decided to show our appreciation that way. We are also planning of visiting a few of them.

    The total bill is in the five figure range. On our website everything is 100% GPL but we do sell themes on Themeforest as well. If Mr. Caputo is out then I guess we are out too, right?

    • The drift I get is that you sponsoring an event isn’t the same as speaking at one. Then again, I seem to recall much ado somewhere about non 100% GPL companies not being able sponsor WordCamps. Don’t hold me to that though.

      • Rarst says

        Actually it’s subject to precisely same rules:

        vet each person/company that wants to be an organizer, speaker, sponsor, or volunteer

        How much this is enforced, however… See Envato sponsoring WP Community Summit.

        • WordPress Community Summit is nothing to do with WordCamp. Please don’t confuse the two.

          WordPress Community Summit was explicitly an invitation only event that set out to include commercial companies amongst many other participants from around the WordPress world. It has nothing to do with this issue.

          • Rarst says

            And it’s no surprise Envato was to participate as atendee(s).

            It is however quite different matter that WP foundation chose to accept high profile sponsorship from Envato and promote it in quiet fondly words, while arguing before and after that they are dead set to not promote likes of Envato.

            Going with “but it wasn’t WordCamp” just highlights how inconsistent this mess of rules is in pursuing its own goals.

  • I’m all for upholding the ideals of the GPL, but what benefit is being had from stopping these intelligent speakers from sharing knowledge?

    Requiring speakers to not mention non-GPL marketplaces seems like a good middleground. Make it clear that “no speaker can promote a non-GPL marketplace in anyway”

    Jake doesn’t go to WordCamps to try to sell more of his themes. He speaks at WordCamps to share his knowledge and what he learns. A great example is Pippin. If Pippin released all of his plugins for free on, there’s no way he would be able to create plugins full time. He’s gained a lot of knowledge from it, and shares great resources and knowledge because of it.

    The spirit of the GPL is great, even not allowing theme and plugin authors to link there from a theme or plugin is fine, but not letting them speak at a WordCamp is just too far.

  • I always thought contributors had to be GPL compliant, not 100% GPL to participate in WordCamp events. This is all news to me.

    It does seem kinda odd to punish people who are totally in line with the licensing requirements.

    • Read again, the quote at the top of the article:

      Note: this is one step above simple compliance, which requires PHP code to be GPL/compatible ….

      This isn’t about code compliance; it’s about a set of rules for who can speak at/sponsor a WordCamp. Some of those rules are related to the GPL, but are not the GPL (which is a software license).

      • I had already read it and understood it. My comment still applies.

  • Adii says

    Having not participated in these type of discussions for years (since I lacked the energy to work through the drama), I figured this was a good time to share some insight into Woo’s (related) journey.

    If anyone remembers, we were vehemently opposed to the GPL and the “ideals” around in our earlier days, but have since gone on to both be fully compliant and have also a) contributed to WP core; and b) used the freedoms allowed by the GPL to fork code that enabled us to create WooCommerce.

    First off, I think the most important thing to note (which doesn’t relate to WP / Matt / Envato / GPL / anything said above) is that you get to choose who you get in bed with. If you get in bed with Envato and you leverage their business acumen (in building a fantastic business & audience) to the extent that they’re a significant source of your revenue, then you play by their rules. Similarly, if anyone starts up a WordPress business and wants to avoid the GPL / Matt’s ideals / the WordPress Foundation’s strong-arming, you’re being ignorant. No good comes without compromise & there’s no such thing as a free lunch. All decisions have their pro’s and they have their con’s; you decide which you want to take on board.

    Then – there’s two reasons why WordPress actually exists: 1) Open Source / the GPL; and 2) Matt Mullenweg. IMO – it doesn’t matter whether you or I actually agree with Matt (opinions are just that), but nobody can argue that he deserves the privilege of having an opinion with regards to everything WordPress-related. If it wasn’t for Matt, we wouldn’t have this discussion. And that’s the end of it.

    (For those of you that know me & have met me in person, you’ll know that I don’t agree with Matt most of the time. That is however a difference in opinions, which will probably never change. Fact of the matter is, that I will always respect his contribution to my business and my appreciation for both is role & the awesomeness of open source grows by the day. At the end of the day, none of us have to agree about anything, as the Open Source & the GPL is bigger than all of us.)

    Lastly – a massive part of Woo’s business today is a result of Open Source & the GPL: WooCommerce wouldn’t exist in the way it does today if we weren’t able to fork Open Source code. So whilst we had to go out on a limb all those years ago and “trust” the GPL when we went fully compliant and it felt like a massive risk, it’s paid massive dividends since; both in terms of actual $$$’s and in terms of the way we work / the ethos around our work.

    No individual decision in this regard will be easy and no two sets of facts will be comparative. Furthermore, you’d be hard-pushed to find 10 people around the same table that would all agree about this. There are however certain facts that we all need to accept regardless (i.e. only a fool runs into the same brick wall twice, expecting a different result).

    • Well said. Thanks for contributing to this conversation.

    • Thanks and kudos to you @Adii. Your level-headed example (like Brian Gardner’s below) of successful theme companies succeeding while choosing to adhere to the letter and spirit of the GPL is encouraging.

      If nothing else, the foundation is understandably enforcing their organizational tenets and the GPL to maintain the integrity of the non-profit corporate veil. We should all be so appreciative, as are you, of such consistency which protects the existence and resulting benefits of the entire WordPress community.

      Seeing real world success examples (Woothemes & StudioPress), reading Matt’s patient explanations here (consistent with those of the similar issue two years ago), and stripping out the emotions swirling about the issue makes it clear that the system works.

      Agree, disagree, like, or dislike…regardless and thankfully the whole WordPress business ecosystem chugs steadily along.

