Is it legally and/or ethically okay, to build a business based on a GPL licensed software? To those of you unfamiliar with the not-so-uncomplicated details of open and commercial licensing, this question may sound like a question you’d ask a student of media law. But theory turns into virtual reality when we take a closer look a Thesis, a very popular WordPress theme.
Unlike most themes, Thesis isn’t available for free. Christ Pearson is selling his template for $87 per personal site, and so he’s been racking up sales. Why do people pay for Thesis when there are so many free themes available? This question is a lot easier to answer: Chris thought about what pro customers want and started to offer a flexible, highly configurable theme which caters almost every need of professional publishers and pro-bloggers. But even though his sales figures are skyrocketing, Matt Mullenweg, founder and head of WordPress.com/.org argues that Thesis violates the GPL license – because GPL-software not only is freely available (in source code), but the GPL (Gnu Public Licenses) also states that all products built upon GPL software must also use the same license. In other words: It’s illegal to make money on the hard (and free) work of others.