Dual Licensing

Let's be honest here: any moderately successful template, for any language and framework, can be obtained somewhere for free, most likely via BitTorrent. Piracy is simply a cost that must be factored into the equation, no matter how many additional services you provide to your paying customers. While it does help to send takedown notices to sites like RapidShare, you'll never win this battle.

However, when it comes to WordPress, you need to ask yourself if this is even a battle you want to fight. Are you adhering to the terms of the GPL if you prohibit these freedoms? Remember freedom #3: "The freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors."

With this knowledge of our theme's inherited license, whether or not it's "pirated" becomes moot, as that distribution is explicitly permitted by the terms of the license. For this very reason, some theme marketplaces never send takedown notices: it flies in the face of the GPL's intention as they see it.

Regardless, takedown notices are sent by some theme marketplaces, such as the site I managed for two years, ThemeForest. So how can they technically do this?

WordPress themes from ThemeForest are sold with dual licensing. This is possible because, though all PHP code that hooks into WordPress's functions must inherently be bound to the GPL, this is not necessarily true for the CSS and JavaScript.

So a theme—the CSS, images, and JavaScript—might be separate but the actual PHP code that generates a theme uses WordPress functions ... so theme PHP needs to be GPL.

—Matt Mullenweg

As such, on ThemeForest, every WordPress template is sold with two licenses:

one for the WordPress code—that is, all of the PHP ■ another proprietary license for the JavaScript and CSS files

In truth, typical buyers don't take the time to understand the licensing terms. While this might initially be disconcerting, in reality it needn't be. Most small business owners or bloggers have no desire to redistribute your files on the Web, nor would they even know how to. Their primary goal is to create a working dynamic website—nothing more. However, for those who wish to redistribute a theme, a dual license would only allow them to do so with the WordPress code. Because themes are invariably distributed in their entirety, this affords the marketplace the legal right to send takedown notices to these sites.

It's important to note that every WordPress marketplace handles licensing in its own unique way. It's up to you to research the terms for each marketplace when deciding on your home base. You should also take some time to consider what you personally feel most comfortable with. That might be to go 100% GPL and trust that customers will be attracted by the convenience and added benefits of buying from you, or it might be a more restrictive dual licensing scheme.

Whichever licensing option you decide on, you still face the challenge of encouraging buyers to consider your theme. The rest of this chapter will focus on marketing your theme effectively.

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