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A Response: ThemeForest Authors and WordCamps

I was really disappointed to hear recently that one of our ThemeForest authors, Jake Caputo aka Designcrumbs, had been barred from supporting, speaking at, and volunteering at WordCamps. It’s been a couple of years since Envato itself was restricted from supporting these events.

As a company I feel there are plenty of other ways we can still support the WordPress ecosystem beyond the official Camps – e.g. meetups, teaching, and so on. But in the intervening time, I was happy that our authors continued attending and speaking at WordCamps – which was great. Many, like Jake, are amongst the most passionate, talented and devoted WordPress’ers around, they are people who should be involved.

Jake Caputo

Jake Caputo

To be honest, I really don’t understand why this recent push is necessary, as it feels like regular WordPress designers and developers are being put into a very uncomfortable position. Envato itself being barred is one thing (although I don’t agree with this).

We’re a growing business in the WordPress ecosystem, and one that spans outside of WordPress to many other platforms and services. But our authors are by and large soloists and small theme shops of a handful of staff. That they are put into this position by association is quite saddening for me. As a designer and developer myself, I’m really sorry to Jake and others who are finding themselves in this spot.

My wife and cofounder, Cyan, is a graphic designer and daughter of a photographer and fashion designer. You could say that the creative arts are in her blood. When she was in college, and at home, it was drilled into her that you must protect your work and your intellectual property.

I was always amazed at how well versed my father-in-law, a creative photographer through and through, was at reading contracts and legal agreements. Unfortunately fields like photography and design have a long history of businesses misusing and misappropriating work.


Now that we run a marketplace that spans creative works in fields ranging from WordPress, web design and development, through to music, photography and illustration, we’ve found ourselves looking at intellectual property in a very deep way. At the end of the day our marketplaces sell licenses to buyers to use the work created by our community of authors. The very thing we sell are the set of rights and permissions that buyers have.

Our licensing approach (recently updated) is one that I, as a designer, would want to sell under. It gives protections for my work to ensure I can keep selling and profiting from that work, whilst also satisfying the appropriate level of buyer needs for that price point. Over time we are working to introduce additional specific license types that address industry-specific needs like broadcast rights for music or 3D Printing rights for models. But those usages would be assessed to make sure that the creator was, again, rewarded for their work.

When it comes to WordPress themes, I feel we have a license that is both respectful and 100% GPL compliant, while protecting the rights and freedoms of creators. To give an example, we are consistently approached by hosting companies ranging up to some of the largest in the world, looking to license WordPress themes and site templates to make available to their client bases, sometimes numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands. To my mind, it doesn’t make sense that a regular license sold on ThemeForest should give such a buyer the right to on-sell a creator’s work at that volume – if only for the simple reason that volume reselling can significantly reduce demand for the original work.

So I’ve been quite happy with our license as I feel it creates a win-win for our authors and our community, whilst being 100% GPL compliant. That Envato isn’t allowed to participate in official WordCamps or be listed on .org is unfortunate. But there are lots of other avenues to support WordPress.

But it is beyond unfortunate that our authors are to be denied access. I simply don’t understand what this achieves except to exclude some very bright, very passionate and very active contributors.

A question is often raised of why we insist that all items on the marketplaces be sold with the same licensing structure. Whilst there are a few different reasons, the most important is quite simple. I worry that external pressures will force an increasing number of our authors to change their license choice, some happily, some not. Right now, we have a simple, clean license structure that I believe is a good and respectful one, offering appropriate freedoms, whilst protecting the creative work of the authors, and being consistent for our buyers too.

As the CEO of a growing company, one of my hats entails worrying and caring for the safety and stability of our community, staff and the company itself. As such, I worry that being intimidated into such a change, would also be the thin edge of the wedge. I don’t know where it would go, only that it doesn’t seem to be in the best interests of our community or company.

Wherever I can, I try to look also for the best interests of the wider community, in this case the WordPress one. And I recognise that the GPL is key to its success, but I also don’t believe that ThemeForest is a threat to either the GPL or WordPress. If anything, I’d like to believe that we have contributed to the ecosystem through our broad base marketplaces and active educational services.

I wanted to post here on WP Daily to publicly say that I was very sorry to Jake, and any other authors who find themselves denied access to speaking and participating in WordPress community events. And I hope that this will change in the future, and I’ll certainly look for ways to help that happen.

More WordPress News From Torque:
  • http://john.do/ John Saddington


    Appreciate your honesty and openness as well as being willing to respond and engage with the larger WordPress community!

  • remicorson

    Many thanks Collis for giving us your personal point of view. Really needed to understand all that mess.

  • http://twitter.com/Tarendai Tom J Nowell (@Tarendai)

    Your license is not GPL compatible.

    If your license imposes restrictions or is stricter than the GPL is, then it is not GPL compatible. To be compatible, it has to be as open or more so than the GPL.

    By placing restrictions, as demonstrated on your license page, on the usage, you’re actually risking putting everyone selling with GPL code into a “self-violation” situation.

    Sure your examples are ones that issue concern, but should that not be the choice of the theme developer? If I put up a theme, and a server hosting company wants to license it, then maybe I’m okay with that?

    • Martin

      Sorry I don’t quite understand. What’s the benefit for me as an author to release a GPL compatible theme? Secondly, if I don’t agree with themeforest terms I don’t need to sell there.

  • http://matt.wordpress.com Matt

    Many of your authors want to list their themes as 100% GPL because they want to provide their users the same freedom WordPress does. Some, like StudioPress, have pulled their themes because you don’t even allow them that option. You already have multiple types of licenses in your marketplace where it serves your commercial interests. To top it all off, all of the most successful theme companies out there are 100% GPL and their business is booming, so there’s no monetary downside to Envato.

    Why not allow authors who want to the ability to license their themes as 100% GPL? Give people the choice, they deserve it.

    • SFreda

      I believe Collis responded “I worry that external pressures will force an increasing number of our authors to change their license choice, some happily, some not.” and “As such, I worry that being intimidated into such a change, would also be the thin edge of the wedge.” Do you remember at Pressnomics you asked if the question “are you scared of Matt” could be put to the audience. Did you hear the response – total silence! Does not that tell you something? Many of us realised at that point that we were not alone. It is your strong-arm tactics acts, like you are pulling now, which scares the daylights out of us. You ask for choice to be offered, we have been speaking with our feet.

