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Why GPL Products and Limited-Site Licenses Don’t Make Sense

This post was originally published on January 9, 2018, and republished on May 5th, 2023. The question continues to come up and our thoughts about it remain the same.

TL;DR, Imposing a site limit on GPL software is simply putting an unenforceable block in front of using open source code as you please. It’s a bad user experience.

Happy New Year! We mentioned in our last update post that we’re going to shift formats on our blog. In this post, we’re going to answer a question we hear all the time:

“Why don’t you guys offer a cheaper license for only one or two sites?”

Many other companies in the WordPress space sell licenses based on the number of sites the product is being used on. For example, $10 for 1 site, $50 for 5 sites, or $100 for 100 sites.

We considered offering a similar license structure but ultimately decided on allowing unlimited sites for all of our license packages. This approach provides the best user experience given that Beaver Builder is a GPL-licensed product.

What does the GPL have to do with site licenses?

After deciding to fully adopt a GPL license for Beaver Builder, we’ve learned a LOT about the implications and nuances of the license. The GPL enables anyone to use, modify, and distribute our code. The code is free. We don’t have to make it freely available, but nothing is stopping you from taking your copy of Beaver Builder and giving it to your friend. More importantly, nothing is stopping you from changing the code and releasing your own version of it. This is how WordPress was started in the first place. It was a fork of a GPL software project called b2.

Over half a million websites now use and depend on Beaver Builder’s codebase. If Billy, Justin, and I get fed up with technology and decide to start a rock and roll band (which, admittedly, we do joke about sometimes), the code will live on. The project doesn’t end with us.

What’s the Catch?

The catch is (and this is how most WordPress companies protect their business interests) our brand is not under the umbrella of the GPL. The Beaver Builder brand is protected by a registered trademark. You can not take our code, redistribute it, and call it Beaver Builder. Furthermore, we ask anyone that wants to fork Beaver Builder to remove our trademark from the codebase. There is a clear distinction between the code and the brand.

Back to the original question, why don’t we offer single-site licenses? If you buy a copy of Beaver Builder, you’re supporting the team and the further development of the product, the convenience of automatic updates, and access to our awesome support. If we offered a single-site license, it wouldn’t be illegal for you to update a single site, then take that code and go manually update however many other sites you were managing.

That said, it feels disingenuous to force this arbitrary restriction on our customers. We believe in the value of our product. We don’t want to ask you to jump through hoops when you purchase from us.

What About Support?

Support is another can of worms. Some companies in the WordPress space offer fantastic support and some not so much. We take a lot of pride and invest a lot of resources in providing excellent support. It’s completely reasonable for a company to only offer support for a certain number of sites. We want Beaver Builder to appeal to you if you’re building one site or if you’re someone that manages 100+ sites. Whether you’re a small business or a powerhouse design agency, we want to offer the same level and quality of support to everyone.

Surprisingly, we’ve found many of the people using Beaver Builder on 100+ WordPress sites use fewer support resources than some of the folks who are just getting started in web design/WordPress. For us, the number of sites managed doesn’t accurately represent the number of support resources any given user will require, or how much time it will take for us to solve the issues.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the “power users” of Beaver Builder are the ones discovering legitimate bugs and working with us to help fix and solidify the codebase. Power users are also more likely to be using Beaver Builder and other tried and tested plugins and themes that are far less likely to cause conflicts. In the WordPress space, premium software products are almost always more stable and well-maintained than their free alternatives.

GPL + WordPress = ❤️

This post isn’t to make a claim that our approach is right for everyone, but we hope to reference this post in the future when the question inevitably arises. We believe in the freedoms of the GPL and—call us crazy—we do our best to maintain a business selling free software! 🙂

If you’re curious to learn more about the GPL license and its implications for starting or running a software business, these are a few articles we learned from. And if you’re choosing a plugin or theme for your WordPress site, review the license terms. Join us in using, creating, and championing GPL-licensed products (or, see the article about Mullenweg and Pearson to see what might happen if you don’t).