  • Am I missing something? We’ve had our themes [link removed] on Theme Forest for nearly two years now. On each of our sales pages we place this:

    License Agreement
    The CSS , XHTML and design of the Genesis Framework and all child themes developed by StudioPress are sold and distributed under the General Public License.

    • You’re one of the guys I didn’t want to call out 😉

      I was told by Andrea that I cannot put my own license on the site, such as you did, because I’m still promoting a site that doesn’t have their WP themes 100%, which breaks the guideline.

      • If we’re talking semantics, I’d argue that they’re promoting you 😉

      • Jake, can you please remove the link in my original comment? We’ve chosen to remove our themes from Theme Forest. A decision that believe it or not we made a month ago, but just haven’t carried it out. (until today.)

    • If .org/the foundation is going to be serious about this, then you better get the same exact treatment as Jake. They’re basically stating that their Licence is more important than these cases, and if you have anything on themeforest, you’d be included in that.

      However, as shown above by the Envato sponsorship of the Community Summit, its not always as black and white as they’re making it out to be.

    • Did you just pull all of your products on ThemeForest? all of them are 404’ing now

      • See my comment above, asking Jake to remove the link. (in short, yes.)

  • modemlooper says

    This makes about as much sense as tits on a turtle!

    ThemeForest can sponsor a WordCamp but someone who sells through it can not speak at a WordCamp?

    • Rarst says

      To be precise Envato sponsored numerous WordCamps in 2011 then noted they can’t anymore, then weirdly went on to first-tier sponsor Community Summit…

      • modemlooper says

        flip-flopping for ones benefit doesn’t seem in the “spirit”.

  • I’m surprised by Matt’s response to the issue.

  • It seems like if you provide WordPress as a service (Automattic, company dev shops) you’re safe, but as soon as you provide any code back to the community it needs to be GPL. Is that fair to say?

    Licensing aside, can someone explain why we as designers, developers, etc. can’t manage our businesses our way to in turn personally provide back to the community? Is Jake now not allowed to submit plugins now? What if he currently has a plugin in the repository that links back to his company site which sells or links to non-GPL WordPress code?

    I have no idea how Jake has his company setup, and I don’t want to infer anything, but isn’t his company “designcrumbs” the problem here? Shouldn’t the brand/entity “Jake Caputo” be free to do what he likes? I can understand that the two are probably pretty tightly linked (and a lot of you are going to hate me for saying this), but if we’re going to get technical about licensing can’t we get technical about corporations/personal IP?

    • This sounds like it’s getting far too technical and into legalities. Even if I represent myself as Jake Caputo and not President of Design Crumbs, Inc. and I was able to contribute, it’s not addressing the larger issue.

      • Totally, and I’m not suggesting you do. I don’t even like asking the question, but I’m just trying to understand if this is all about the legalities of licensing. I want to say, that somehow, someway, there is a lawyer who has instructed the foundation in this manner. If that’s the case, then we’re all screwed by using “voice of reason” as a defense.

        • Rarst says

          From the legal point of view is fine with dual-licensing, see

          However on level of their policies they prefer to push for complete GPL compatibility even where it’s not legally required.

          This would probably all work much better if there was such a lawyer… 🙂

    • Lee Willis says

      It seems like if you provide WordPress as a service (Automattic, company dev shops) you?re safe, but as soon as you provide any code back to the community it needs to be GPL. Is that fair to say?

      The GPL kicks in when you distribute code – work for hire doesn’t count. However, this isn’t a conversation about what the GPL requires, but a WP foundation / Matt policy…

      • I was just trying to understand the situation/history a little more. A lot of people have been like, “Bad Matt!”, but not following up with an argument.

        Now if someone tried to tell me that Matt is essentially breaking his own principles by imposing his will on other people, then I’d understand a little more.

  • A lot of people have got hung up here on the GPL and the impact this has on WordPress & WordCamps. Unfortunately this is something that isn’t going to get resolved overnight (or ever).

    The most important issue here, however, is that people are treated equally (unfairly or fairly) and the WP foundation don’t apply some rules to some, and other rules to others. That is disrespectful to the entire community. Get this right and then you can have sensible discussion about the rules.

    • Hapeid says

      The most important issue here, however, is that people are treated equally (unfairly or fairly) and the WP foundation don?t apply some rules to some, and other rules to others. That is disrespectful to the entire community. Get this right and then you can have sensible discussion about the rules.

  • I must say that this is discouraging to people who want to continue in the supporting WordPress as well as make a living. My previous goals was to start to build a reputation on my company through quality themes on themeforest, it simply makes sense, but I am also a HUGE supporter of GPL and the value open source has to the world. I also have nothing against profiting from GPL software, Automatic is probably the most profitable example of this.

    I personally think that if you wrote the code, you should be able to distribute it however you want. I understand what the logic is behind Envato making it a split licence, but what harm is in it for them to let us choose how we release it, I mean we’re the ones who put countless man (or Woman) hours into the code, it’s not theirs to tell us how we can distribute it.

    I attended my first WordCamp this year, and it was such a great experience. Knowledgeable professionals sharing their wealth with a vibrant community. I think is hurting themselves in this instance as well, by not allowing people who are knowledgeable in WordPress and have the incentive to share it, but can’t could discourage the community to want to contribute to the WordPress community.

    I really think and Envato need to step back and look at the big picture and repercussions of what is going on.

    • I personally think that if you wrote the code, you should be able to distribute it however you want.

      Oh, but you can distribute it however you want. Nobody’s limiting the ability to distribute your code. They’re limiting participation in WordPress Foundation-sanctioned events to people/companies who aren’t in compliance with their WordCamp guidelines.

  • Adam W. Warner says

    I wonder what Richard Stallman would think of this thread?