      • http://ma.tt/ Matt

        I’m not sure what those sentences you quoted really mean. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of developers, designers, artists, and businesses freely choose to license their work under the GPL, in the WordPress community and elsewhere. It’s the most popular open source software license by far. It’s not something they have to protect you against. Envato says you can’t if you want access to their market. Perhaps this is because they think it would mess up the heavy incentives they put in place to list things exclusively with them to prevent new marketplaces from gaining traction — I don’t know. I can’t think of any other commercial reason for them to outright block authors from choosing the GPL for their work, because there are numerous examples of very successful 100% products and businesses.

        I completely agree with the right to choose with your feet, and your wallet, that’s why I’d love to be able to point to a 100% GPL theme marketplace. (Including ThemeForest if they went that direction.)

        • http://devin.reams.me/ Devin Reams

          I couldn’t see if anyone had pointed this out yet but I believe WPAppStore.com has always required GPL-compliant themes (and plugins): http://wpappstore.com/terms-and-conditions/ and WooThemes became fully GPL-compliant.

          Matt, are you suggesting you’d promote these kinds of marketplaces to the community via WordPress.org? Is that different than just listing the “Commercial” theme providers?

          • http://www.drewapicture.com Drew Jaynes

            Matt, are you suggesting you’d promote these kinds of marketplaces to the community via WordPress.org? Is that different than just listing the “Commercial” theme providers?

            Something like that. See Matt’s comment on Jake’s post.

        • Rick

          I am not sure what part of the sentences you do not understand. They are pretty clear. Your recent actions against Jake are a testimony to the concerns raised. Envato provides for 100% GPL compliant license, that is the whole point. You are saying if you want access to the WordPress community then you must be more that 100% GPL compliant. You have not given us freedom. We did not choose to freely to go more than 100% GPL compliant. We have no choice. It is either my way or I am going to “blacklist” you. Is this what you mean by freedom? Where is the independent body we can go to to challenge your view of freedom? How can you seriously suggest this is freedom?

          BTW why do you always try to suggest that other peoples motives are driven by their wallet when they disagree with you, when you yourself have been and are putting put much more aside everyday than any of us. Does Envato mess up the heavy future income you can generate for yourself?

          I think you do not have any empathy with our day to day problems; your responses are insensitive and aloof. Come down to our level and listen to our concerns and fears. Maybe then you will understand what the sentences mean.

          • http://ma.tt/ Matt

            It is completely your choice to list your theme under ThemeForest, which forces you to break WordPress’ guidelines, or to follow WP’s guidelines and sell your theme yourself or on another marketplace.

            No one is blacklisted — there’s either following the guidelines we set up for our events and website or not. Chris Pearson could speak at a WC tomorrow if his theme was 100% GPL. Andrew Nacin would have to opt-out of speaking if he chose to violate WC guidelines, whether by licensing parts of a theme under something not GPL compatible. It’s not personal, just a clear set of guidelines that have been published (and working) for years.

            For some reason Envato feels they can’t offer their authors the ability to choose GPL or other compatible licenses for all their work. I wish they did!

    • http://edwardcaissie.com Cais

      In the meantime, it is the Theme Authors that are being penalized. This will be the thin edge of the wedge that splits the community more so than a marketplace’s choice of a split-license for its sellers to use.

      The community is the thing; and, right now, it appears their freedoms are being encroached upon.

      • http://matt.wordpress.com Matt

        Correct, their freedom to sell things on ThemeForest while also following the WordPress guidelines, the same community that has created the ecosystem we’re all building on in the first place. If ThemeForest allowed, Jake could set his themes as fully GPL in their directory and be welcome to speak at or sponsor a WordCamp.

        • http://pippinsplugins.com Pippin Williamson

          According to Jake (via Andrea) even if Envato did allow the choice of a full GPL license for authors, that still wouldn’t put TF authors in the good graces of the WordPress Foundation, since they are “supporting” a company that is in violation.

          What do you have to say to that? Was that simply a misunderstanding?

          • http://ma.tt/ Matt
          • http://pippinsplugins.com Pippin Williamson

            Great, thanks, that does. So the original comment about author’s being excluded even if they did get the choice is simply inaccurate. Thanks.

          • Naomi

            Not sure how it does. Brian Gardner said differently, that he’d been doing so successfully for two years:

            “We’ve had our themes 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.”


          • http://pippinsplugins.com Pippin Williamson

            Naomi, they had that yes, but it wasn’t really permitted nor was it actually changing the official license on the items.

          • Naomi

            What does “wasn’t really permitted mean”? They did it for 2 years and they were not kicked off, nor has Collis indicated this.

            Also, Themeforest cannot prevent the author from granting whatever license (or any other perks) they want to after the sale, as Genesis shows they clearly did. Once the item is sold, you can interact with your user however you want. So one way or another, 100% GPL can still be accomplished.

          • http://www.Stephanis.info/ George Stephanis

            Well … no. You can grant GPL license after the sale, but technically the theme is not “being sold under” the GPL — as it’s only granted afterward.

          • http://www.briangardner.com Brian Gardner

            This might be the case. Either way, we decided to remove our themes well before yesterday, for our own internal reasons — not as a result of the discussions that began yesterday.

          • http://marcgarner.com marc

            “a theme author is forced to violate the WP guidelines by listing their theme on ThemeForest.”

            All this fuss over guidelines. Get off your high horse.

        • Naomi

          This is not what Andrea said, according to Jake:

          “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.”


          This was also confirmed by Brian Gardner who sold his Genesis themes on Themeforest until removing them yesterday because of the controversy:

          “We’ve had our themes 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.”


          According to Jake, Andrea said this is unacceptable:

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


          So, it appears that there are some inconsistencies here:

          You say that he’s welcome if he sets his themes as fully GPL, yet Andrea says he still won’t be welcome because of the other authors on Envato who don’t do the same.

          Can you clarify?

          • http://www.briangardner.com Brian Gardner

            We felt that disclaiming our themes were 100% GPL was enough. Regardless of that, however, we did make the decision well before yesterday, to remove our themes for our own internal reasons. Just want to clarify.

