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WordPress, Copyright, Licenses, oh my.

0 Posted April 6, 2011 by George Categories: Company News, WordPress Themes

Hi tadpoles!
Today, a story of mystery and intrigue, heroism and justice. One frog’s quest for the truth. Seriously.

We recently heard from a potential customer who said they understood that when using WordPress, any design or content added to the site, became the property of WordPress.

Well, pardon me pilgrim, but that’s just not true.

WordPress, like many good content hosting organisations, are VERY good and VERY socially responsible around this aspect. Your content, i.e. the text and pictures that make up your posts, and the copyright vested in them, is ALWAYS, and remains ALWAYS, yours, either on, or on a domain you host elsewhere, using the WordPress software.
That’s a fact, Jack.

What they may have read, or heard of, is this:

From the WordPress Terms of Service:

“By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog.”

That’s a license. They need that, else they’d never be OUT of the troubles, legally, for hosting and promoting your blog. Ironically, the language actually points out, and acknowledges that you own the copyright to the material, by saying “you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license”. Only the owner and copyright holder can grant such a license.

So, no problems there, but a cautionary. The license you’ve granted Automattic by consenting to the Terms of Service, IS non-exclusive. They can use your content, but you’re allowed to license it to someone else as well, and THEY can use it at the same time. You might choose to use, for example say, the excellent Creative Commons license. If you do choose this route, just be really, really careful not to create a conflict between the two licenses, for example, granting a second license, which IS exclusive. That would not be frog-fu.

Similarly, any design, coding etc that you do to your site, whether hosted on, or your own hosting plan/domain, is yours. But for this side of the discussion, there is a caveat. The WordPress software is licensed by Automattic, under the General Public License v2, as are many, many themes (our eFrog Digital Design themes included). The terms of the GPL v2, create some limitations, including two which are important here.

1. The license propagates to any derivative work. If you modify a GPL v2 work, that modification is also GPL v2. You have no choice in the matter.
2. WordPress is forever stuck at GPL v2. It’s a long story, but this smart man explains it best:

“I mention this because it’s exactly what happened with WordPress. It started life as b2, which was abandoned. But a year ago, a new community coalesced around a fork of the original b2, and it became WordPress. The new community included some of the original developers, and many new developers. Because the original software was GPL-licensed, WordPress was also GPL-licensed.”


“We are inescapably stuck at GPL v2, because b2 lacked the ‘or any later version’ clause (in the GPL v2 license)”

Coming back to address our customer’s concern, neither of these indicate ANY ownership-grab mentality on the part of Automattic, at all. In fact the license, in a sense, says that you have set your code/design free, and everyone “owns” it. As long as they observe the terms of the license.

Happy blogging tadpoles! Till next time … *froggy-foot wave*


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