  • A real solution would be to have a ThemeForest competitor selling premium themes without requiring them to include non-GPL elements.

    The key is scale and only one company has the size, funding and domain credibility to gain the necessary momentum to compete with Envato’s five-year head-start: Automattic

    • And they’d make a killing at it too.

      There might be a short period of screaming bloody murder (WooCommerce anyone?) but it could be a great thing for both authors and buyers. Automattic could probably provide authors an instant line of buyers (which is the lure of ThemeForest). Buyers would obviously benefit from a full GPL license and a more strict review process.

      I know Matt has said in the past this is not something they have in mind but obviously that could change and Envato would be wise to go full GPL right now, implement a more strict review process (and raise their prices to accomodate these things). Better for them if they provide it than Automattic.

      • Yeah, you’re right, they would make a killing but, as we have seen with ThemeForest, supporting all those themes is a messy business and I can imagine that Automattic would be anxious not to blur their identity or detract from their eventual acquisition value.

        Obviously, people have been suggesting a commercial store since the early days of WordPress and Matt has always said no but, you never know, the context has changed, there is a growing sophistication amongst users, a greater willingness to pay for certain things, an understanding that some of the most useful themes and plugins simply cannot exist in their most ideal form without someone being able to treat them as a fulltime job, consistently, for years.

        The general public’s attitude towards paying for software has also been radically changed over the past 4 years by Apple’s App Store, and the main bulwark against piracy has been simple convenience. I am certain that a 100% GPL theme and plugin store can thrive purely on the basis of automated updates and access to documentation & support.

        Matt’s insistence on using the word “commercial” rather than the word “premium” is astute – costing money doesn’t make something better than the free alternatives – but, all the same, there is a certain level of complexity that needs to have a dedicated team of people behind it, I can think of several plugins I use every day that simply could not exist as free plugins and WordPress would be worse off without them.

        So, perhaps the right time might be coming. Matt spoke at Le Web Paris last month about how he sees the next few years as being about WordPress being able to do more, acting as a platform for Web apps. We might consider that the recent wave of plugins such as Advanced Custom Fields, Toolset, Easy Custom Content Types etc, around 20 of them, are all being run as for-profit ventures, even if the basic level is free. If we want self-hosted WordPress to continue to grow in variety, complexity and potential, the biggest boost that could get would be if Automattic launched a store.

  • Adam W. Warner says

    I have to be VERY careful how I say this…but have a look here to see how things go when someone doesn’t follow “the spirit” of the GPL.

    Brace yourself, this article might rouse some strong emotion. It did to me…

    • Why?

      The guy distributed a few links to theme downloads without including any way to keep them updated, any access to support or any credible assurance that they didn’t contain malware. The kiddies and idiots willing to waste their time on that were highly unlikely to ever be buyers of the themes in question.

      What he did was 100% GPL-compliant and he would have been welcome to give talks at WordCamp 😀

    • Probably not “welcome”, as that’s pretty scummy behavior, all things considered, and would likely have an adverse effect on some of the companies we’d be relying on for WC funding. Still, not illegal, not even close.

      However, I knew things were really headed south when “Warrior Forum” came up. Ben Kenobi’s description of Mos Eisley came readily to mind…

  • Gabbie says

    Jake- thanks for posting this .. big eye opener for a noob like me 🙂 I did say noob still learning wp .

  • Jake,
    there is a very simple answer, incorporate and move the ownership of any themes sold on themeforest into the corporation. Have someone else as the director of the company but remain the shareholder.

    Automatic could then hardly object to your participation in wordcamps as you personally are not contravening the license. I realise this is a technicality but the logic is impecable and if Automatic object they open up a large can of worms around other Wordcamp contributors with shareholdings in companies that contravene their guidelines….

  • Dana Scully says

    Peter: I somehow think a can of worms has already been opened up, don’t you? Now we have to find a way to cram the worms back in the can before WordPress goes the way of Mambo.

  • David says

    so, is a religion now?

  • I have a theory about why is not OK with the split license.

    My *guess* is that they begrudgingly agree that the split license does not violate the letter of the GPL, while at the same time strongly feeling that it does violate the spirit of the GPL.

    Just based on that, I would understand them taking a stand on principle when it comes to WordPress code, and code in their many community repos.

    That being said, the step to blackball the developers of themes and plugins (aka derivative works) which are licensed in a manner which violates the guidelines, but possibly not the GPL, by limiting their access to the community in some way is pretty hardcore.

    I can understand them not wanting developers to promote their code and ideas that are even a little bit proprietary. To take it a step further where your entire organization must not distribute *any* WordPress derived code which isn’t 100% GPL, and not even promote any other organization that is not in line with same is hard to swallow without a solid explanation.

    If I had to guess, I would say they are trying to keep developers from creating “token” WordPress themes/plugins only to get a foot in the door at WordCamps in order to gain clout to use when pushing their other products which are not 100% free (as in freedom).

  • I’m going to link back to you when I write my blog post because you are dead on accurate here. This whole license condition is more than just confusing its conflicting in many areas. I had to ask questions in the Envato forums just to understand exactly what I purchased. Envato pricing is painfully confusing as guys like me buy most things with a developers license, like WPTouch Pro and Gravity Forms and such. I need to use them in dozens of hosting client sites. Envato clarified today that I border on “license violation” with my practice even though I purchased an extended license.

  • I’d like to weigh in briefly, if I may, from the perspective of a WordCamp organizer. Frankly, while I understand the intent of the “guideline”, its application to everyone associated with a WC is basically impossible to enforce.