        • http://www.ormanclark.com Orman Clark

          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


          Confusing to say the least.

        • http://edwardcaissie.com Cais

          Well, yes, most anything can be changed … even those things “written in stone”; but forcing someone to choose (more or less out of the blue and effective immediately) to discontinue their primary revenue stream seems a bit much for this specific case.

          Although this is not really unprecedented when it comes to GPL-compatible licensing and WordPress. Then again, unfortunately, history does have a tendency to repeat itself.

    • http://edwardcaissie.com Cais

      In the meantime, the Theme authors (read: sellers) will be penalized? This may be the the thin edge of the wedge that will split the community more so than a marketplace’s choice to use a split-license for its sellers products. As I see it, the community is the thing; and, right now, it is their freedoms being encroached upon.

      • http://edwardcaissie.com Cais

        My bad … the first reply wouldn’t show up?!

  • http://themesforge.com Ed

    Bravo Collis!,

    I think your response to recent developments is very considered and balanced. As a fledgling themeforest author who only recently started dipping their toes in selling themes (but who has been doing WP consulting work for since the early days) I was very dissapointed by the decision to stop Jake from participating in WordCamps.

    I think Chip Bennett summed it up nicely in a tweet yesterday:

    A #SplitCommunity is worse than a #SplitLicense & it is end users & developers earning a living who are hurt not #WordPress or #Envato #GPL


    Matt alluded to “putting principles before profit” in his conversation with Jake. The WordPress ecosystem has evolved to include a very healthy and vibrant commercial ecosystem which I believe Matt is uncomfortable with given Envato’s very considered and fair approach to protecting the hard work of authors. Authors who can now have the opportunity to earn a living building a business doing something they love.

    The principles of open source software and the protection of the rights of creators have never been good bed fellows. In an ideal world, we would all get along and creators rights wouldn’t need protecting. But in the real world we know things aren’t so ideal.

    I really hope there is a positive outcome to all this – it’s vital for everyone who has a stake in a vibrant and growing WordPress ecosystem.


  • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug


    Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately, it boils down to “you think/they think” (“, I feel we have a license that is both respectful…”). In the meantime, developers and designers are caught in the middle, ala Jake.

  • http://twitter.com/CWSites Matt Haff (@CWSites)

    I may be behind the times, but what does a licensing agreement have to do with a theme author being able to speak at an event?

  • http://ednailor.com Ed Nailor

    I have a question that I hope someone can provide a clear answer on.

    I design and develop websites for my clients. The designs and development are created for that client and are unique to that client. I provide them a perpetual lifetime license to the design work to be used on their website, but not to be redistributed to others. Oh, and I build these as WordPress themes because I love WordPress and it makes it easy for them to manage the content.

    Does this put me in violation of the GPL?

    If it does not put me in violation of the GPL, then I do not see the problem with Envato. They sell themes that have been specifically designed and developed for clients, albeit a wider range of clients. It is up to each client to decide if they want to purchase it… nothing is forced on any of their clients.

    If it does put me in violation of the GPL, then I will need to determine where I stand on this quickly. Do I charge considerably more just in case the client decides to resell my work, thus hurting both my clients and my family? Do I stop building on WordPress and forsake the community I love? Or do I simply do what I feel is best for me and my clients and simply understand that I am no longer welcome to be part of the community?

    There is a big can of worms being opened up here. One that in my opinion doesn’t need to be opened. As this begins to divide the community, the worst fear can easily become reality… that WordPress becomes Rome… dominating one day and history the next.

    So, am I GPL compliant? Intriguing minds want to know…

    • http://jarederickson.com Jared Erickson

      good question.

    • http://brandonkraft.com Kraft

      As I understand it, at most, you need to split license the work. The PHP needs to be GPL (or less restrictive), including distribution. The CSS, JS, graphics don’t need to be GPL, so the lifetime, royalty free, no distribute for all that is fine.

      Since you aren’t distributing the work, the above might not apply. And I know in some countries if the work was done for hire, the client might have more rights anyhow.

      In short, no matter what, you don’t have to GPL the entire theme (WordCamp issues aside.)

    • http://jazzsequence.com Chris Reynolds

      I design and develop websites for my clients. … I provide them a perpetual lifetime license to the design work to be used on their website, but not to be redistributed to others. Oh, and I build these as WordPress themes …

      Does this put me in violation of the GPL?

      No, because you are not releasing these themes for distribution. Since you are not releasing these themes for distribution, they do not need to be licensed under the GPL and can be given any license you want.

      However, let’s say that you told your clients that these themes were being given to them as GPL-licensed code. In that case, putting any restriction on what they do with the themes (e.g. “not to be redistributed to others”), would put you in violation of the GPL.

      The reason this is an issue for ThemeForest is exactly why this is not an issue for you. It’s the distribution part.

      Developers that use the GNU GPL protect your rights with two steps: (1) assert copyright on the software, and (2) offer you this License giving you legal permission to copy, distribute and/or modify it.


      (emphasis mine)

      • http://ednailor.com Ed Nailor

        Here is where a technicality steps in. I am distributing the them, but to an audience of one. I built it, and I sold it. It was my design, my custom coding, ect that makes it unique. If I choose to sell that theme to just one client, then that is my choice. But I plan to sell to more than one, I am not intending for them to re-distribute the theme. In either case, I am distributing the theme… the number of who I distribute to should not matter.

        Unless there is a legal definition I am not aware of, and I will admit I am not a lawyer. In that case, will someone please get this into court ASAP so this can finally be decided and not so open to interpretation based on individual agendas?

        • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug


          This is my understanding: A work-for-hire means that you don’t (necessarily) own that work, nor control its distribution. Rather, the terms of ownership are specified in the terms of the WFH (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire for a fuller discussion).

          Basically, unless your contract with the original company stated “Ed may take any and all output from this contract and resell it to others with little or no changes made” (a stipulation most WFH arrangements almost certainly leave out), then no, you can’t legally continue redistributing that code.

          If you’re creating something and distributing it to multiple parties that aren’t also parties to a contract, then it’s distribution and not a WFH.

