Transcript from Matt Mullenweg interview on GPL WordPress themes

December 23, 2008 | 4 Comments

Update (12/27/08): Part 3 is up.

Update (12/23/08): Part 2 is up.

The other week I wrote about Automattic pulling 200 themes from the WordPress theme directory. Since then we’ve been waiting for an official word from Matt Mullenweg and it couldn’t have come in a better form: a live interview on the WordPress Weekly Podcast, hosted by Jeff Chandler. For those who weren’t able to listen to it, here’s part 1 of the transcript courtesy of WP Snippets.

One of the big questions regarding the team’s decision is: “why do they have to approve themes based on the content and links on MY site?” It’s a pretty sound question because a website is a pretty big leap from a theme. Well Matt likens it to WordPress endorsing Expression Engine, a paid CMS solution, on their website:

First of all, you can do whatever you like on any website. There’s nothing built in WordPress that’s going to you. I am not even going to tell anyone or tell you that you should change things. But WordPress.org is sort of a community hub where we’ve tried to promote the open source stuff.

So, just like I wouldn’t want to, I don’t know, umm… let’s say a commercial CMS, Expression Engine. Ok… I wouldn’t have links advertising Expression Engine on WordPress.org. I wouldn’t have links advertising other things that are not on open source, even ones that actively violate our license.

Here’s another burning controversy: is Automattic doing this to keep the profitability of WordPress to itself?

JC: Ok, so here’s the next question: Why is it that so many people within the inner circle of the WordPress community believe you and Automattic don’t want anyone else profiting through or around WordPress? It seems to be this notion, primarily from those who make a living selling premium themes.

Matt: *laughs* Well, I have said it before that it’s hard to convince anyone that the way that they currently making money is wrong, *laughs* you know, if you are paying your bills with the way you’re making money, you’re going to find ways to rationalise and… sort of believe in that. There are, at every WordCamp, there will be 100 people there, and there may be 20-30 there making their living from WordPress right then.

And it’s all sorts of different things: sometimes it’s developing sites, like their agency is a site developer or designers; sometimes they’re provide training services – education; sometimes they’re just working for a company and being like the sort of full time WordPress guy.

But if I had to estimate, there are probably tens of thousands of people out there that make their living either with or on top of WordPress, and that’s not even counting bloggers. If you talk about a network like Digg or ??? or TechCrunch or something, also built entirely on top of WordPress.

So I’m totally for that. And you know what, honestly, the GPL is very commercially friendly. It was designed to allow commercial enterprises to thrive. You know some people say it doesn’t work, but you only have to look at one, the growth of WordPress, and two, the grown of the open source world in general for the past thirty years to say ‘Wow, this is actually a very, very powerful force.’

Bottom line here is, don’t make free, GPL-compliant WordPress themes and submit them to the directory if your only motive is to get people to buy proprietary WordPress themes. (Helpful hint: you can make money from WordPress in many other ways. If it’s specifically themes, take a look at Brian Gardner’s Revolution Two. He gives away high-quality themes for free but charges for support.)

Matt and the gang are just trying to keep the WP community a good one.

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