    I can guarantee you that, should I ask most of my volunteers whether they’ve ever participated (knowingly or unknowingly) in any sort of activity that breaches the GPL, they’d look at me as though I’d grown a third arm out of my forehead. The folks in my Meetup and the volunteers for WordCamp are generally

    * Excited about using WordPress
    * Excited about the opportunities out there in WP-related design, development and hosting
    * Largely unconcerned or, at worst, ill-informed about the GPL and its implications

    Now, granted, this obviously makes for a learning/teaching opportunity (in fact, I probably should schedule a GPL FAQ session for an upcoming Meetup, come to think of it…) but if I have to start applying a strict litmus test to my volunteers, as well as my sponsors and my speakers? That’s just plain unreasonable.

    Organizing WordCamps is serious work. It’s long hours of planning, scheduling, harassing designers with niggling pixel perfections, wrangling volunteers, sweating, swearing, and generally not a ton of fun, right up until the end of the actual day, at which point one can finally breathe. To be candid, statements like the ones in question get my dander up and my gut reaction is “We should invite Jake to come speak at our next WordCamp, and I’m going to put my theme on ThemeForest! Let’s just see what they do over at Central!” (That’s obviously an off-the-cuff reaction and more than just a bit immature on my part.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that kerfuffles like this make the already-difficult task of organizing a WordCamp even more bothersome. In the name of license purity, we are asked to countenance further headaches for an end result that may well end up turning ready and willing volunteers away. If there’s a way to make future organizers even more disenchanted with Central, I’m not sure you could do better than increasing the workload.

    • Sounds like “Don’t ask, don’t tell” 🙂

      • That’s a problem, though, since the Central guidelines specify that everyone associated with the event must be kosher, according to the rules. That makes for an incredible burden for the organizers.

        If Central really wants to run things in the fashion dictated above, they ought to look into making WordCamp franchises in every targeted city, then they can pay their organizers, at least, for the trouble.

  • Shouldn’t there be a distinction between software and public opinion?

    We should always be aware of filter bubbles:

  • Bob says

    Gosh, they are such zealots.

    The way I see it, there’s 2M people waiting to form talks and conferences of their own. You have the people to make your own Wordcamp, you just need to organize them.

    Now I know what will come next, “but what about the community?” Tough luck about the community, they’ve already made it clear how they feel.

  • No Way! says

    Ooooh – no…

    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

    Really? Those ads all over that you snuck in once? Or how about the Scientology ads that people with psychology blogs would never even see on their blogs because if you’ve ever logged in, the ads are hidden.

    Give me a break Matt, you’re doing this because you can and because you enjoy the power. Instead of being a liberal like you pretend to be you’re a good old fashioned monopolist who’s learned a little too much from your new business friends with their (outmoded) Harvardian methods.

  • mkjones says

    This is daft. Just bloody daft. You should not be punished for using ThemeForrest.

    ThemeForrest may be the devil in Automattics eyes, but it’s where the audience is and the audience and most theme designers do not care about the GPL.

    Trust me I know. 2 years ago I set up to compete with them on price and license. My alternative gave users up-to 95% revenue from theme sales and themes had to be 100% GPL before being published.

    In short, it didn’t work. Trying to compete on price and license wasn’t enough and the sales just never came (I also tried improved support methods, but that’s a different story).

    It’s great that Automattic are passionate about the GPL. I’m a big believer in the license and honestly think that if ThemeForrest switched to FULL GPL tomorrow it wouldn’t make any different. Fact is, they won’t, because they don’t have to, and this sort of thing isn’t helping to convince them.

    • As has been pointed out before this is not about Automattic – if you can’t get that straight in your head, then I’m not surprised you think someone is being “punished”!

      The fact is that to participate in an event the uses the trademarked name WordCamp you should abide by the rules of the trademark owner — The WordPress Foundation. Selling your themes under a split license like Theme Forest forces you to happens to be against those rules. So you can’t participate in a WordCamp. Simple.
      You can continue to sell your themes on Theme Forest; you can participate in any number of other WordPress related events (as long as you don’t violate their guidelines); no-one is being punished.

      Jake presents his case as if there is only a choice to make money on Theme Forest OR speak at/sponsor a WordCamp.
      But there are other ways than Theme Forest to make money from selling WordPress themes. Both Addi (from Woothemes) and Brian (from StudioPress) have contributed here. Both sell 100% GPL themes and make $millions). Theme Forest is not the only game in town, everyone can make their choices.

      No-one has an automatic right to participate in a WordCamp; if you want in, you play by the rules. If you don’t agree with the rules, don’t take part. Simple.

      • Rarst says

        As has been pointed out before this is not about Automattic ? if you can?t get that straight in your head…

        To recount all parties involved – employee of Matt’s company Automattic was acting on behalf of Matt’s nonprofit WordPress Foundation. Such a clear separation!

        It was mentioned several times in comments here – Foundation will be confused with Automattic as long as it is nothing but Automattic employees changing hats.

      • Nathan says

        ‘As has been pointed out before this is not about Automattic ? if you can?t get that straight in your head, then I?m not surprised you think someone is being ?punished?!’

        A little out of line, no?

  • Nathan says

    I’ve been involved in this debate before and don’t care to get quite as involved this time as the last, but I do have one question for Matt or anyone that can speak to his motive:

    Why has chosen to enforce standards at a different level than the GPL? And in doing so, what makes this standard good and the GPL ‘legal’ split-license not good?

    I’ve worked with some of the commenters here, and have followed/studied others. Tons of great people here. It’s a shame to see this, especially when the choice is capitulation (Brian) or blackball (Jake).

    • that girl again says

      Basically, the official view that only the PHP needs to be GPL is what Matt’s lawyers told him. It wasn’t at all what he wanted to hear and I’m sure the search for lawyers who will tell him differently goes on 😉

      There is a golden opportunity here for commercial enterprises outside the GPL tent to garner publicity and goodwill by sponsoring their own WP conferences. Frankly I’m surprised Matt is making it so easy for them by seeking to exclude people from participating in Wordcamps.

