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.
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.