          IANAL, so grain-of-salt.

    • http://alexmansfield.com Alex Mansfield

      From the research that I’ve done, I believe that only the PHP files must remain GPL licensed. So technically I think you’re in violation of the GPL. I’m not a lawyer though, so don’t take this as legal advice :] Envato uses a split license, which means that the PHP files are licensed under the GPL, while design related files are licensed under a separate licence. They are fully GPL complient. WordPress just doesn’t like split licenses even when they’re GPL complient. You could use a split license with your clients, since reselling only your PHP files wouldn’t really be very profitable for them. Hope that helps.

    • Siobhan

      You’re not in violation because that is work-for-hire and doesn’t constitute distribution. The GPL would only kick in if your client chose to distribute that theme.

      This should make everything clear: http://markjaquith.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/why-wordpress-themes-are-derivative-of-wordpress/

      • http://ma.tt/ Matt

        Chris and Siobhan are correct here.

        • philerb

          Just a little more clarification – does this mean that the client (the one doing the distribution) or the developer (who created the theme as work-for-hire) would be in violation?

          I would assume that it would be the client, as I (the developer) created it specifically for them under contract and then I have no control as to what they turn around and do with it.

          Is that assumption wrong?

          • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug

            Nope, I think that’s pretty straight-forward, at least in standard WFH arrangements where the resulting product belongs to the buyer.

          • philerb

            Doug – thanks for the clarification. That does make me feel better, though I would do my best to advocate for GPL’d solutions for the client anyway … but I can’t say that there’d NEVER be a case where I’d lose a battle and have to include something that’s non-GPL.

          • philerb

            In a conversation with a designer last night, it became clear that there are some differing opinions on what WFH means in the web design / development world.

            Our discussion and a quick search turned up these:




            Thoughts? I’m not lawyer.

          • philerb

            Or am I blurring the lines between copyright law and the GPL? Digging into the FAQ on for the GPL, is this what makes the whole work-for-hire/GPL thing ok? http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DevelopChangesUnderNDA

          • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug

            Copyright law is what makes the GPL possible. You own the copyright to your code and you’re releasing others to use it under the terms of the GPL. Without copyrights, there could be no GPL.


          • Phil

            Thanks Doug. I got it now. I wasn’t clear if it was automatically WFH or if there had to be an explicit agreement stating that. Thank you for clearing up that it would have to be an explicit agreement to be ok here, if you included non-GPL suff.

            I plan to do all GPL, but good to know.

          • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug


            It seems pretty straight-forward, no? If you signed a WFH agreement, it’s pretty clear you assigned ownership to the client. If you didn’t, things are murky. If they contributed ANYTHING to the effort, they can claim joint ownership.

    • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug


      GPL doesn’t attach in instances of work-for-hire. Now, if your clients turn around and distribute your work? Then GPL will attach.

    • http://www.paidmembershipspro.com Jason Coleman

      Ed, the GPL limits code/etc that is “distributed”… so sold en mass or made available on a website for download, etc.

      What you described is building a design for a client, basically consulting work. You can restrict your clients from distributing the work you did for them.

      Some info in the GPLv2 FAQ:


    • http://thewebprincess.com Dee

      My understanding is that this doesn’t put you in violation of the GPL because the issue is around distribution. Because of the inherent freedoms in the GPL you are free to make and use your theme for clients and dictate its use however you want. Clearly a commercial client theme will have issues of branding associated with that client’s business and of course, these should be protected.

      But if you’re making code available for other people, you’re distributing it and under the GPL, distributed code ought to carry the same freedoms as WordPress.

  • http://www.designcrumbs.com Jake Caputo

    Thanks for the response Collis.

    So it sounds like there’s not going to be 100% GPL options for authors.

    I understand where both you and Matt are coming from, and while I don’t expect Matt’s stance to change nor did I expect him to bend the rules for me, I was hoping Envato would do something.

    However, after all this it sounds like things are the way the are and as authors that’s something we’re just going to have to accept or pull our items, as Matt pointed out, like StudioPress did.

  • http://theversatilitygroup.com Diane

    I find this entire scenario crazy. How can the spirit of OSS equal exclusion? That is what this boils down to, and I think since the WordPress Foundation is supposed to represent the community, this issue should somehow be put to the community and not left to a small group to decide.

    • http://ma.tt/ Matt

      Open source is about protecting user rights and freedoms, and providing an alternative to software that restrictions those rights and freedoms. There’s nothing that says we’re forced to allow Envato to sponsor or speak at our events just because they sell WordPress themes. There are lots of companies and people who don’t break the WordPress guidelines that would happily take that spot on the program.

      And these aren’t hard guidelines — even Microsoft follows them, and sponsors tons of WordCamps. So do thousands of other of businesses large and small, comprising thousands of employees and single-person shops.

      • http://blog.doublecluepon.com/ Azrael

        Funny how you put all the emphasis on the *user rights*. Nowhere in your little ego stomp do you mention the rights and freedoms of the developer. The person who actually put in the time and effort so someone could push “Activate”.

        Make no mistake, it *is* an ego driven debate here. You feel you’re “more right” on this issue, to the exclusion of some of the common sense being presented here. In the process you’re alienating the very people you need to win over…the developers who create awesome themes for WordPress, and simply want exposure, to get paid, and feed themselves. Ideals are nice to have, principles are important. But you can’t worry about them if you don’t know how you’re going to pay the rent.

        People who stick to ideals, while ignoring or disparaging reality should be treated with skepticism and caution.

        As one of those *users* you’re so worried about: I buy from ThemeForest. Why? because it’s a good system for buying professional themes easily. Am I worried about that freedom blanket you’re wrapping yourself up in? Somewhat. I care about my freedom to use the things I buy here, but I also care for and respect the rights of the people who spent hours and days creating the things I buy. I want them to keep creating, and to do that they need money.

        It’s pretty clear you hear the words of RMS and the FSF, but in hearing the words you missed a more important message: freedom has to be balanced. The rights of the creator are just as valid as the rights of the user. This is the point you are missing here. It’s a disease with OSS stalwarts. Furthermore, you can ignore the point all you want, but you just put the WordPress brand in the line of fire by holding to this line. You have basically stated that only from a sanctioned storefront, can you sell your wares, lest you be excommunicated. This is a crap, and people see through it.

