Now that commercial GPL themes are on the forefront of everyone’s mind (not that it’s a new idea, of course) all sorts of prickly ethical issues have been popping up. The most general version of these issues is: “How do we play nice with each other in this new environment?”
To be clear, anything released under the GPL license is very much available for any means of modification and distribution. This goes for my GPL themes, your GPL themes, and anyone else’s GPL Plugins. (Let’s set aside the question of whether anything built on WordPress can be non GPL. Use the forum for that bickering.)
Alex King was torn apart last week for supposing a scenario, based on what I’ve said above, wherein someone so inclined could redistribute the now GPL themes being sold by major WordPress theme developers. You know who they are.
Alex was making a point, illustrating a possible, and likely, scenario (see his followup post, by the way).
The question: how far should developers go when using others’ GPL themes and redistributing them, whether for free or for profit?
I propose an answer: don’t be a douchebag.
What does it mean to be a GPL douchebag?
A GPL douchebag will take a theme, change the name, and redistribute it with the code untouched.
A GPL douchebag will grab your theme or Plugin code, use it in their work, and fail to attribute it.
A GPL douchebag will undercut and resell commercial themes, giving the virtual middle finger to the original developers.
Note: none of this is in violation of the GPL (except the failure to attribute code). My only criteria for the douchebag title is that your colleagues would refer to you that way as you walked away after shaking hands.
Douchebag? So how can I play nice?
You wouldn’t be developing with WordPress if it wasn’t for tons of beautiful people playing nice with one another — attributing sources, improving and adding to themes and Plugins, and generally making the world a better place.
When you’re sifting a colleague’s code through your fingers and picking out what you like, consider what you would want them to think about you if you were shaking their hand for the first time. If you stay in this game long enough, you will meet the people you’re trying to screw over. Odds are that if you wouldn’t want to sit down and describe your use in front of the developer, then to avoid being a douchebag you should toss that idea.
The existence of more high quality GPL themes (call them premium, commercial, whatever) will expose those of us who are douchebags. The bright side is this will also highlight those of us acting professionally.
Share your shovels. Don’t kick sand at people. Let’s make this a happy sandbox.