      • Nathan says

        That’s interesting. But what is it about the split-license that is so bad?

        As to conferences, you’re probably right, but as you can see here few want to be blackballed. I tend to think this sets Automatic up to build their own premium marketplace.

        • Simple, it is denying the end users of your product the same freedoms you enjoyed and needed in order to produce your product.

          It is effectively ending the value chain. It is quite disrespectful to your end users.

          • Nathan says

            Perfect. Short and sweet. I can make some sense of that, even though I disagree with the final statement.

    • Matt says

      Happy to answer this, because it’s a common question:

      WordPress is Free Software — as a user of it you have four freedoms, to quote the FSF: “The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
      The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2). The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). 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.”

      You can read more on their page here:

      This is fundamentally what WordPress has been about for close to a decade now, our users love it, and even if they don’t consciously know about the freedoms they benefit from them being there. (Just like living in a free society.) Long ago we made the decision that out of all of the “stuff” out in the world, from our home on the web,, and our promoted events, WordCamps, we’d only point our users toward things that provided the same level of freedom they’d come to expect and trust from WordPress itself.

      While legally you can make a technical argument that in a theme the PHP, CSS, JS, and images are separate things, from the point of view of a user they make up a single unit of usefulness, one “thing.” Users intuitively understand this, just like it’d be strange to have a car you could drive anywhere, but you had to remove the wheels if you went outside a certain area (the so-called “split license”). Most theme authors and businesses in the WP community also understand this, in fact all of the theme shops on the commercial themes page and many of the most successful including WooThemes and StudioPress sell 100% GPL themes that protect all the rights of their users, and have been extremely successful doing so.

      It’s an author and developer’s choice to license all their code under the GPL, and it’s our choice to only promote, accept sponsorship, and accept speaking proposals from people who do so. It’s not a personal thing, and the guidelines apply equally to everyone, and if someone who broke the guidelines in the past stopped tomorrow there would be no hard feelings (it’s not a blackball, which implies permanent exclusion, it’s just part of the social mores of our community).

      • So, if I, as a former core contributor, Community Summit participant, long-standing volunteer WordPress evangelist, author of several 100% GPL plugins and a 100% GPL theme were to put a split-license theme on ThemeForest right now, would I be banned from speaking at a WordCamp?

        • Nobody else is spelling this out so I will: I am 99% sure that your past appearances on the default blogroll exempt you from the laws that most other non-Matt people may or may not be subject to, depending upon the whim of Matt.

          This is how they’re stopping Jake from doing business through ThemeForest. If Matt wanted you to stop doing business with someone he disapproved of, I’m guessing he’d just drop you an email.

      • Phil says

        Again, I’m all for promoting GPL and all of my works have been and will be GPL. What concerns me is the statement (from Jake’s original post) that if he were to license his themes on Theme Forest as 100% GPL (if Envato allowed that), that it wouldn’t be enough and he would still be barred, because they are being sold on Theme Forest.

        So even if he goes full GPL (what you’re saying is required), because the marketplace he uses doesn’t force everyone to be full GPL, the full GPL author is still barred.

        I’m honestly just trying to make sense of this all, not be argumentative, etc. Maybe the statement that I keep pointing to isn’t a big deal, but it hasn’t really been addressed by the Foundation.

      • Nathan says

        Thanks for the reply Matt, but here’s where I get confused…

        The WordPress logo is included in the download and therefore covered by the GPLv2. However, you also maintain a trademark policy on said logo:

        Perhaps I’m wrong, but wouldn’t this mean that WordPress is in violation of their own standard in this case?

        I say this because without licensing the brand marks, what could stop someone from creating their own WordPress branded hosting platform to compete with And yet it’s this very same ‘split-license’ that is said to be hostile towards users. I’m not sure I understand?

        • Matt says

          The GPL is a license granted under copyright law, which is separate from a trademark, which WordPress and its logo are. It’s totally allowed by the software license for someone to take the software and make a hosting service, they just have to have their own name for it, like Edublogs. (Some OS communities consider trademark restrictions too much as well, which is why there’s a fork of Firefox called “Iceweasel” included in Debian.) In addition to the guidelines on the Foundation site, having the trademark also gives us a tool to take down phishing sites that target users, or people who set up theme directories at similar-to-WordPress domains where every download includes a malware backdoor. There are many hundreds of these per year.

          • Nathan says

            That makes sense.

            So is it fair to say that even if we make software that is licensed under the GPL, the foundation would support the use of trademark in order to protect that software and keep it from being distributed with ill-intent, so long as the code could be redistributed without those marks? e.g. administration panels and front-end interfaces

        • Dave Doolin says

          “Perhaps I?m wrong, but wouldn?t this [trademark] mean that WordPress is in violation of their own standard in this case?”

          Trademarks have to be actively protected to retain their legal benefits with respect to infringement. This is why “wordpress” cannot be used in domain names. Examples where enforcement wasn’t prosecuted include (iirc) “kleenex” and “xerox.”

          Excellent question.

      • This is what bothers me most of all:

        I can tell you that while I was speaking with Andrea she told me that declaring my themes 100% GPL on ThemeForest still wouldn?t satisfy the issue because I?m still selling my themes on a network that sells other items that are not 100% GPL.

        If this is really the stance held forth by the WordPress Foundation, or WordCamp Central, or whoever we are considering to be the authority in this matter, then I say that’s a serious problem. It is tantamount to convicting someone of a Thought Crime. It is Guilt By Association.

        Please tell me that this is a misunderstanding.

        • Matt says

          You can’t declare your themes as fully GPL on ThemeForest, it’s literally not an option in their interface. It’s against their terms. Because of Envato’s restrictive approach to this, a theme author is forced to violate the WP guidelines by listing their theme on ThemeForest.

