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iThemes Is Going GPL

Dear iThemes customer community and the whole WordPress community–

iThemes and those on our team have said for a long, long time, individually and collectively, that, “We love WordPress and we support, appreciate and respect open source contributions that have made it possible.”

WordPress is indeed beautiful, easy-to-use, and powerful software – made possible through contributions by hundreds, maybe even thousands of people in its six-year existence. Whenever possible, I’ve sought out contributors like Mark Jaquith, Jacob Santos and founder Matt Mullenweg to express that appreciation.

But one of the differences we’ve had within the WordPress community has been with our theme licensing model. And since we opened for business in January 2008, we’ve wanted to find a way to be more aligned with the wishes and philosophies of those who have ultimately helped make our business possible in the first place by building such great software.

And frankly, that means licensing all our themes under the General Public License, just like WordPress is.

So after much deliberation within our team and business partners, iThemes has decided to switch our licensing packages to the GPL, from our current model, effective immediately.

Here are some of the underlying reasons why we’re making this switch and being open and honest about it to all:

  • Ultimately, we want to do what’s best for the WordPress – this is a strong signal of support from us to say we love and embrace open source software and WordPress
  • We want to be a respected and valued member of the WordPress community – part of this move is for our team, like our developers Chris and Nathan, to be able to participate and contribute freely in the development of WordPress without restraint or hindrance for the better of … WORDPRESS
  • What helps WordPress, helps you (our customer and the grand community), and ultimately helps us (and vice versa – it’s reciprocal) – that means that when we develop a cool feature on top of WordPress, it can easily be included back into the core software of WordPress to improve and innovate together in true open source fashion that leverages talent across the world in different realms, businesses, etc.
  • Being open source is sooooo web 2.0 and the future and has tangible benefits for all – We feel this switch is a celebration for open source philosophy that has made WordPress so popular and we hope our customers and others will be as excited as we are to move in this direction!

What does this mean for past customers and future ones?

For the bulk of our past customers (previous single use customers), you won’t notice or care about it because it won’t affect you. But essentially, it means you can use your themes purchased in the past on multiple websites and blogs and you’ll get the same support we’ve offered in the past.  Just know that you’re also contributing to something bigger in terms of WordPress by your continued support of iThemes!

For customers who are designers and developers, this is a great day …. as it means lower prices and more freedom. There may even be broader ways where you can help us with features and fixes. And we welcome that!

For everyone who loves WordPress and looking for a great, high-quality WP theme, it means you can celebrate with us as we’re 100% aligned with those behind this amazing piece of software! In essence, we’re supporting WordPress by supporting the ideas that make it possible.


I’m sure there will be many questions and some concerns. We understand that and we’ll try our best to answer them as best we can.

But in the meantime, go write a blog post about how great WordPress is (WP 2.8 just released today), and thank those who contribute to it by embracing open source philosophies with their time and talent!

–Cory Miller


  1. All I can say is welcome to the family – this is great news for both iThemes and for WordPress, and I want to personally congratulate you Cory and the iThemes team!

  2. Thanks, Brian! I appreciate your support and guidance in making this decision. Having gone before us, it was nice to have a great friend like you support us in it!

  3. Great to hear! I started working with wordpress way back when it was just for blogs. Since then developers like IThemes and Studio Press have taken it to all sorts of new levels. Way to go!

    Aaron Schimpf
    SMX Web Design

  4. I love and support Open Source and this is GREAT NEWS! I’m sure it was a difficult decision but in the long run it will prove to be a profitable and rewarding decision. Now many will be exposed to and avail themselves of your services. I’ll be sure to spread the word! =)

  5. So does this mean we can pay for support and get the themes for free? That would be great – it is an easy decision to pay for support – that’s been the best benefit over at http://www.studiopress.com for years. The support is more valuable than the themes.

  6. Mathieu, will be working on tweaking our package details to help explain it better. But ours will be similar to Brian’s …

    Thanks to all for great positive feedback!

  7. This is exciting news and makes sense given your other recent moves, i.e., securing webdedesign.com domain – Congrats!

    Very interested in seeing what opportunities are opened with this news for “active” multi-license holders!

  8. Keep up with the good work and with the good decisions like this one!. This benefits each one of us that use open source software, because we are all connected in this open source community.

  9. So are the themes going to be free to download? Are they going to be on the wordpress theme browser? I am not really sure what this means right now since I haven’t seen it actually described what “lower prices” means.

  10. Hi Corey, Thanks for the update – Just a quick question.
    In your Article you state that “For customers who are designers and developers, this is a great day …. as it means lower prices and more freedom.”

    I have just recently (3 weeks ago) purchased an ‘All Access Pass” from you which cost me $500US for multiple use licensing privileges on all of your themes.

    So I am wondering how the GPL effects this – have I just paid $$ for this now free license rights? I would be interested to know what ‘lower prices, freedom’ I will be receiving as a recent buyer – refund maybe?

  11. Kerry, the themes will not be available for free download at iThemes … customers will still be purchasing the themes. We’re not giving the themes away for free. This is a misconception with what GPL and open source is.

