Tag Archives: free beer fundamentalists

Selling A GPL product is a bad idea

I would not think this sort of thing would need to be explained to someone like matt mullenweg. Here’s the comment I left on his blog, which will probably not make it past the great firewall of matt:

I think I’m missing something –
so I make this “killer” GPL, CSS only theme. you sell it for $50, on the premise that it’s not a generic XXL poncho (I know you said pink, but what you meant was gray with a blue hood). Immediately on release, any self-hosted blog can download it and install it themselves. Since it’s CSS-only, anyone on wordpress.com can pay for the CSS Upgrade and start using it. Suddenly it seems like my theme is another XXL poncho, and the guy who bought it trying to get a unique design is seriously screwed.
I must be thinking about this wrong.

It’s not that there aren’t perfectly valid revenue models based on the GPL. It’s just that this is the only one that isn’t. Once a GPL slice of code is released1. There are (very few) projects that actually sell GPL-ed code. X-chat for windows is the one that comes to mind. It works because compiling source code on windows is such a pain. The more viable methods of making money from GPL software include selling support2, and selling proprietary add-ons.

The way the latter option works with wordpress themes is that the underlying PHP has to be GPL, but the CSS can be any license. Matt, instead is looking for CSS-only, GPL themes. This gets extra bizarre in that any CSS-only theme can be implemented by anyone with the CSS upgrade. Since the themes are GPL, automattic can’t even legally suggest that they shouldn’t do that.

Designing premium themes is already a tough market. At least designers willing to handle the storefront themselves aren’t further hampered by having to open-source their graphics. Arpit is right to question the sensibility of such a marketplace, and Michael Martin reaches a similar conclusion.

  1. Meaning, once it’s been bought, but in this context, Matt is saying that it will also be made available to self-hosted users (back ↩)
  2. CSS support on wordpress.com is currently volunteer-only, staff refuse to touch it (back ↩)


it bewilders me that this image is present on the header of Small Potato‘s recently added theme. Small Potato is a decent guy, and after it was pointed out that using the cover of a movie as a header image wasn’t exactly following the letter of copyright law, he announced that people should change it, and modified the theme to remove it. The theme is beautiful in its own right, without the header. How, then, did it sneak past the wordpress.com admins’ notice that the image shouldn’t be installed here?

you might think that they were distracted or confused by the recent license change at wpdesigner, (despite neo-sapien having always been GPL), except that as i mentioned, the theme isn’t available with that header anymore. given that matt doesn’t really understand the concept of relicensing, or why the GPL is such a pain in the ass for designers, i guess i shouldn’t be surprised.

then again, maybe i’m wrong. maybe matt did fork over some cash to Dreamworks to license their IP for all of us here on wordpress.com. personally, i’d think the money could be spent on something better, (like a lawyer) but i’m just a user.

Freedom 4 – The Freedom to claim others’ work as your own

The GPL is a pain in the ass. seriously. It seems that lullacons are the only GPL game in town. I went to check out the Microformats Icons, since i figured that an open standard would have to be devoid of attribution, and owned by a governing body. looks like microformats aren’t that globally minded yet.

they do have cool icons, though:


but they can’t be distributed with wordpress themes. It’s not that i don’t want to attribute the author. it’s the the FSF doesn’t want that to be a requirement upon users of the software. which is why most linux software uses the standard KDE or GNOME icons: it’s too difficult to find their own, or make an entirely new set.

In other news, after the last bit of ads-in-themes arm-waving, and free beer license wavingpointy-headedness, a solution from scott’s themes occured to me:

with a little bit of str_replace() and printf() magic (that i’m especially proud of learning), that input produces this footer:

footer credit

which of course, allows a user to maintain my credit or not, without having to touch code. of course, they could also take the opportunity to say ‘based on’, if they’ve modified it, but i’m not sure how likely either course of action is. It would solve the ‘ads-in-themes’ issue for most people, i would think, since it makes it dead simple to change/remove, if the ad is included the same way. except, of course, it won’t solve it for matt, who’s thinks he’s protecting google’s algorithms. for him, it’d have to be done in javascript. which i won’t do because

UPDATE: The tag icon is here. Here are some light blue ones to match the microformat icons:

tag square add tag tag rss

(obviously these are CC-by-sa, based on the work by  Wolfgang Bartelme).

