Jake Caputo prohibited from speaking at WordCamps, sparks guideline discussions



Jake Caputo is the developer behind DesignCrumbs, and you might also remember him from a ThemeThrift feature we posted last year. Caputo makes and sells WordPress themes, and does so via the ThemeForest marketplace. Last week he received notice that he was no longer allowed to speak or to volunteer at WordCamps.

Caputo wrote up a post in response to the news, which as of this writing has drawn in over 120 comments — including thoughts from a number of smart, experience developers and Matt Mullenweg himself.

The bit of the guidelines that Caputo ended up butted heads with is on the “Representing WordPress” page and reads:

If distributing WordPress-derivative works (themes, plugins, WP distros), any person or business should give their users the same freedoms that WordPress itself provides. Note: this is one step above simple compliance, which requires PHP code to be GPL/compatible but allows proprietary licenses for JavaScript, CSS, and images. 100% GPL or compatible is required for promotion at WordCamps when WordPress-derivative works are involved, the same guidelines we follow on WordPress.org.

Sellers on ThemeForest are not allowed to list their themes as 100% GPL, and Caputo said the Foundation told him that even if he found a way to do so, any participation at all on that network prohibits him from WordCamp speaking and volunteering.

Note that this is not about license compliance in a legal sense. Envato would argue that their stance is entirely legal, and the WordPress Foundation seems to agree. It’s not as simple as legal compliance — it’s about a special rule set for WordCamp speakers and volunteers by the WordPress Foundation.

Jake Caputo sells themes on ThemeForest as DesignCrumbs. He has thirteen themes for sale, has over 3,000 sales, and says he makes nearly 100% of his income this way.

Jake Caputo sells themes on ThemeForest as DesignCrumbs. He has thirteen products for sale, has over 3,000 sales, and says he makes nearly 100% of his income this way.

While Caputo at times confuses the WordPress Foundation and Automattic (hey, who hasn’t?) he makes a salient point that stands out above the minutia of the guidelines themselves: a lot of people end up in the middle of this disagreement.

“…there are over 2.3 million users on the Envato marketplaces,” Caputo said. “Over 2.3 million people are hanging in the balance. People who can’t speak, share their ideas, or share their expertise, at a WordCamp.” This is a sobering point, because many, likely most, of those people don’t have the slightest idea about the philosophical disagreements between the Foundation and Envato.

A philosophical disagreement is at the root of this, and those who have been in the community for a while recognize it likely won’t change any time soon. Still, the discussion continues.

13 thoughts on “Jake Caputo prohibited from speaking at WordCamps, sparks guideline discussions

  1. Can we scale back the hyperbole? That the Envato marketplaces have 2.3 million users doesn’t mean anything. That’s a total across all their properties, not just ThemeForest, and this only affects those who develop for WordPress and sell there (which likely isn’t more than 300 people total). Just make the conversation a little more honest about who’s being impacted and how.

  2. In that case, don’t expect some larger names in the community at a WordCamp (Justin Tadlock has a theme on there) http://themeforest.net/user/greenshady

    Granted, he only did it to attempt to increase the coding standards in envato’s community – but still, they have to hold everyone to the same standards.

    • That’s a good point around Tadlock. I guess this is price he pays for trying to improve the standards on TF, though I think there might be a case for meritorious exemption given that he’s really just trying to save us from the hell that comes of people buying themes from there.

      • Sorry, was half asleep when I wrote that – was also meaning to ask – Why doesn’t the foundation take a page from Justin’s book and instead of banning the authors there, try and persuade envato to change – The CEO of envato seems like a really nice guy (since I live in the same city as the guy, I see him all the time at conferences/events). I’m sure he would be willing to sit down with Matt over skype and discuss the best way to handle the WordPress themes on there so that nobody loses.

        If that fails, there are other alternatives that will prevent them from needing to ban people from WordCamps – Why not talk to the authors about why they are on envato and make a competitor, promote it through WP.org and you’ve got the userbase of envato and give users 100% of profits as a perk. There are ways to hurt envato without being a dick to the community.

  3. This is crazy… by forcing, and adding restrictions to the use of GPL software, WordPress is in violation of the terms of the GPL…

    It is one thing to recommend that creatives license work under a free license, to try and Force them to do so is another, even if they did the GPL explicitly covers software and does not cover creative work (images, photos, etc) … the GPL does not give you freedom to use it.

  4. I would like to admire the WordPress Foundation’s commitment to the GPL but not if it comes in the form of bullying and overreach.

    What I find particularly icky is the sense that this is not a philosophical disagreement but instead a case of good vs. bad. As Matt told Caputo:

    I have forgone profit for principles many times and been lucky pretty much every time, but not everyone always is and I can’t speak to other people’s backgrounds or obligations

    Ignoring how accidentally condescending that sounds, there are many very principled people out there who happen to be fine with the idea of split licenses. Let’s say I want to share my PHP with the community at large, but I want to protect my custom artwork with a stricter license. Nope, sorry. Banned from WordPress events.

    I love WordPress, make my living from it, admire the developers a great deal, and like the GPL. But this notion that no one can be philosophically less pure than the Foundation over a license that’s never even been challenged in court without being blackballed from the WordPress community just feels wrong.

    • The GPL *has* been challenged in court, actually, and it holds up.

      While there may be no philosophical issue with split licensing, the GPL license that WordPress is issued under would require software that requires hooking into it also be licensed under the GPL. If WordPress were licensed under the LGPL it would be a different case, but as it stands the WordPress Foundation is already being rather gracious in allowing themes and plugins be released without being GPL’d.

      To be clear, the WP Foundation isn’t demanding that Themeforest release everything under the GPL only… based on my reading, it’s saying that Themeforest cannot restrict its authors from releasing their themes under the GPL. Themeforest is therefore restricting the choice of its authors more than the WP Foundation has been restricting the choice of Themeforest, so essentially the message to Themeforest here is “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” It’s kind of a golden rule violation that they’re being called on.

      • Yeah you’re totally right that the GPL has held up in court. What I meant to say was that WordPress’s claim that all themes and plugins are “derivative works” has not been to court, not the license itself. I don’t want to get into the legal argument about it, but I just wanted to acknowledge that the gray area exists.

        In fact this is why the WP Foundation isn’t threatening Envato with legal action or anything like that; they acknowledge that split licenses would be legal, they just don’t like them.

        All the Foundation is doing in this particular case, that I’m aware of, is telling all Themeforest authors that they’re not welcome to speak or volunteer at Foundation-sponsored events. Which they’re within their rights to do, I just disagree with it.

      • It’s not the GPL that’s being challenged, it’s Matts rejection of the Software Freedom Law Center’s ruling that theme’s can be split licence.

        In conclusion, the WordPress themes supplied contain elements that are derivative of WordPress’s copyrighted code. These themes, being collections of distinct works (images, CSS files, PHP files), need not be GPL-licensed as a whole. Rather, the PHP files are subject to the requirements of the GPL while the images and CSS are not. Third-party developers of such themes may apply restrictive copyrights to these elements if they wish.


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