          • Phil says

            The question asked multiple times, however, was IF ThemeForest allowed it (and that’s something we should all push for), would Andrea’s comment still stand?

            If the developer were allowed to – and did – choose a 100% GPL license on ThemeForest, would they be allowed to participate?

            Or if it was only a choice and Envato still had some things as split license, would it still be an automatic blacklisting?

          • Matt says

            Then Envato would still be breaking the guideline, but Jake wouldn’t, so it’d be fine for Jake to be involved with WordCamps etc.

            If Envato chooses to break the WordPress guidelines, that’s their prerogative, I just think it’s odious for them to force other people to.

          • My other question above still isn’t answered. If I (not some theoretical “I”, but me, an established WP community person with 100% GPL stuff in the .org repo, etc) were to go right now and upload a spit license theme or plugin for sale on ThemeForest, would I suddenly become persona non grata at WordCamps?

          • Phil says

            Thank you Matt. I agree on not liking that Envato forces developers to break the guideline and I’m glad to hear that if they did offer the option (and the developer chose it) that the developer would be welcomed.

            But, as has been complained about, the developer does have the choice to not go with Envato. That can be a very hard pill to swallow though – to make the transition and forego a fairly guaranteed audience.

            Hopefully the GPL compliant marketplaces can prove up to the task of bring in as good an audience.

        • Another take on the same question:

          Am I in breach of the community rules if I sell a 100% GPL theme on ebay, because someone, somewhere in that massive marketplace might be selling non-GPL software?

          How about Craigslist, Gumtree, a yard sale?

          • Nathan says

            My guess is no, because license grantors have an option to choose the license they grant.

          • Oh, okay, Nathan is right, Matt has answered this above: it would be okay, because I would, personally, be in compliance.

            Doesn’t this contradict, though, what Andrea told Jake, that even if he could chose to have a 100% GPL theme on ThemeForest, he would still be ineligible for community participation, on the grounds that other themes being sold there are not GPL?

          • Matt says

            I think the confusion comes from authors who have been including GPL licenses in their theme download even though ThemeForest forces them to say all the files aren’t GPL. I believe this is against TF’s terms, so invalid, if it’s not they should just allow authors to specify 100% GPL and this whole thing would be done. It’s understandably confusing.

            I don’t think eBay, Craigslist, or other generic marketplaces force you to choose non-free licenses to distribute software on their system.

            But ultimately it’s up to the person, in this case Jake, to say whether they’re in line with the guidelines or not. We can’t follow every single rule of every single marketplace and store in the world. ThemeForest forces Jake to knowingly break the guidelines, and my impression from his post is that he’d rather not. (He sells his theme 100% GPL other places, but ThemeForest doesn’t allow him to.)

        • What is going on here people is Envato is dis-empowering authors and Matt is trying to help them. His stance supports the empowerment of the authors. The ball is now in the authors court. Empower yourselves with the options available to you in my earlier post. Create a 3rd option. You have the control. Envato WordPress development can not exist without you. Get together and TELL Envato how you want it. If they are dumb enough to not listen to your demands, then simply take your power and create a new site for WordPress themes. Themes wont change, you ARE the themes. Matt is asking you to embrace freedom once again. Its time.

  • Interestingly enough, Envato updated their license terms today:

    I couldn’t help but notice that while the changes are more restrictive, they would actually make transitioning to full GPL for WordPress themes easier since now their Extended licensed assets (ie. non-GPL scripts from CodeCanyon, backgrounds from GraphicRiver, etc.) can no longer be used in items for sale (ie. WordPress themes).

  • In all seriousness, how far does this go?
    – Do we ban WPCandy or other WordPress News sites from sponsoring or being involved in WordCamps because they wrote a blog post that highlighted “Top Photography Themes” that were over at ThemeForest?
    – Do we ban educators and trainers who encourage their attendees to use a theme they found on ThemeForest because it is “what the client wants”?

    How far is too far with this banning of WordPress community members. The WordPress ecosystem is a heck of a lot larger than some people realize.

    • Simliar to your question – in order for book to enjoy a listing on the .Org web site, the book cannot contain any mentions about WP related projects that do not comply with the GPL. For example, if my books were to cover ThemeForest, or any of Envato’s offerings – it would disqualify my book from being listed at

      I’ve only ever been told that it would affect the listing on the site, though – I’ve not asked or been directed as to whether or not that would affect my ability to speak/sponsor WordCamps. I imagine it would probably come up, eventually…. just a hunch.

      At the end of the day, the Foundation sets the terms and as individual members of a community, you are free to choose whether you abide, or not. The consequences of not abiding are clear – the choice is yours to make. It doesn’t matter whether you feel it is fair or not…it is what it is.

      Personally, I understand, and think it’s unfair, that recreational marijuana use illegal in my state … doesn’t mean I won’t land my ass in the county lock-up if I choose to smoke it on a park bench, in spite of it. The choice was mine – – the consequences? Also mine. Tell it to the judge…next!

    • A slippery slope indeed, my friend.

  • MONEY_is_the_motive says

    It will be a big loss for WordPress in general if blacklisting themeshop authors becomes the norm. These authors have so much to offer the WordPress community. They are on the frontline, dealing directly with REAL customers and shaping this software into what the customers want; what customers expect.

  • Go for a new identity, give talks at wordcamps in disguise.
    Or create a new theme-shop that does “comply” (so Robocop) and make sure the millions of users of envato/themeforest follow 😉
    All in all, it’s a sucky situation :p

  • My 2 cents: I’m not a WordCamp attendee (so far) and so this issue doesn’t affect me too much. However I do think that WordPress (Matt) is being a bit heavy handed here.