        Your beef is with ThemeForest. You’re using developers as catspaws. It sucks, and when called on it, you wrap yourself up in your +10 Beard of Stallman to defend you. But under the beard, sorry to say: there are no clothes.

        Here is where you need to be careful, because bigger OSS evangelists than you have traveled this very road. Their ego led them to stand pat, stick to their ideals so strongly that they forgot that cooperation and a conversation is give and take.

        That is how good, well used projects and tools die: by alienating those who help make it what it is.

        My advice to you is: learn from those who came before you on this parade…people like David Dawes, organizations like Six Apart, the list goes on. As someone promoting the platform, you should be worried more about keeping individuals *included*, and leave the battle with entities as a separate issue. If you fail to do that, and you continue to use theme devs as artillery for your war against storefronts you do not like…then it becomes something simpler: you are unfit to represent the WordPress brand in any way.

    • http://wank.wordpress.com that girl again

      Oh, Matt has been using open-source rhetoric to exclude people for years. Every so often he goes after a WP-related business and threatens them with ostracisation from the ‘community’ if they don’t drink the 100% GPL kool-aid. They nearly always end up giving in, because linkage from wordpress.org is worth a lot and attacks by religious zealots are tedious. It will be interesting to see whether Envato can withstand the onslaught.

      (BTW, the Foundation has never represented the community in any meaningful way. As far as I know, the only people involved with it are Matt and a handful of Automattic employees, but we’re not allowed to call it part of Automattic because reasons, probably tax-related.)

      • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

        I feel that one day it’s going to bite the WP community in the ass, and people will start gravitating toward a project with a better license. Perhaps something under BSD or MIT.

        WordPress is a great project, but the constant GPL/cult-of-Richard-Stallman dogma is very irritating. It certainly isn’t an incentive for developers to release plugins and themes.

  • http://www.seventy8productions.com Jeremy Smith

    There is a lot of opinions here, but I think that it comes down to clear intentions needing to be put out there. We have seen Collis’ here, but does anyone know about Matt? Has he at length shared on this anywhere?

    • http://john.do/ John Saddington

      Matt has responded here as well on Jake’s post.

  • http://ednailor.com Ed Nailor

    Matt (and others),

    What I do not understand is why the fascination with “100% GPL”. The code that touches and interacts with WordPress indeed follows the GPL. The design elements, the custom javascript and other items that are independent of the WP GPL code should not be required to be GPL. This quickly becomes a rule where GPL is the standard for everything, and no one has the ability to maintain any rights to their creative work.

    If you don’t want to promote themes or theme marketplaces that don’t abide by a 100% GPL approach, then fine. That is the call of the WordPress Foundation to make. However, telling developers and designers that choose to protect certain intellectual parts that do not fall within the requirements of GPL that they are no longer permitted to be part of the community is wrong.

    This goes beyond WordCamps. If a developer is not welcome to participate in WordCamp, why would they be permitted (or feel welcome to) participate in Core Development? Why would they be permitted to contribute to the community in any way? Should there be a pick and choose how much involvement they can have in the community just because they are protecting their own intellectual property?

    The spirit of GPL is to allow things to become better, grow and expand. It is also to prevent that which someone has intended to be free from becoming not free. By a theme author splitting the license on their theme, making sure all parts of the theme connected to the GPL follow the GPL, but limiting the redistribution of non-attaching GPL items, they are still within the GPL spirit and the GPL law itself.

    Beyond that, the fact that there are themes in which some parts are not GPL has no impact on the WordPress software. It does not add any limits to what WordPress can do, how it can be used, or even distributed. The only limitations are in the redistribution of the non-GPL parts, and any user has the right to choose another theme if they so desire.

    I just don’t get it. The “heavy hand” as others have put it is a bit overkill. Sure, don’t promote them if you don’t want to. But none of these authors have done anything that would warrant exclusion from the community. The approach being taken flies in the face of the spirit of GPL in my opinion. Freedom for all, unless the King decides otherwise.

    Please, seriously rethink the approach. There are better ways to encourage and influence than to exclude and discourage.

    Just my thoughts…

  • http://justintadlock.com Justin Tadlock

    When it comes to WordPress themes, I feel we have a license that is both respectful and 100% GPL compliant, while protecting the rights and freedoms of creators.

    Where’s the option for those theme authors who want to release a theme under a 100% GPL-compatible license?

    I think the WordPress Foundation is being childish about this whole thing, and I don’t really care about discussing that. But, I would like to see Envato provide this option for WordPress theme/plugin authors.

    • http://justintadlock.com Justin Tadlock

      I kind of messed up the blockquote there. That should read:

      When it comes to WordPress themes, I feel we have a license that is both respectful and 100% GPL compliant, while protecting the rights and freedoms of creators.

      Where’s the option for those theme authors who want to release a theme under a 100% GPL-compatible license?

      I think the WordPress Foundation is being childish about this whole thing, and I don’t really care about discussing that. But, I would like to see Envato provide this option for WordPress theme/plugin authors.

      • http://virtuousgiant.com Nathan

        So you’d be willing to forego the rights to your work in order to be part of the WP community? That certainly says something about the power of the community.

        • http://justintadlock.com Justin Tadlock

          No, that’s not even close. It’s my right to release my work under an open-source license. I truly believe in open source and would like to pass on the same freedoms that I received to my users.

          • http://virtuousgiant.com Nathan

            My point is that by going GPL, you’re also granting the right for redistribution of your work, with very little restriction. It doesn’t bother you that you can’t legally restrict anyone from re-selling your work?

          • http://justintadlock.com Justin Tadlock

            No, it doesn’t bother me. That’s kind of the point of licensing my work under an open-source license.

          • http://newlocalmedia.com Dan

            Thanks for keeping things level as always, Justin. Can you (or anyone else) point to an actual case where someone redistributed themes (GPL or any other license) in significant volume and this correlated with a loss in business for the original author? Fears about this are probably imaginary.

            My impression is that mass redistribution of GPL themes and other code for applicatons like WP only happens in shady backwaters. The people doing this offer no support or upgrades but are very likely to add something nasty to the code. The only people foolish or desperate enough to use these “redistributors” are not going to be the original authors’ customers anyway.