GPL Filigree


My filigree tile is not as succesful as the black linen wallpaper pattern extracted by mr. messina, but it is GPL. For the purposes of releasing a theme, that’s what’s more important. Granted, i could ask permission of mr. messina to relicense his work (although he’d need permission in turn from the wallpaper photographer. If we really wanted to see where the rabbithole goes, we might need the permission of the wallpaper designer. Although going that deep might call into question the doctrine of first sale. You’re not still surprised that i trusted my own hand here, are you?

I’m building my next redesign of archGFX as a sandbox based theme, which means i have no choice but to use a GPL-compatible license. hence the pontificating about wallpaper. It will look about like this, but it will build in a whole lot of CMS/tagging functio nality (among other things). The other works that i will have to replace before releasing the theme, are the silk icons. While I, the theme author, can satisfy mark’s attribution requirements in the theme, releasing the theme as GPL would mean that i would effectively re-license his icons as GPL. Then, anyone who wanted could come along and use his icons, out of my theme, without attribution.

If you’re wondering why so many other themes don’t waffle about this, that’s it. K2 relicensed the icons a long time ago. I could just use the icons out of the K2 theme, and my own ass would be covered. However, a) that would mean looking exactly like k2, and b) should mark ever go SCO on the kubrick guy, I might still not be covered (especially after posting this). Ironically, the habari version of K2, which is apache licensed, and requires attribution, would be acceptable to the original CC-license, but the apache license is not GPL compatible.

The old solution to this, proposed by wordpress developers, is to license the CSS and images seperately from the PHP templates. while that’s a nice ideal, i’m using a PHP stylesheet, so it’s not feasible in my case. The other problem is that, as i understand it (correct me if i’m wrong), GPL code cannot be distributed with non-GPL code without virally infecting the non-GPL code. so i’d need two seperate downloads: 1 for the GPL PHP templates, and 1 for the CC-by licensed CSS and icons.  plus instructions on how to properly mux the two before installing.

So my solution is this.  I’ve drawn my own GPL filigree, available as PDF and GIMP pattern, (because i agree with mr. stallman that proprietary tools should not be used to build open-source software (or in this case, templates)).    I’m going to use Drupal‘s GPL lullacons, but rename them to match the names of the silk icons.   Then i’ll package the original filigree and silk icons seperately.  thusly, the theme download will work out of the box, but users who want the better art can download and replace the stuff.   Having seperate instructions for them shouldn’t be too bad.  Anyone who’s scared by the instructions, can stick with the GPL graphics.

misty eyed

with two themes in as many days, wp.com managed to grab a theme from a long-standing member of the wordpress theme community. i’m impressed, that’s getting to be a rare thing. i think i might have actually sent in feedback asking for mistylook. or at least thought about it really hard. (this would be before i bought my CSS upgrade).

Being designed by Sadish means that it has things like archives/links templates, and the oft-requested contact form. The original also supports asides and re-ordering the page link, and dropping pages from the nav bar:


of course, options panels are stripped from wp.com themes, for the crime of not sanitizing values (sensible for text fields, less so for ticky boxes and drop down menus), but rather than sanitizing the values, the options panel, with its oft requested features, is dropped entirely. [snark removed, real reason in the first comment]

so we’re left with fauna as the only theme that supports asides (because it does so without an options panel, kudos to joen). of course, it’s an aged version that doesn’t support sidebar asides, which are the only kind that can’t be achieved with sandbox and a CSS upgrade. i recognize that i’m in the minority when it comes to wanting asides, but that doesn’t stop the contradictory nature ‘designing themes for wp.com‘ process from really annoying me.

it’s just so very anti-open-source. users ask for a feature, someone gives it to them, and the benevolent dictator takes it away. mind you, i’m still confused as to how the benevolent dictator model can possibly nurture a meshwork and not turn it into a hierarchy, but i think that comes from reading ‘a thousand years of non-linear history’, rather than ‘the cathedral and the bazaar’. i’d link you to those books, but linking to amazon is forbidden.

now I’m really far afield. misty look is a great theme. kudos to Sadish.


lorelle’s latest challenge precludes you from using your own name, but not the names of your posts. that would be too easy, though, so i dug in my stats a bit, and suddenly wondered why one of my custom CSS templates was so much more popular than the others: oh, that’s because people are googling for a wordpress fork. if ever there was a metric for dissatisfaction with the hierarchy of your project, surely this is it.