    Sure WordPress can state their beliefs and discourage not being 100% GPL, but banning ThemeForest authors from contributing at WordCamps seems a bit OTT. Cutting out a huge chunk of the WordPress community just because they abide by Envato’s license policies (to make a living) seems unjustified in my opinion.

    I’m a plugin author and would happily go 100% GPL if Envato allowed it, however forcing people to choose between “keep WordPress happy at $0” or “not speak at WordCamps and earn a living” is a no-brainer and don’t think WordPress wise to be so heavy handed on this issue.

    • Alvaro says

      I believe Norman Bird up there said it all ?[?] Envato is dis-empowering authors [?] Get together and TELL Envato how you want it. If they are dumb enough to not listen to your demands, then simply take your power and create a new site for WordPress themes.? We should not be complaining of the guidelines, we should be complaining of restrictive licenses imposed over 100% GPL, which is not acceptable.

  • Tish says

    Apparently Envato updated their licensing yesterday the official blog post

    But it doesn’t look like they addressed the split licensing. I have to admit, the way they structure their licensing is a bit confusing… check out their new licensing page

  • Peter says

    WordPress itself isn’t even 100% GPL. Quote “The WordPress logotype is set in Mrs. Eaves, licensed by Emigre.”

    Just saying.

    • That doesn’t really apply. First off, the font is licensed, and pretty much any font license you find will allow rendered text to be used in whatever way you can think of. Also, it’s not the font that’s being distributed, it’s just a rendered version of one character, used in a transformative way. This kind of usage is allowed, and can be re-licensed by the creator of the art in question.

  • I’m sorry, but this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. There needs to be compromise here from both parties. This is just silly.

  • Hi Jake. Any chance you could update the main blog post with cliffnotes about what’s happened since you originally posted this? I see movement on both sides (Foundation & Envato) and people are still commenting about how something should be done.

    • Done. Although, there’s not much to update. There’s a lot of talk happening but no action, unfortunately.

  • Kim says

    Obviously, the only person missing in this conversation is Collis.

    Dude, step up to the plate. This is what being part of the community is.

  • Yaron says

    I know it’s hyperbole, but this seems fascist. “Live by our ideology or else”. It’s also hypocritical. The whole ideal of the open source community is to contribute and share. This policy stops that very ideal from taking place simply because someone doesn’t live their life according to the “spirit” of the license. What someone does on their own time outside of a WordCamp has nothing to do with that WordCamp and certainly doesn’t diminish the value of what they’d bring to the table by presenting at WordCamp.

    • Ken Newman says

      That’s a ridiculous and out of line. WordPress isn’t a government; you aren’t force into anything. Second, you misunderstand the “spirit” of it: preventing sellers from limiting users’ rights to share.

  • Chris says

    Alrighty, time to fork WordPress.
    New fork should be GPL, hosted (and coded) on Github, and open to all authors (Envato members welcome).


    • Ken Newman says

      It’s already on GitHub, forked several times, and available to Envato authors. This issue is only about speaking at a particular conference run by folks who are very pro-GPL.

  • Maxx Kremer says

    This is a disgrace. For Mullenweg to single out a developer and to ban him from WordPress Camps, he has effectively split the WordPress community. Split the community by saying you can, but you can’t. That’s what you get from an inexperienced businessman. I have lost all respect for him.

    But Mullenweg has a lot of loyal supporters who will follow him, like sheep. Mullenweg, you’re a Yuppie, who is out of touch with your community. Wake up before this DOES split the community.

    • See my update on the post. I wasn’t “singled out” and Matt didn’t personally do anything to me.

  • lesley says

    It is a tough situation that you are in. I work on a totally unrelated open source project, I have found that they too are starting to get snarky. Sometimes I feel like they do not want anyone to make money since the software is free… bleh

  • Crazy though how important you were to again open this conversation. Bravo on at least publishing your take and perspective – that takes guts!

    You can always say now that at least for a brief moment… you were famous on the internet.


    Good times.

  • Ruben says

    Immovable force, unstoppable object…

    +1 to “Also, any chance of adding a comment notifications plugin for your comments?” by Bryan Hadaway.

    Wait, is that plugin open source? Oh, it doesn’t matter, you can’t go to WordCamp already.

  • DigiP says

    I think for someone that not only VOLUTEERED to help, AND has given back to the community, what you do to make a living shouldn’t be a reason to stop someone from not only HELPING, but CONTRIBUTING to the WordPress community at large. I think its a bigoted thing to ostracize people for their work, when they give so much back to the community.

    I make a living designing themes for people who want custom sites, and not off the shelf themes. I’ve only recently started making my own theme framework and I licensed it as Creative Commons 3.0, but no matter what the license is on the theme, unless I put it on for free under a GPL license, which I have done with a plug-in, what and how I handle my own code that uses the base of WordPress should not be a deciding factor to remove someone from being able to contribute their help and knowledge.

    I also give away a lot of free little plug-ins here and there, which have no license, and you can do as you wish with them, bit no matter what the license is, I think this is just a low ball, cruel, and discriminative way to treat people of the WordPress community. Especially for those who only with to help and contribute, it seems counter intuitive to the WordPress culture in general.

    • CC says

      I completely agree. It’s bullying, and honestly it makes me sad.

  • Halim says

    Great questions and thoughts. Will be interesting to see.

  • Hayden Jones says

    This is absolutely hilarious, I love watching WP users crumble.

  • You also deleted my comments too. What are you trying to hide? Its very un-expected from you.

    • Hmmmmm. I haven’t deleted any comments, but I’ve emptied the Spam. Perhaps something got stuck in there, or the comment simply didn’t go through?