          • http://justintadlock.com Justin Tadlock

            I don’t know of any cases But, you’re right about customers. If they got your theme from a shady site, it’s not likely they were going to be your customer anyway. If anything, it’s free advertising for your services when the user needs some help.

            Heck, I don’t even sell my themes/plugins (except one) and have one of the longest-running WordPress theme/plugin businesses around. Customers are going to purchase your product or service from you if they see value in it.

          • http://newlocalmedia.com Dan

            Good to hear that reaffirmed. I really appreciate your work, how you do it, and the effects it has.

  • http://www.chipbennett.net Chip Bennett

    I will preface my comments by saying that I disagree completely with the approach the WordPress Foundation is taking here. The problem is a disagreement between the WPF and Envato, and developers are merely caught in the crossfire.

    This approach makes developers choose between putting food on the table and being a persona non grata to the WPF, or else risking their legitimate revenue stream, and be in the WPF’s good graces. Unfortunately, for Jake and thousands of developers like him, the WPF’s good graces don’t put food on the table.

    And while the tactic may ultimately work, there are only so many times you can turn the 50-mm barrels on the rank-and-file in the community itself, and not have adverse affects.

    That said, I take issue with Envato’s stance, as well:

    To my mind, it doesn’t make sense that a regular license sold on ThemeForest should give such a buyer the right to on-sell a creator’s work at that volume – if only for the simple reason that volume reselling can significantly reduce demand for the original work.

    You are arbitrarily restricting the ability of your marketplace suppliers to offer their work under the license of their choice. The way I read this, your real concern is that Envato would lose commissions if Themes in their marketplace were offered as 100% GPL, and led to downstream distribution. If that is the real concern, it may or may not be valid, but it is disingenuous to couch such concern as concern for your marketplace sellers.

    If that is *not* the real concern, then I don’t see how any real concern exists. Just let your marketplace sellers *choose* to offer their works under 100% GPL. Put up huge banners decrying the risks of doing so. Strongly suggest that they don’t do so. Rail against the GPL all you want. Make them click through 3 “are you sure?” dialogue boxes.

    But offer the choice.

    I guarantee you that the WordPress Theme developers who opt-in to offering their works under a 100% GPL license do so under full understanding of the license terms, and either disagree with your risk assessment, or have evaluated the risk-reward differently. You don’t need to “protect” them from the license.

    Just offer them the choice.

    • http://www.Stephanis.info/ George Stephanis


    • http://newlocalmedia.com Dan


    • userabuser

      + 3000 / 2 – 5 * 1.3

    • http://jeffmcneill.com Jeff McNeill


  • http://byderekj.com Derek Jensen

    To me this only encourages and lights a fire under people’s *sses that care a lot about WordPress and make a living from designing themes and more to be part of a better place than Envato. A place that is 100% GPL.

    Envato will learn the hard way.

    I’m sorry but if someone like Envato or really anyone that doesn’t agree with the GPL you just don’t disobey it. You work to change it in a respectable way. This requires communication!

    From my observations, Envato has been a company that is more about responding with belief and plans. A better company is one that communicates ahead of time and when something needs to be changed they do it in a timely way.

    For full disclosure, I’ve bought several themes from Themeforest only because the people that made them made them great and at the time I had a need for them. By no means am I a WordPress theme author. I only create content and WordPress is my platform of choice. My main publication is built on Standard by 8BIT and my personal blog is built on a free WordPress theme called LESS by the great Jared Erickson.

    I support people that do great work and share similar thoughts about good design. I’m glad I’ve settled down right now with 8BIT (Standard and Jared’s LESS theme). I thought Envato was better than this…

  • http://ednailor.com Ed Nailor

    Look, I don’t sell anything on Envato so technically I have no “skin” in the game. But I do have a vested interest in this as a developer and WordPress lover. I have written my thoughts and posted them at http://ednailor.com/?p=627.

    I hope that when the dusts settles that all parties that are making these decisions understand that it is the rest of us that are impacted the most by their actions. Please do not act like Republicans and Democrats and never find a middle ground. The community as a whole requires better leadership from all the “big players” in our community.

  • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

    Someone else said it already but I’ll repeat it: GPL, Open Source, and general coding socialism (because at the root that’s pretty much what this is all about) doesn’t immediately gel with hard-nosed capitalism and profiteering. That however does not in any way mean earning a healthy salary providing 100% GPL open source content is impossible. Far from it. What it does mean is that conventional non-GPL business strategies are not going to work or at least are going to be hard to implement without stepping into some pretty choppy waters.

    What’s needed is a different perspective on what commodity is sold and how that can be amalgamated with the overall philosophy of open source and GPL. The simple premise that I produce product X to be exchanged for currency and handed over to a client doesn’t really work when we are talking about digital products because unlike physical manufactured products, a digital product can easily be copied, shared, and altered. So it is not the product itself that carries value. The value lies in the intellectual and/or creative work that went into the product.

    You are not buying the code, you are buying the service of creating the code.

    This is where it gets tricky: Because you are not providing a stand-alone solution but rather building on top of an existing one that carries with it a license that is inherited, you have no choice but to follow that license. In other words, selling the digital product as a “regular” product, be it code, graphics, imagery, whatever, doesn’t really work. What you have to sell instead is the creativity and skill behind the code. It’s a one-off product and what happens to it once it’s out of your hands is for all intents and purposes out of your hands.

    And therein lies the important shift in thinking: Since you are selling an intellectual or creative product with an inherent license that allows it to be redistributed and shared, you cannot think about the product as a unique item that can only exist in its original form to be used only by a certain restricted group. Instead you have to think of it as a unique product, paid for in full, that once released can duplicate and transform into something else at the hands of others.

    Turn the issue on its head and it may become clearer: If WordPress was not distributed under GPL but rather published under a more restrictive license, contributing to WP itself or building content for WP would be very different and far more restrictive. It is because of WordPress’ GPL that we can build themes and plugins freely and charge for that work. But choosing to step away from the GPL is a bit like saying “Now that the community has done all the heavy lifting, I’m putting my trade mark on this and restricting it.” That may be a good way of doing business, but it is an old way and it goes against the very essence of WordPress and what it stands for not to mention ignoring the history and origin of the platform itself.

