I work with Wordpress. I build sites for clients, customize plugins and themes, design brand new plugins and themes and this is my business. I make money doing it - and love what I do. All of this would not be possible if it wasn’t for the amazing Open Source community and freedom that the GPL license provides.

Wordpress is published under GPL - which means that any subsequent theme or plugin that relies in whole or part on the Wordpress core must also be published with the same license. One of the key requirements of that license is that a publisher MUST, upon request, make available the source code to their theme, plugin or wordpress add on in the spirit of the GPL ‘free’ access provision.

“Free”, as I have discussed before, does not mean you cannot charge for such products and many people make a good living from WP these days, myself included. But it really irks me when you come across plugin developers who refuse to abide by the terms of GPL and not only encode their source files, but refuse to provide unencoded files upon request - as they are legally obliged to do. Yes - BY LAW!!!

Such was my experience today with the nice folks at WPWISHLIST.com. Their response to my politeĀ  request I am copying below to name and shame as I think a company who is so concerned about applying their own COPYRIGHTING, by encoding their files, with utter disregard for the licensing laws that should apply to their ‘add-on’, are hypocritical and unethical. While their membership plugin product is basically good it would benefit from the ability to customize it, as all good Wordpress, and other open source code does.

I am sure Stu McLaren does not care that they have to refund my $97 (overpriced!) purchase - but I strongly believe what I said in my reply, below, that WP premium product developers can still make a good living without contravening the GPL license - as Brian Gardener at Revolution and many other developers, myself included, have proved.


As a web developer working extensively with Wordpress I enjoy the freedom that GPL licensed, open source software allows.

While I understand the need to Zend encode copyrighted files for protection on the internet, under the terms of the GPL license which Wordpress itself is released under, I am legally entitled to request a copy of the source code for the software I have just purchased and would like to extend that request to you.

The GPL license stipulates that any program that relies in whole or part upon another that was originally released under GPL must be released under the same license and a WP plugin includes just that restriction by the license defined on the Wordpress core.

I am not trying to be difficult or jeopardize your work or business. I understand that you are free to charge for copies of your software under GPL, but I would just like to be able to continue to work in the Open Source, GPL licensed environment that Wordpress exists in and therefore request an unencoded copy of the plugin source with GPL license attached.

If you are not willing to provide the above I request that my license fee be refunded.


Tim Waddell”

And the reply!

Stu McLaren (Thursday, February 5 2009 6:53am)


Thank you for your email.

We would be happy to issue you a refund as we will not be making an unencoded copy of the plugin available.

Your refund will be issued over the next couple of days and we will then deactivate your license key.

Take care.

Stu McLaren”

Well, I couldn’t leave it at that. And will be copying this thread to Matt Mullenweg at Wordpress.

Thursday, February 5 2009 5:54pm

“Thanks Stu,

I am a little disappointed that as a business fighting for your own right to assert copyright license on your product you are disregarding the legalities of the license under which your product should, by law, be published. It does feel a bit hypocritical.

As a publisher of Premium Wordpress products the problems of ‘competitive distribution’ has to be expected. It is a given when developing add-ons for a product released as GPL. I know this from first hand experience. The way to ensure our business survives is by giving top notch support on all releases, something that only the original product developers can do - and is worth clients paying you for; while allowing you to stay on the right side of the law.


Tim Waddell”


2 Responses to “GPL Law Breakers”
  1. That is very bad. I wonder if Matt will take any action though.

  2. I am in agreement with this to a degree.

    I think that those providing the theme/plugin should be allowed to encode their work, however, as you said, a licence agreement is law and that company should, upon request, abide by that law, and provide the source code.

    In the end it is a no-brainer. A licence is a licence.

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