Of WordPress, Themes, and Licensing

If you haven’t heard by now, there is a great big controversy between the creator of WordPress and the creator of Thesis, a popular paid theme that runs on WordPress. The issue is simply that WordPress uses a license called “GPL” which means that, among other things, you have to share the software and anything built upon it. The creator of Thesis doesn’t believe that license actually applies to him, and claims that Thesis uses a much more strict licensing.

I’m not going to jump into this debate, but if I were, I would probably take the side of WordPress. However, the whole thing reminds me of a debate on many a geek mind in the Nineties, namely, should you or should you not use Windows?

To use an example from my life personally, let’s say that I buy a computer (in this case, a PC) and I want to use Photoshop. Hackers had developed a replacement for Windows called Linux, but at least at the time, it wasn’t good enough to run Photoshop, and thus wasn’t good enough to do web design. You needed to run Windows.

Now, I was a poor boy at the time, and because of that and also on principle, I didn’t want to give money to Microsoft for every computer I wanted to run Windows on. Linux used the GPL license, which among other things meant that I could just sit down and use it, without paying a dime. Now, I could get a free copy of Windows, sure, but what does that say?

While I’m a geek who maybe could get that copy for free, I’m thus supporting the whole ecosystem of Windows-based software. When I buy my Photoshop license, I’m effectively supporting Windows. When my friends see my computer, they may be influenced to go out and buy a Windows license for theirs. After all, I’m a geek, I probably know what’s best on a computer. In fact, many of the things I do with my computer would be contributing in one way or another to the Windows ecosystem, and thus to sales of more license of Windows, regardless of whether I’d paid for mine or not.

This isn’t a debate that was ever necessarily resolved. I actually just ended up switching to a Mac, so that point was sort of irrelevant to me. And sure, I still hate Windows, just for different reasons. But the WordPress debate is an interesting twist. I wouldn’t support Thesis – I wouldn’t even use a free copy – but I have paid for many WordPress themes that did support the GPL license and will continue to do so.


Kandace Brigleb

Producer, co-founder of Needmore. Currently residing on the left coast.