A human-readable summary of the GPL by attorney, Richard Best

The GPL License Doesn’t Provide The Freedom To Infringe Registered Trademarks by WPTavern

Trademarks in the WordPress ecosystem: An interview with Carl Hancock by Chris Lema

And one of the more entertaining grudge matches in WordPress, Mullenweg and Pearson Square Off on Patents, GPL, and Trademarks

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  1. David Waumsley on January 9, 2018 at 10:02 am

    Wow, Robby that was bloody good. As a Brit I would normal say “ruddy good”, but this article made me feel bold. Cracking points. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you.

    • Robby McCullough on January 9, 2018 at 6:58 pm

      Thanks, David! Appreciate the feedback. I am hoping to write more of these “behind the scenes” post where we explain some of the reasoning behind our decisions. 🙂

      • David Waumsley on January 9, 2018 at 8:33 pm

        That would be great! You have already done more than any I can think of in the space.

        There’s many reasons why I am such a supporter of BB, but this is definitely an important one.

        Also I think the thoughtful minority who find high levels transparency important are unlikely to report this as a reason for their lack of interest.

  2. Jamie VanRaalte on January 9, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Such a wise choice!

    Another aspect is what is defined as a “site”. You’d have to consider staging sites, local sites, etc which could be another headache that we just don’t have to worry about 🙂

  3. Gerard on January 10, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    The license deal was one of the things that attracted me to BB!

    After a loooooong while away from doing client work with WP, I found myself picking up more and more work. Apart from the fact that I wanted a really good option for fast development, the license options with what I was using (WP-Bakery) was nuts! A new license for every site is just not manageable – clients pay you only once and I’d be stuck paying for the plugin for each and every site every year!

    BB has it right for developers and I’ll be moving from my Pro license to the next level this month – it just gets better and better the more I use it!

    • Robby McCullough on January 10, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks, Gerard! It’s great to hear that Beaver Builder is helping you be successful in your business. We love that!

  4. Khủng Long on May 22, 2018 at 1:39 am

    I come from a country that does not care about copyright issues.
    When I bought Beaver Builder Standard. So I had a lot of problems reading and understanding Beaver’s Term of License.

    And thankfully, thanks to this article that I have understood. Thanks very much.

    • Robby McCullough on May 23, 2018 at 8:56 am

      Glad it was helpful for you! 🙂

  5. Birgit PaulipHaack on September 21, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Your GPL License makes is also possible for WordPress community organizers and speakers to talk about Beaver Builder at Meetups and WordCamps. Thank you.

  6. Steve on September 27, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    Interesting read! What about sites like gplvault and wpspring? The GPL license obviously permits redistribution, but is their use of the product name legit?

  7. Alok Sharma on December 28, 2018 at 12:14 am

    I have a query with the licensing and the pricing.

    I am almost in the final stage of offering fully managed WordPress website services wherein I will not only build websites for my clients but I will also manage it for them. I will charge them an aggregate of all the fees (including domain name, web hosting, web design, a small percentage of the cost of all the premium plugins/themes, maintenance etc).

    However, the service will not entitle the client with any kind of right of ownership of these premium plugins or themes.

    To be fair enough, I would like to offer an exit package. If for some reason, the client decides that they want to move away or manage everything on their own, then I will ask them to either purchase their own license for each premium plugin/theme or simply provide them with a copy of the raw data (excluding theme/plugin data).

    So far, all the premium plugins I own (for eg., WP Rocket) allow the people to purchase a single site license.

    But I will have a major problem with Beaver Builder & Beaver Themer as the client will not be able to make a huge investment.

    I personally feel that there is a need to offer a single and at least three site licenses for Beaver Themer and Beaver Builder respectively.

    As regards to people copying, distributing or selling the code, I would like to conclude that the piracy is something that is never going to stop, and perhaps one of the biggest concerns even for the biggest giants like Microsoft, while not even sparing the Hollywood, film & music industry as well.

    Just my thoughts.

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