The timing for some of the recent posts regarding open source software, the GPL and how it all relates to WordPress, couldn't be more perfect. While the much more high profile VersionPress was deciding whether they should adopt the GPL, we were doing the same. Following their story provided a lot of insight and eventually lead to us adopting the GPL for our products as well.
Why didn't we launch under the GPL?
Although we've been developing themes and plugins for our clients since 2009, we hadn't released anything commercially until recently and never paid close attention to the GPL debate. In addition to that, WordPress isn't the only content management system we work with. We've spent a significant amount of time developing on proprietary systems such as SmugMug, Shopify and Squarespace. As such, we've never been fully exposed to the community until recently, so much of what was going on was not on our radar.
Our main concern early on was that adopting the GPL would allow anyone to repackage our products and sell them as their own. Our products are our pride and joy after all.
After much research and debate, I'm happy to say that's a concern that we're not worried about anymore and not being concerned with that feels like a breath of fresh air.
Why the change of heart?
It might seem like we're just trying to fall in line with how things are supposed to be, but I can assure you, we're not. The buzz surrounding VersionPress' definitely helped, but in the end, there were a number of factors that lead to our decision to adopt the GPL.
A better understanding of the WordPress community.
It is truly gratifying to finally realize what the term “community” means on this level and see it in action. Before I had a clue, I figured that meant a fragmented environment of individuals doing their own thing on the same platform. Now I know that the platform is only the catalyst. The community exists as a cohesive unit, working together for each other on something bigger than any one of them could do on their own.
Themes and plugins are derivative of WordPress and therefore GPL.
If you don't agree with that statement, you need to read Mark Jaquith's post on why themes and plugins are derivative of WordPress. Once I read that, I was sold. It makes perfect sense. Enough said.
A proprietary license isn't going to stop your software from being redistributed.
Nothing is certain except for death and taxes. While that may be true, one could argue that proprietary software being distributed illegally is certain as well. We've all seen it and we've all seen the big boys like Microsoft and Adobe try to prevent it without much success.
When I said earlier that not worrying about others repackaging our products as their own felt like a breath of fresh air, I was talking about this. We have better things to spend our time on than policing the internet to make sure a proprietary license isn't being violated.
Besides, downloading a commercial plugin from an untrusted source can be risky, and I believe that the people we want as customers won't be doing that anyways. I know I don't. I prefer to support developers so they can continue to grow a product that is helping my business and clients succeed.
What does all of this mean for our customers?
The only major change that we've implemented as a result of adopting the GPL is our stance on support. We'd love to support everyone that is using them, but as of this writing, we only have the bandwidth to offer support and updates to paying customers of FastLine Themes. That includes customers using our products to build their own site or sites for others, not users that have downloaded or purchased our products from a third party or developers that are bundling them as part of another product or service.
I thought I knew a lot about WordPress, but as it turns out, knowing how something works under the hood doesn't always mean you fully understand the intangibles surrounding it. In the coming months, I look forward to learning more about the WordPress community, its philosophies and the wonderful people that make it what it is.
Have you ever been in the same position as us? Scared of the GPL until you fully realized what was really going on? If so, we'd love to hear your story in the comments below!