A House Divided: WordPress.org, Envato, and GPL Battle | @thetorquemag
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A House Divided: WordPress.org, Envato, and GPL Battle

There has been little secret about the issues between WordPress.org proper and Envato and the various and different interpretations to GPL, licensing, and distribution/ownership rights.

But the battle is beginning to get heated (and personal) as the WordPress Foundation is now requesting that anyone who sells their products on Envato properties (WordPress Themes and Plugins) not speak at, volunteer for, organize or sponsor WordCamps (Thanks Drew for the clarification!).

And when I say it’s getting heated – it’s really getting heated – there hasn’t been this type of online riot since, well, Chris Pearson (remember that big issue?).

It’s worth noting that it can be difficult, at times, to distinguish Automattic as the organization and WordPress.org and that’s because the two clearly have overlapping circles of staff, philosophy, protocol and such.

As Jake Caputo has experienced, it’s a confusing and disappointing issue:

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.

It’s deep and abiding issue because it impacts the very core of who we are as a community, how we leverage, interpret, and execute the GPL, and how some of us make a living, which is obviously a very highly sensitive and personal matter.

Jake apparently makes nearly all of his necessary income via ThemeForest which provides the mechanism, the market, and the profit that allows him to live the lifestyle that he desires. No one can necessarily fault him for that.

But the rub is that it is, from different perspectives, people see it as a contradiction to the letter and/or the spirit of the GPL law (despite the fact that the spirit is more the focus and under fire while Envato upholds the letter). Jake contacted Matt Mullenweg who did it right – they engaged in a conversation which allowed them to at least share their perspectives but nothing, according to Jake, came of it as he couldn’t find a “straight answer.”

Matt even adds a few thoughts via the comments:

Many things about this make me sad, including Envato forcing their authors to break WordPress.org 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 WordPress.org.

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.”

But Jake isn’t confused by just Matt’s stance – he also has mentioned Envato’s stance too. Japh Thomson, a community member here and the WordPress Evangelist at Envato, has also presented their perspective on the split license as such:

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 where does that land us in the mix of muddy and very dirty water? Does one really have to care to proceed? Do we cry ‘foul’ and strike against WordCamps everywhere? Do we start our own WordPress-centric gathering, perhaps called ‘WorcDamp’ as one commenter suggested? Is this just the battle between two mega-titans while the rest of us line up as casualties?

It’s tough because there are great people on every side of every issue – and we’ve got community members here that are a part of both organizations, at the same time. There are enough justification from each side and certainly enough ammunition – where will you sit when the chips fall and you’re called to take a side?

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