Thesis Adopts a Split GPL License


Thesis has officially adopted a split GPL license, putting an end to the explosive debate between WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and Thesis developer Chris Pearson which launched a community-wide discussion on the GPL and WordPress themes.

To clarify the split GPL license, Chris Pearson adds, “the PHP is GPLv2 and the CSS, JS, and images are proprietary.” Specifically, this means that Thesis no longer violates the GPL of WordPress and the several plugins that Thesis was based on. Matt Mullenweg was thrilled to hear the news, replying with, “Now, back to work. This has taken a lot of my time over the past few days and was going to consume more if it went forward.”

It is unknown if this will have any affect on Mr. Pearson’s business.  While the split GPL license now allows the core of Thesis be redistributed by a third-party either free or for a fee, the rest of Thesis is still protected and would therefore require extensive work to redistribute anything like it.  In addition to the proprietary portions of Thesis, Mr. Mullenweg mentioned in the original debate that Thesis is “more than just a code and a theme; it is the forums, the support, the community, and all the things around it that make it valuable. That is not something that someone in another country selling it for half-price is going to be able to duplicate because they don’t have you.”




  1. Milan (17 comments.) says:

    As someone who really appreciates both WordPress and Thesis, I am glad to see this has been resolved.

  2. Teli (4 comments.) says:

    Also glad to see this is resolved.

  3. Tony (1 comments.) says:

    It was a blatant violation of GPL. He could own the license to some of the PHP too if he re-architected the PHP to work without needing WordPress.

  4. Haroun Kola (2 comments.) says:

    I’m using Thesis on my site, and I’m also thrilled its happened this way :)

  5. Andrew @ Blogging Guide (86 comments.) says:

    Like all the others, I’m also glad that this issue is finally resolved.

  6. Robert Pendleton (3 comments.) says:

    Finally the game is over. But it seems that the Thesis has made a larger compromise than what WordPress has done.

    • biteme says:

      agreed; just wait til wp gets all uppity about stock options et al

    • James Huff (62 comments.) says:

      It’s pretty clear from the debate and the GPL license itself that there really wasn’t anything for the WordPress team to compromise besides Matt Mullenweg’s original decision to not pursue legal action. I suppose they could have re-licensed WordPress to allow anyone to redistribute the code however they see fit under whatever license they wanted to, essentially selling out for free, which would have been an insult to the hundreds who have contributed to WordPress over the past several years.

    • Michael (2 comments.) says:

      Thesis is a cash cow for Pearson and that’s not going to change. Everybody wins except his ego. The only “compromise” he made was finally following the rules, by which I mean the common interpretation of the GPL license, i.e. the law.

  7. Ruxton (3 comments.) says:

    Hooray, this b.s. is over, now we can all go back to making good things for WordPress instead of arguing about who’s interpretation is incorrect. I wonder what changed Chris’ perception enough to do this?

  8. Karl | Web Design Mildura (1 comments.) says:

    its about god dam time! congrats matt!

  9. Lloyd Burrell @ Office Desk Reviews (2 comments.) says:

    It’s good this is finally over. However, if WordPress would have initiated this some time ago, it could have avoid the whole discussion, that was bad for their image and brand.

    Lloyd Burrell
    Office Desk Reviews

    • James Huff (62 comments.) says:

      Even if this was initiated some time ago, it would be largely the same issue with largely the same impact, only it would have happened some time ago. I suppose the WordPress community would have been a bit smaller, but the whole debate made a decent impact regarding the GPL that reached further than just the WordPress community.

  10. Neil Asher Scam (1 comments.) says:

    I am also really glad to see this has been finally resolved. congratulations.

  11. Aj (9 comments.) says:

    It is about time…

  12. Keenan Payne (4 comments.) says:

    And Chris was so set in his ways. Well at least they got everything sorted out…

  13. Network Geek (21 comments.) says:

    First of all, I think it’s sort of a shame that he backed down. I was really kind of hoping someone would test the GPL more fully in court. Getting more legal decisions in favor of the GPL into the casebooks is really the only way we *know* the GPL is supportable. Decisions and case law are the foundation of all of our legal system, including copyright law.

    That being said, though, I think it’s better for the WordPress community as a whole that this was finally decided and put to bed.

    In the end, Mr. Pearson wins, though. He got a TON of free advertising for his business. There’s an old adage in advertising; there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if his sales increase dramatically now that this is resolved. I certainly hope they do, and that he talks about how changing to the GPL not only didn’t hurt his business, but helped!

  14. Abi (1 comments.) says:

    WordPress is free! Then all themes should be free, no more premium or paid to use themes!

  15. Peter Claridge (3 comments.) says:

    So does this give everyone the green light to go ahead and release all the premium themes they previously purchased in to the public domain? I think it sets a worrying precedent, especially given how many people now make their living out of selling premium wordpress themes and plugins.

    • James Huff (62 comments.) says:

      No, the main issue here is that Thesis actually copied core WordPress code, rather than simply using the existing functions and template tags. Chris Pearson saw it as a way to optimize his theme’s performance, but he was basically selling copied GPL-licensed WordPress code as his own under a proprietary license within the theme, which most legal professionals would describe as theft.

      Pure and simple, if your project uses code that was licensed under the GPL, your project (or the portion of the project which includes the GPL-licensed code) should also be licensed under the GPL.

      Granted, I’m not a legal professional, but the whole issue is detailed quite well in the original debate linked to in the article above.

      I’m glad that Pearson reached a compromise, but this shouldn’t affect any other premium WordPress themes, unless they too are copying core WordPress code.

      As a side-note, several (if not most) premium WordPress themes are currently licensed under the GPL, granting anyone who has purchased one the ability to modify and distribute it as they see fit (so long as it too is licensed under the GPL).

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