iThemes, WordPress, and the GPL

Since starting iThemes back in early 2008, one thing Cory, and I when I joined the team, were justifiably concerned with was protecting our products, and of course our hard work, from being stolen or used without permission. This was our livelihood, so we couldn’t fool around.

Even though we both believed that we would have been within our rights to copyright the entire work, we decided that we would license all WordPress code in our themes (function calls, loops, etc.) as GPL, and protect our images, stylesheets, etc., under a copyright. We felt it was a good compromise.

Ever since then, we’ve been internally debating the subject, going back and forth over the benefits vs. risks involved with licensing our themes completely under the GPL, and have finally decided, in the interest of our users, and the WordPress community at large, that we should cover all our themes, in their entirety, with the GPL license.

What This Means for Us

Not much is going to change here. We’ll still continue to bring premium WordPress themes to our customers on a regular basis. For us, this was about respecting the license of the platform upon which we build our themes, WordPress.

What This Means for Future Customers

Again, not much is going to change there either. The themes will still be the product, and they will continue to be “for sale”. However, because we are adopting a less restrictive license, there are a couple of changes that will have to happen:

  • All our themes will be “multiple use”
  • Prices will likely drop
  • Our support model will likely change

But for previous customers, don’t worry, nothing much is going to change for you. The only difference is that if you purchase a “single use” package sometime in the past, you are now free to use the theme on as many sites as you would like.

Yes, iThemes Is Now 100% GPL Compliant

So there you go. Though it wasn’t a huge change from our previous license, we do want to celebrate. Ultimately, this is good for everyone. We understand that there will likely be some questions and concerns, so please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below, or sending an email to us. We’ll do our best to answer everyone who emails us.

You can also go and read the official announcement from iThemes.

What do you think? Do you consider this a good move? A bad move? Let me know in the comments below. I’m very interested in what everyone thinks.

15 Replies to “iThemes, WordPress, and the GPL”

  1. I think it’s a great move, definitely. I’ve been wondering, watching, what would come of the seemingly invisible wall separating the 100% GPLers and the less-than-100% GPLers. Seems that many are crossing that wall lately, and the crowd of non-GPL supporters is getting thinner and thinner.

    I have to think some of the move-overs lately has to do with the rumors of becoming more proactively supportive of “commercial GPL” themes by making some sort of recommended list and publishing them, similarly to their suggested consultants list. Do you think that has anything to do with it?

    Glad to hear about the move. Might put more GPL-only eyes in front of iThemes’ work, which is always a good thing.

    1. I’m not entirely convinced that the Commercial GPL theme page on will do that much good for people who are lucky enough to get on it. It will likely send the most traffic to the people at the top of the list, unless they randomly rotate it. Anyway, that’s just a guess. We won’t know until it launches.

      For us, this was an internal thing. It took some convincing. But ultimately, it was a decision that we made because it made sense for us. We still own the iThemes trademark, and the theme names are our intellectual property, so we believe that we can still, in some way, protect ourselves from getting ripped off by shady people. But, because our themes are now 100% open source, we’ve gotten behind the concept of shared ideas and mutual progress among the theme development community.

      However, I can fully understand if a theme developer would rather keep his themes proprietary. All that continual hard work … it would be a tough decision.

      But, for us, it made sense. And ultimately, that’s why we did it.

  2. This is very interesting. We launched our own themes club, with some basic stuff to start with but a big plan just in time to find ourselves vaped at the start of the non-GPL backlash. Bad timing and it disheartened us.

    So we stopped development for a while and stopped taking new memberships. But after a few months of dealing with our more usual client work we started to wonder about the GPL possibilities and decided to give it a go. We’ll start taking memberships again in the near future.

    Seems like the GPL theme writer’s club is growing once more!

  3. This is a very good move, and probably an essential one in the long run. I have been heaily using non-GPL products for a while but am now moving to drop them. The drag caused by the non-GPL components just isn’t worth it and there are far too many high-quality GPL alternatives.

    In principle, I don’t object to paying for components going into commercial projects, but I want GPL components where possible.

    Good luck!

  4. I’m happy to hear about this. I definitely respect iThemes a whole lot more. This move is absolutely the best for your customers and the WordPress community in general.

    Thanks and good luck!

  5. I went through the same back-and-forth with myself last year with the GPL. Making that single license change has brought about a lot more respect from those in the community.

    If you make quality products and build a quality service around those products, people will respect that. The WP community will respect that. The GPL opens up all kinds of possibilities for collaboration and sharing, and it’s a lot less fuss when when you’re in line with the philosophy behind the WordPress community.

    I’m happy to see iThemes making this move.

  6. Great move! I appreciate this.

  7. Bill Stilwell June 12, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Very cool Nathan. I’m not sure that it’s 100% inline with the philosophy behind the WordPress community, but your heading in the right direction. Congratulations.

  8. Great news Nathan! I just happened to click an advert in gmail and end up at . Is that theme also 100% GPL or at least the PHP code?

    1. Lloyd,
      Yep, the PHP in Proximity is GPL. I am trying to figure out a way to make it 100% GPL in the near future, including the CSS, but I want to make sure I do it right. There are a few specifics that need to be worked out.


  9. Nathan and ithemes,
    I am confused…. Now that you have moved the licenses to GPL I was hoping that you may be able to clarify what this means for those who have paid big dollars for a multiple use license?
    If the themes are now free for the public they will become saturated and be of no value to me, and this $500 ‘all access pass’ will be worthless! The support forum is very poor – practically a ghost town and of no help or value so far – so please can you explain what my $500 has just paid for?
    This is good news if you are not a very recent ithemes ‘all access pass’ buyer.

    Have I just been Very ripped off…

    1. Steve,
      Cory has replied to you in another location. Bottom line, you didn’t waste your money. We’re not giving the themes away for free, we’re just switching the license under which we sell our themes.

  10. […] iThemes WordPress and the GPL Nathan Rice Posted by root 12 minutes ago ( Jun 11 2009 june 11 2009 at 9 57 am reply to this comment in principle i don 39 t object to paying for components going into commercial projects but i want gpl design by blankenship proudly powered by wordpress org Discuss  |  Bury |  News | iThemes WordPress and the GPL Nathan Rice […]

  11. Steve is kinda funny.

    Anyways, all of u know if u search around the forums u will find all ithemes themes for free, so i dont know whats the big deal.

  12. […] since many premium theme developers, including iThemes, have adopted the GPL completely for their themes, including CSS and Images, this news doesn’t make a big […]

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