Thesis vs WordPress resolved: A new era of collaboration beckons

The heated debate that has swirled around the WordPress community over the last few days appears to have been settled amicably with the news that the famous WordPress theme or “search engine optimised framework” Thesis has agreed to a “split licence”.

By licensing their PHP code under the General Public License (GPL), Thesis can now more directly contribute to the growth of the WordPress code-base as a whole. It can also directly benefit from the many developers working with the framework (and WordPress), who are now able to fork or contribute to the project.

The debate was sparked between WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg and Thesis creator Chris Pearson before spilling over into the wider WordPress community. The central issue pertained to the licence under which Pearson’s theme framework, Thesis, was released.

While it all began as a series of tweets going back and forth between Mullenweg and Pearson, discussions really kicked into high gear when Andrew Warner, host of the popular web show Mixergy, connected with both Mullenweg and Pearson in an attempt to clarify the issue and discuss it further.

Mullenweg’s point was that due to Thesis running off the WordPress platform (which is released under the GPL — General Public License), it should follow that the popular theme framework should inherit the GPL.

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the GPL is defined by Wikipedia as “the first and foremost copyleft licence, which means that derived works can only be distributed under the same license terms. Under this philosophy, the GPL grants the recipients of a computer program the rights of the free software definition and uses copyleft to ensure the freedoms are preserved, even when the work is changed or added to.”

A brief excerpt from the GPL explains what looks to be the contentious issue at the heart of this discussion:  “If you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must pass on to the recipients the same freedoms that you received.”

Pearson’s counter-point was seemingly purely on a moral stance, questioning why he is being questioned on his decision not to release Thesis under the GPL.

There were harsh words, claims and counter-claims, and an exhaustive number of blog posts have been written in recent days discussing various view points on both sides of the fence. At one point, legal action against Pearson was even mentioned.

A selection of blog posts, written by Mark Jaquith and Andy Peatling (both code contributors to the WordPress platform), neatly clarify both ends of this debate, as well this post from the blog Perpetual Beta discussing why the GPL does not apply to premium WordPress themes. The official WordPress blog also makes mention of this discussion.

In recent hours, popular social media news site Mashable, reported that a compromise had been reached. The article states that Pearson has settled on a “split licence” for the Thesis Theme. This license enables the PHP code (the core of the theme’s functionality) to be released under the GPL, while the customised design elements such as the CSS and JavaScript remain proprietary elements.

Both positions in this debate are valid, and the fact that the issue was raised publicly and debated vigorously suggests that the end result is a positive step forward for both Thesis and the WordPress premium theming community as a whole.

Mullenweg, in particular, expressed his relief that the situation had been resolved amicably.

“Thrilled, however, that Thesis is now legal and in compliance,” he tweeted yesterday. “What’s going to be far more useful to Thesis is the fixes we can send [him] now — which is the most beautiful part of open source,” he said in a more recent tweet.



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