Premium WordPress Themes and Plugins Inherit the GPL license

The issue had come up again when over 200 themes were kicked out of the WP theme repository recently, most likely the plugins repo will see the same fait. In a recent meeting Matt’s perspective was clear: If a plugin or theme makes a call to any WP function then that plugin or theme technically falls under GPL. Which pretty much means, any distributing theme or plugin inherits the the GPL regardless if it’s being sold or freely released.

Internal private use of that code, like the work I do for clients, is fine but if the theme or plugin is ever distributed in any way then full source code must be offered to everyone. 

Looking back at this post, which I stopped following since it wasn’t going anywhere, I noticed Samuel sums up the entire issue.

This is a really interesting discussion. As someone who has been involved with open source and the GPL for over a decade, it has never ceased to amaze me some of the common misconceptions about the GPL by some of its most ardent and vocal supporters.
First of all to clarify the legal issues surrounding the GPL. It is perfectly legal to sell GPL software. The obligation that a distributor of GPL software has, whether for profit or not, is to provide the source code of the GPL work to the distributee. This is where the GPL doesn’t precisely fit source-only code models. However, I could sell an obfuscated php version of the theme, and I would still be obligated to provide the source to anyone I sold it to. That said, there’s nothing preventing someone I’ve sold it to from giving it away for free after the fact.
The prevailing analysis about copyright is true: Work that is not directly tied to a GPL work (through API’s) is not required to be GPL, therefore images and CSS which can be used independently of the php templates can be released under any license of the creator’s choosing. They can be combined in the same distribution package. The GPL does not ‘infect’ proprietary code it is distributed with. To correctly follow the GPL, however, the php parts that use the API should retain the GPL notices.
This mess could have been avoided by the theme API being under the LGPL which allows linking without license inheritance.
Now as for Matt’s comments about vendors being ‘disrespectful’ to the community, I think that’s an unproductive way of viewing the situation. Premium distributors offer a value-add to the community in a different way than open contributors. Not everyone feels that their time spent coding should be released as a free for all back into the wild. It’s great for us that there are some that do. But open source software in general would not be in the strong position it is today without the aid of commercial support. There’s room for everyone at the table.

Since I’ve moved to 90% WP development I’ve seen a lot of Premium theme shops pop up , I’ve even thought about creating a few but when I look at the long term business model I don’t see it flourishing. Flourishing: for the community and the business as a whole.

This is where I give revolution themes a lot of respect. I love what they’re doing, I’ve even used some of their themes as a base, and I’m sure they’re going to do much better for themselves than they would have just selling premium themes.