A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL

Understand the GPL, know what you can and can’t do and get answers to your business-related questions. (If you were to instruct a lawyer to provide this information, you’d be charged an arm, a leg and then some.)

The problem

The GPL is fundamental to many things we do with WordPress and its themes and plugins. Large sections of the WordPress community expect one another, as well as theme and plugin shops, to comply with its requirements. Matt Mullenweg, the leading WordPress co-founder, has described the GPL as a bill of rights for WordPress.

But how many WordPress users and businesses truly understand the GPL and its practical implications? Many understand its key concepts but the rubber hits the road when we come to apply it in practice to myriad different scenarios.

Until now, there has been no single source of information on the practical implications of WordPress and the GPL in all their guises.

The solution

This ebook fills the gap. Now, in a single place, you can find answers to all manner of issues relating to WordPress and the GPL, from the birth of WordPress and why the GPL applies, to common GPL-related business questions, to WordPress businesses’ terms of use versus GPL freedoms. If you invest in the book and audio package you’ll also get an audio book. And if you invest in the business package, you’ll get these things as well as access to a WordPress theme/plugin shop terms of use builder. More on that below.

A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL
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What people are saying

“Imagine you could sit down with a lawyer that costs you $400/hr and ask them all about the GPL. Imagine you could even ask them to explain it in natural English. And imagine you had all the money in the world, so you could take all the time in the world. You’d know the very things you wondered about. You’d know how to separate fact from fiction. In an unbiased way. And you’d know what your options were as you step into the WordPress ecosystem. Now imagine you didn’t have all that money. Here’s the good news. You may have to skip out on the mansions but you don’t need to skip out on the natural and clear explanations of the GPL. This book is like sitting with that lawyer, and when you’re done, you’ll be wealthy beyond your belief because you’ll know where not to waste your time (or your money). Richard should charge you $250. Or more. But he’s not.”

Chris Lema, San Diego

About the author


So who’s this guy writing about WordPress and the GPL?

Hi, I’m Richard Best, a dual qualified lawyer who began practising law in 1996. I’ve worked in three countries, in large law firms, as in-house counsel and now as a sole practitioner. I’m also a member of Best + Hancock | Sole Practitioners (a consortium of sole practitioners) and Interwoven Law (an alliance of niche practices). Since late 2006 my primary focus has been on IP/IT/technology law and public law. I love WordPress, I’ve been using it since around 2005 and have spent more time pouring over the GPL and considering its practical implications for WordPressers than I care to admit. My goal is to help you fully understand the GPL, know what you can and can’t do and provide answers to your business-related questions.

Get a free sample chapter

Get Chapter 2 on “Understanding the GPL-licensing of WordPress” for free.


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What you’ll find in the book

A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL spans 86 pages and covers a wide range of topics across 10 chapters. Here’s a taster of what each chapter covers:

1. Introduction: conception, birth and forking

Chapter-1-alt2In this introductory chapter, you’ll learn about WordPress’s conception and forking, why the GPL applies, and who said this: “You type something and hit ‘blog this’ and in the next second it’s on your page(s).”

2. Understanding the GPL licensing of WordPress

Chapter-2 Chapter 2 helps you to understand the GPL in a nutshell. It includes one page summary of the GPL under the headings of copying and distribution, fees, modifications/derivative works, distributing non-source forms, termination and downstream licensing.

3. Common GPL-related questions answered

Chapter-3 This chapter explores a range of practical issues that can arise when people come to apply the GPL in the real world. It focuses solely on WordPress-related issues. Many of the questions it addresses are business-related.

4. Themes, the GPL and the conundrum of derivative works

Chapter-4 Many parts of the GPL are clear but some are more complicated. The most vexed question is whether commercial themes are derivative works of pre-existing GPL’d code and need to be GPL-licensed. Chapter 4 discusses this difficult question in detail. It’s also relevant to commercial plugins.

5. The GPL and assumptions of automatic inheritance

Chapter-5 Chapter 5 addresses the assumption, held by many, that a derivate work automatically inherits the GPL without any further action by the author or creator of the derivative work. That’s not correct and this chapter explains why.

6. Theme reviews, CC0, model releases and GPL-compatibility

Chapter-6 This chapter addresses questions on the above topics. It discusses GPL-compatibility, describes CC0, explains why CC0 is GPL-compatible, discusses using CC0’d images with identifiable models, and comments on using CC-BY and CC-BY-SA images.

7. Selling ThemeForest themes outside of ThemeForest

Chapter-7 Chapter 7 addresses issues that arose from reader questions on selling ThemeForest themes. It discusses 4 scenarios where ThemeForest theme authors or customers decide to the sell themes, that are sold or purchased on ThemeForest, outside of ThemeForest.

8. Reselling others’ commercial plugins

Chapter-8 This chapter discusses reselling commercial plugins. It assesses this question by reference to GPL freedoms and other laws, the weaknesses of such a business model and the views of some leading theme and plugin shops on this issue. It also discusses protecting a plugin developer’s commercial position.

9. The GPL’s freedoms and trademarks

Chapter-9 Chapter 9 looks at the distinction between the GPL’s copyright permissions and the rights a trademark owner may have in the name or brand by which the GPL’d software is known. It provides a real life example from Germany and discusses selling others’ plugins in which trademarks exist.

10. Theme and plugin shop terms of use versus GPL freedoms

Chapter-10 This final chapter compares GPL freedoms with the terms of use of a range of theme and plugin shops. It discusses the good, the not-so-good and the bad of terms of use, from businesses that clearly understand the GPL and get their licensing statements right to those who get the GPL plain wrong.


Choose a package

Choose from three different packages. If you’re in a WordPress-related business, I suggest the business package is for you. If not, you’ll want to opt for the ebook and audio book package or the ebook package. If you’ve any questions, please ask. And don’t forget about the 30% discount on all packages below. All pricing is in US dollars.


The book and audio book package $45

With this package, you’ll get:

  • the ebook (PDF) of A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL; as well as
  • a professionally narrated audio book, enabling you to listen to the book when you’re on the go (narrated by Steve Chase).

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The business package $175

If you’re into the business of developing WordPress themes or plugins (or both), this package is for you. You’ll get:

  • the ebook (PDF) of A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL;
  • a professionally narrated audio book, enabling you to listen to the book when you’re on the go (narrated by Steve Chase); and
  • access to a terms of use builder through which you can build draft online terms of use for your WordPress commercial themes or plugins shop, with open and honest GPL licensing as well as protections for your business.* (Investing this little bit extra might help you retain customers and avoid reputational fallout.)

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The book package $25

If you’re just after the ebook of A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL, this package is for you. You’ll get a PDF of the ebook that you can read or dip into at your leisure.

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Demonstration of the terms of use builder

If you’d like to know more about how the WordPress shop terms of use builder works (you gain access to the builder if you invest in the business package), take a look at this video. If you have any remaining questions, feel free to ask.

A little bit of small print

* Please note that, whilst the builder will create draft terms of use, I am not providing legal advice to you, as I don’t know your specific circumstances or the country from which you do business. You may wish to have a lawyer in your own country review the draft terms.