GPL, Licensing, Themes
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Selling themes yourself and on ThemeForest but with inconsistent licensing

With apologies for the radio silence for the last 5-6 months (for a while there life was just too hectic), I’m finally getting around to revving up WP and Legal Stuff again.

This post will be pretty brief but addresses a phenomenon I’ve seen from time to time across the WordPress theme shop community.

Here’s the scenario: you find a WordPress theme you really like on a theme shop’s website but, when you look at the licensing for the theme, it either limits what you can do with the theme or it’s a confusing conglomeration of terms that appear to have been plucked from an array of different sites and mashed together in the hope it’ll fly. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’ve deliberately not bought themes from theme shops like this because the lack of attention to clear licensing doesn’t give me much confidence in the overall soundness of the business,  its attention to detail and its customer centricity (or lack of it).

But lo and behold, later you discover that this very same theme shop is selling its themes on ThemeForest and (to its credit) has selected the 100% GPL option!

For theme purchasers keen on liberal licensing that doesn’t purport to restrict their usage of the themes they purchase, this ought to mean they’ll opt for purchasing from ThemeForest over purchasing from the theme shop’s own site. But hang on. This means ThemeForest will earn a commission from a theme sale that it wouldn’t have earned had the theme been purchased from the theme shop’s own site.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means two things. First, theme shops that do this either don’t understand licensing very well (or have used a lawyer who doesn’t understand it very well) or don’t really care about it. In either case, they don’t make the effort to make the licensing of their themes on their own sites and on ThemeForest consistent. That’s potentially confusing, if not irritating, for purchasing customers (or at least those who care about the licences that govern the use of the themes they purchase). Second, theme shops that do this potentially shoot themselves in the foot, from a revenue perspective, because in many cases they’ll get less if the theme is sold on ThemeForest instead of being sold on their own site.

You might think this sort of thing wouldn’t happen in the real world of commercial theme development but, I assure you, it does. I don’t want to call out any particular theme shop, so I won’t, but this really does happen out in the wild.

If you’re a theme shop that’s not sure whether your own licensing is consistent with the licensing you select on ThemeForest, feel free to get in touch and I’ll do my best to let you know (confidentially of course).

(Thanks to Thomas Martinsen for the photo I’ve used for this post, released on Unsplash under CC0.)

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