    I understand the fear of having someone take the code or design you have worked on, make a small alteration to it, and sell it to someone else. It seems wrong on some level, but that’s only because we think of it in normal commercial terms. Once you reframe your thinking to see your work as the valued asset and the outcome of that work (in this case the theme) as proof and product of that work, to be sold at the value of the work and then left to live its own life, the dissonance dissipates. Of course this switch does not mesh well with the premise of premium theme shops, but that’s kind of the whole point. As I see it the problem here isn’t the GPL but rather the revenue model and overall philosophy of wholesaling themes.

    Standing on the shoulders of a giant it is never a good idea to tie its legs. Because when it falls you fall with it.

    • http://virtuousgiant.com Nathan

      I think what you’re missing is that no one in this case is violating the GPL. A split-license is not in violation of the GPL, but according to some, in violation of the ‘spirit’ of the GPL.

      • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

        I disagree, but I’m not a lawyer so I can’t say who’s actually right.

        I may very well be wrong, but in my non-lawyer understanding a split license would (or should) only work if the product is also delivered in a split manner: Since any derivative or referential work of WordPress inherits the GPL license, any element of a product that uses elements that are derivative or referential of WordPress, even if those elements are not themselves directly derivative or referential, also inherits the license. Thus a split-license approach would require the elements that fit under the other non-GPL license to be offered up separately so there is a clear demarcation between GPL and non-GPL content.

        Of course this still doesn’t solve the key problem that lies at the heart of this debate: How do you earn money and retain creative and intellectual rights selling a product when the product at its core is meant to be shared freely. My answer is you need to stop thinking about the product as the commodity and instead think of your skill, creativity, and work as the commodity.

        It would be interesting to see what a lawyer had to say on this matter.

        • http://literalbarrage.org/blog Doug


          You cannot distribute the entire package under a GPL license, no. However, that doesn’t mean you have to distribute them separately. The resulting theme “package” would need to be distributed under some third set of terms, most likely.

          • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

            Yes, I agree. I imagine a package with two sub-folders, each containing its own set of components with its own set of licenses attached. The worry I have with this or any split-license approach is that it becomes hard for the end user to understand what’s what. The GPL is in place to make things easier and avoid precisely this type of mess. It’s because people are tinkering with it and making amendments that things get complicated. Like Matt said there are models in place that stay safely within GPL without issue. It is the choice of this particular company to go outside of well trodden paths, and with that choice comes the rist of stepping on things you don’t want to step on.

        • CC

          Lawyers did look at the issue; see this post from Matt from 2009: http://wordpress.org/news/2009/07/themes-are-gpl-too/

          He asked the Software Freedom Law Center for a ruling, and they said themes could be split license, but Matt disagreed (understandably). It’s weird that neither of them has brought this up already. I think there’s something else going on here.

          • http://wank.wordpress.com that girl again

            I think Matt has pretty much given up arguing the legality of split licencing (having lost that argument, as you say, over three years ago) and is now falling back on the line that ‘wordpress.org / WordCamps are MY playground and regardless of what the law says you don’t get to play in my playground unless you follow MY rules’.

            If you like the rules, yay! If you find the rules whimsical and arbitrary, well, you’re better off not attempting to participate in the community anyway because it will only drive you mad in the end.

          • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

            … which begs the question “Who owns WordPress?” and from that “Who controls WordPress?”

        • http://virtuousgiant.com Nathan

          Regardless, I like what you said here:

          ‘Someone else said it already but I’ll repeat it: GPL, Open Source, and general coding socialism (because at the root that’s pretty much what this is all about) doesn’t immediately gel with hard-nosed capitalism and profiteering.’

          • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

            Lets not forget that Automattic is a commercial entity focused on profit. One could argue there are people holding uncomfortably overlapping roles in this ecosystem.

          • http://www.wp-united.com John Wells

            I don’t agree with this at all. It’s popular these days to call the GPL socialist, but it’s not.

            There’s nothing in the GPL that stops you from profiting through differentiation — the very backbone of capitalism. On the contrary, restrictive licenses restrict the value chain artificially. Instead you differentiate through privilege.

            These kind of split-licenses are not designed to protect work, they are designed to break the GPL by ending further distribution. Basically, the authors of the themes have enjoyed certain freedoms granted to them by WordPress.org. However they are then denying their end users those same freedoms. It effectively ends the value chain right there. To use the socialist/capitalist analogy, they’re using their privilege to impose restrictions on their end users.

            Sounds more like a traditional failed communist dictatorship to me.

          • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

            I was using the socialist analogy for open source, not the GPL in particular. Furthermore, there is nothing in socialism that stops you from profiting through differentiation. That’s communism which is something entirely different. Socialism is built around common work for the common good and an equality between the work you do and what you get in return. Communism is built around the principle of no possession and state-controlled distribution.

  • http://www.splinterteal.com/projects.html splinterteal

    it`s quite weird to see Envato people getting barred for staff like that

  • http://www.die-netzialisten.de Kirsten

    My impression is, everything comes down to one question:

    How does the freedom of GPL fits into making money?

    I’m free to charge for consultant work. However, a theme itself has to be GPL. Some developers – like Justin Tadlock – say they don’t care. I don’t care either. But others do.

    Envato as a company wants to make money, as much money as possible. I think, thats the real cause why they came up with a split license: To make sure, that the products can only be sold once and in one place. At Envato.

    As far as I understand, no other company will be allowed to sell a theme once handed over to ThemeForest. So all the money goes to Envato, no exceptions, no losses. This is a vital part of their business model.

    So its NOT the protection of authors’ rights in the first place. The whole license thing may sell better this way but the reason is another.

    What I’m trying to say: I kind of understand Matt’s approach.

    • http://designisphilosophy.com mor10

      Precisely. It’s a question of what you sell – the theme itself or the work that went into making the theme.