  • Merijn says

    If you are the sole author/copyright holder of the relevant CSS/JavaScript/images, you could always dual license them. There is no law that requires you to distribute all copies of you work under the same license. I checked the ThemeForest licenses (but not very thoroughly, you might want to double check) and they all seem to be “non-exclusive” licenses. This means you can license your CSS/JS/images on ThemeForest using their non-exclusive license and distribute copies from your own page (or wherever) under the GPL. This lets you comply with both ThemeForest and the WordCamp people.

    • Ken Newman says

      That’s what I thought too. Thanks!

  • Azrael says

    This is the silliest religious argument I have seen in quite some time. This kind of license purity debate is usually reserved for the likes of RMS or ESR.

    Imagine if IBM had been told they couldn’t participate in various events, or projects because they happened to do things the OSI or the FSF did not like?

    You win hearts and minds through including people, not by excluding people.

    This is ridiculous, and actually makes me look at WordPress with a skeptical eye. You can debate what the GPL says, or does not say all you want…to be honest, that’s slashdot style religious debate. The real concern here is the behavior of people in charge at WP.

    WordPress does not need an RMS. WordPress needs a Guy Kawasaki: someone who lets the self appointed dignitaries hash out the ridiculous religious arguments…and simply does everything they can to evangelize the platform. Failing this, people like Matt Mullenweg run the risk of alienating the user base, and more tragically….the developer base. We all know what happens when a popular blogging platform alienates the developer base, don’t we? They join Movable Type in the “Where are they now file”.

    If this is how developers are being treated…being discriminated against because they sell at an “unapproved market”…then there is no freedom. You have taken the debate from WP/Envato and moved it to the individuals involved so you can grandstand, high on the kool-aid RMS let you drink deeply from.

    There’s a reason RMS is on the fringe. He says a lot of awesome things. But for every awesome thing he does, he does something that drives away the very people he needs to win the hearts and minds of. It’s sad to see WP going this route. It serves only the ego of the people pushing the agenda.

  • Japh says

    For those interested, there’s an important update on this topic from Collis, CEO of Envato, over here:

    • David Skarjune says

      “With this in mind, I?ve reflected a lot these last few days ? and I think I?ve been wrong in my stance. I would like to change that stance, and feel that ThemeForest should offer an option for authors, if they choose, to sell their themes with a GPL license covering the entirety of the theme. I am going to take this option to our community.” -Collis Ta’eed

  • David Skarjune says

    Yes, it’s a sucky situation and tricky argument. Attacking Matt Mullenweg,, WordCamp, and the WordPress Foundation, however, is almost petty.

    You might as well attack Richard Stallman… Did you not get the memo about “Free as in speech, not as in beer”? Neither did Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, which is why he said “Linux is a cancer.”

    The WordPress and WordCamp guidelines are not about religion, they are guided by legal documents that have a philosophical footing. If they don’t work for you, then move on and start your own commercial events for WordPress theming.

    • There was no attacking here, just a post about the way things are.

  • Seems quite excessive to say the least. While I understand the GPL, WordPress themselves skirt it with their own paid plugins and VIP version (which has features not available to the general public). The question, IMO, is whether or not you’re adding value to the community or not. It’s obvious that you are. I have no problem ‘paying’ the pittance that themes cost and I’ve bought a ton of them. WordPress would not have near the adoption without paid themes… just take a look at the crappy free themes available and that’s clear.

  • Louis says wishes that the GPL must apply to plugin and theme code, and pretends there is some legal basis for that.

    But there isn’t.

    I hope someone gets a WooThemes subscription and then puts all their themes on Dropbox for free. Isn’t that what the GPL is all about?

    Calling plugins derivative works of WordPress is like calling WordPress a derivative work of PHP.

  • Amelia Areatta says

    Themeforest is still the number 1 option when it comes to posting our themes. I also use themeforest for selling my themes but I am nowhere close to you…

  • Wow this is just crazy. We were thinking of trying to speak at some Wordcamps this year or next year because we have spoke at some large events lately about our every growing wordpress membership plugin. I’m guessing from your blog post this may refer to us too so we won’t be able to attend.

  • Ken Newman says

    Why not just opt-out of using non-GPL components and libraries that are offered in that marketplace. As far as I can tell, that’s the only part preventing full GPL compliance. That’s the part, reading from the quotes, that puts you at odds with the foundation. Nothing I’ve read, here or in the guidelines, would suggest getting blacklisted otherwise. Perhaps something is missing from the article?

    • What was preventing compliance with the WordPress Foundation’s guidelines was the split-license I was selling my themes under. The split license specifically did not sell the CSS or images of my themes under GPL and the WordPress Foundation’s guidelines require them to be.

      Also, see my next posts Un-Blackballed and Design Crumbs Themes Are Now 100% GPL.

  • Joe says

    All the grandiose talk of fairness of Envato/Themeforest and their “respecting the GPL” is bullshit because they are just a marketplace or distributor like RIAA or MPAA, and they take 57-75% of each sale away from the theme author.

    The theme author does all the hard work and themeforest / envato takes the big chunk of money.

    That’s not “fair” in the English used around the world. It’s dark, black and thick with greed flowing everywhere.

    It is high time someone disrupted this marketplace monopoly that Envato has – this can be done by offering 80-90% to the authors and taking just a reasonable commission.

    Envato’s legal heritage (Owner’s wife’s father) has found a legal sweet spot to exploit everyone and mint money.

    When using WordPress and its popularity, which directly results from it being opensource, to make big money, Envato is being a whiny greedy kid who wants to have the cake and eat it too – Split license and 57-75% of each sale.

    What hurts is that they wont even let the authors make money.

    Good thing shows only GPL-only themes.

    • I don’t know where you’re getting those numbers. Exclusive authors start at 50% of the item price and top out at 70% of the item price. And Envato introduced a GPL option for authors shortly after my original post here.


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