  • http://newlocalmedia.com Dan

    If it’s all about profit, Envato could probably profit more by being fully compliant with the GPL and Automattic’s interpretation of it if they just focused more on promoting themes loaded with risky functionality that ages poorly, is laden with broken cut-and-pasted code, and of course many random custom post types (and widgets!) coded into functions.php. They could even make sure the source code has no documentation and is fully minified, with no base child themes included–not ever! Upgrades could be announced through a dashboard area that operates separately from the core upgrade facility, with a paywall built in. If this was required, they’d make their money and none of their developers would ever be wanted at a Wordcamp by anyone. Everyone’s a winner!

    (Point: everyone but completely parasitic hucksters sacrifice some potential profit for other goods — like standards and rules that create points of consensus and trust. Without trust you can’t have a healthy or sustainable community/market.)

  • http://www.edwardrjenkins.com Edward R. Jenkins

    OK. I’ve spent nearly an hour reading/researching this topic, and I’m more confused than I was when I began. So I’m just going to get back to work, building themes and letting users decide what to do with them.

  • Aarrggghh

    Automattic themselves are in violation of the GPL. They have their own modified version of WordPress to run on WordPress.com, let’s see what the GPL has to say about that…

    “The GPL permits anyone to make a modified version and use it without ever distributing it to others. What this company is doing is a special case of that. Therefore, the company does not have to release the modified sources.

    It is essential for people to have the freedom to make modifications and use them privately, without ever publishing those modifications. However, putting the program on a server machine for the public to talk to is hardly “private” use, so it would be legitimate to require release of the source code in that special case. Developers who wish to address this might want to use the GNU Affero GPL for programs designed for network server use.”

    The key point being: “However, putting the program on a server machine for the public to talk to is hardly “private” use, so it would be legitimate to require release of the source code in that special case.”

    So, Matt, you pioneer of ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’, care to release the source code which is the lifeblood of Automattic’s business to the public? How about you do that with VaultPress too? I’m sure nobody would do anything with it, like you know, take it and copy the business to cut into your profits which is the livelyhood of yourself and all the staff. Who cares about them! We believe in FREEDOM AND RIGHTS.

    So you, are a slimy snake who is a big two face liar, and you’re a bully and also an idiot as far as I’m concerned. Sour grapes is one thing but being a big weasel in public is just really embarrassing for us all.

    Oh yeah, did I mention that MATT’S COMPANY AUTOMATTIC VIOLATES THE GPL! Oh dear, oh dear!

    Waiting for that public subversion url for all your commercial code… YOU BIG HERO.

    • http://wp.tutsplus.com Japh Thomson

      Does Automattic distribute anything that should be GPL, under something other than the GPL? The GPL only comes into play if there’s distribution.

    • http://depthoffocus.co.uk/ Michael Houghton

      This whole thing again?

      If Automattic are the sole copyright holders of WordPress (they do require copyright assignment, don’t they?):


      Then they can do what they like.

      They are free to do what they like with the bits they add; they are the copyright holder. They can even close the source tomorrow. They can’t take back previous versions that they GPL’d, but they can close it for future versions. Because. It. Is. Their. Code.

      If they aren’t the sole copyright holders:


      What has been said elsewhere is also true; it’s not an AGPL-licensed product. Anyone can run a service off a GPL (not AGPL) site without contributing back the modifications. There are those who say that violates the spirit of the GPL, which is why AGPL and some of the GPL v3 modifications happened. But it doesn’t violate the letter of the GPL, and there are also those whose products ultimately only really progress precisely because one _can_ do this; WordPress would seem to be one of those.

  • http://literalbarrage.org/blog/ Doug Stewart

    You’ve got it precisely backwards. If WP was Affero-licensed, then your argument would apply.

    If there is a GPL violation to lay at Automattic’s door, it would be the iOS WP app, as its not possible to distribute through the App Store without you and/or Apple violating the GPL. (See VLC’s removal from the App Store and FSF’s analysis of such for precedent.)

    That’s beside the point, however. This instance involves NO GPL violations by either Envato or Automattic. Instead, it’s about the WordPress.org guidelines and violations thereof.

  • http://fightthecurrent.org Nathaniel

    I’m going to reference what Derek Jensen said a bit earlier: I’m surprised no one sees a business opportunity here. If Envato isn’t willing to sell WPF approved “100%” GPL compatible themes, why not fill that gap?

    Also, I do think it’s sad that the WPF is barring people who sell their themes on certain marketplaces. I agree with Chip Bennet when he says developers are caught in the crossfire. What happened to spirit of being open, Matt? I think there’s a difference getting your theme listed on WordPress.com vs speaking at a community event that’s meant to inspire and educate. If the WordPress Guidelines are as they are titled, Guidelines, what should it matter where people decide to sell their product? That shouldn’t bar their knowledge from being able to be shared with others.

    • http://newlocalmedia.com Dan

      It sounds like you’re saying, if they’re just guidelines, why expect people to follow them? Exactly — without some kind of enforcement, they won’t. Matt evidently doesn’t like that, so he is using the stick he has, and it does not bar anyone from sharing their knowledge. They just can’t share it as speakers at WordCamps.

  • Pingback: Envato Licensing, the Community and the Foundation - WP Daily()

  • http://seobandwagon.com/ Kyle Alm

    So, why doesn’t Envato make the CSS & Javascript that are included in WordPress themes under the GPL?

    I’m sorry, but if Envato wants to prevent authors from being “strong-armed,” presumably by WordPress/Automattic, and chooses to prevent this by not making the licensing choice for them aren’t they strong-arming people who want to comply with GPL as a distributed WordPress derivative?

    • http://wp.tutsplus.com Japh Thomson

      Hey Kyle, you might like to read this article that was posted a few hours ago: http://torquemag.io/theme-clarity/

      It covers some of what you’re talking about :)

  • http://jeffmcneill.com Jeff McNeill

    I just want to thank everyone for this conversation, it has certainly helped me think through these issues and clarified my own understanding.

  • Hitch

    If Envato was not existing WordPress.org would be just like blogger. A limited Blog platform, certainly not for building professional sites that require a lot of flexibility, features and aesthetic design. Now that Envato exists, all the designers and web entrepreneurs were able to push the limits of WordPress.org.

    WordPress.org should thanks Envato for largely distributing their Brand and put the CMS at the center of any serious web design project.

    Thanks for making Envato the ultimate destination market for web designers!