    We’re still selling themes.

    I would invite anyone to read through the GPL … http://wordpress.org/about/gpl/

    Essentially, it means all our themes now have multi-use licenses — and our previous single-use packages goes away entirely.

    If you look through our sales pages, all the themes packages are now multi-use ($79.95 typically) … that’s lower prices from $149.95-$199.95 we’ve charged in the past.

    There will still be combo packages like Flexx with a higher price, but you get more color schemes and styles with those packages.

    AB, you’re equating “free” as in price. We’re not giving away free themes that you’ve purchased. In fact, people will still have to purchase the themes in order to gain official iThemes access, updates to the themes that we’ll do and our awesome support.

    Consider that people who purchased FlexxTheme in November have gotten tons of new feature updates that we’ve rolled out …. plus, during that time gotten great support from our active forum.

    For you, this means no difference as you purchased the themes under a similar multi-use license.

    If you do the math, you’ve bought the themes at a drastically discounted price …. for others, that’d have to buy the $499.95 All Access Pass, or pay for them individually to get the same value you’ve gotten.

    So people will still be buying themes in order to gain similar access that you’ve gotten with your purchase.

    If you’re worried about the value being watered down, consider that people will still have to buy the themes to gain all that access mentioned above.

    Does that help?

  12. As an owner of your multi use Flex theme I’m glad to see you following Brian’s lead, changing your licensing to GPL. Way to go.

    I wish that you and other developers exploring different business models would stop referencing to this type of statement. “I would invite anyone to read through the GPL … http://wordpress.org/about/gpl/“.

    Clearly, in accordance to the GPL, you can charge for your themes, but when you charge for WordPress themes you are not in line with the overall WordPress concept.

    Like Matt said in his December 08 interview. When developers involved in open source start charging for every little thing, like themes and plugins, users get nickel and dimed. Soon WP users will be paying for every theme, plugin and widget. That will suck.

    When Brian announced his move to GPL, he offered his themes for Free as in – no pay Free. He did that because he knows that the spirit behind the WordPress open-source movement is Free as in no pay free and free to build upon theme or plugin.

    When he flipped back to the “pay for his themes model”, that was for financial reasons, not for the good of the WordPress community.

    If you truly want to align with the overall WordPress concept, maybe you could explore a business model that includes the Free option, as in “no pay free” for your themes and plugins.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see you heading in the right direction. Good luck.

  13. The explanation made sense to me Cory. Great to hear that you guys are fully GPL compliant. Now I need to clear out a 125X125 ad square for you guys :)

    P.S. wondering if you can have an option to where I can hear Cory Miller read the blog posts just so I hear his cool accent lol.

  14. Bill, I appreciate your thoughts, especially coming from one of our customers.

    Just a couple of things …. we’re totally in line with the thoughts of GPL and WordPress … that’s why I say, “read it for yourself.”

    The primary issue was our licensing (non-GPL) … whether something should be free (price) or not is a PREFERENCE, totally. WordPress could charge for copies of the software, but they choose not to. (Thanks WP!)

    I’d also say that if we went to free as in price, we wouldn’t be in a business in 2 months and all our customers and future ones would not have a quality theme resource, with great support like we and others (Brian, etc) offer.

    Although I’d love an ideal world where we had the luxury of giving away everything for free, the practical reality is that we support 5 families through this business … and we love what we do and want to be here for the long term.

    I’ve evaluated the other models I’ve seen and none of them are a risk I’d gamble all our futures on (including our customers), especially in the economic climate of today.

    For those who think we could survive (and innovate like we’ve done with Flexx and others) on a totally free model, I have to scratch my head and wonder if they’ve thought through those statements entirely, or in my shoes as I think about bi-monthly payroll, health insurance and just keeping the lights on.

    We don’t have venture capital money in the bank, we don’t have wealthy relatives who gave us billions, I don’t buy lottery tickets … and none of us want to go back to living with our parents. :)

    Our significant others are pretty happy we’ve gone GPL but can still make a living doing all this.

    And believe me, it’s a blast!!!

    I hope our customers like you, Bill, know that these decisions aren’t taken lightly and are considered, weighed, thought through, debated for us AND you, our loyal customers.

    Here’s to the future!!!!

  15. I will echo Cory here and agree with what he said.

    I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years and there are times when I gave things away for free or near free because I wanted to be nice but it didn’t pay the bills or feed a family. I’ve lost everything and I don’t expect any person (or want them to) end up on the street.

    One also has to consider the MANY years of education and training, as well as equipment expenses we had to take on, in order to create these luxuries we now use. It wasn’t free. :)

    Please remember that this country was founded on the ability to pursue free enterprise and that we all must do something to make a living — and hopefully these ventures will bring stability back to our economy.

    We DO appreciate everyone’s input and it would be nice to just do things for free but it really isn’t feasible. All we ask is for all of our clients and friends in the WP community to see the story from all sides and see there can be a balance.

    Thank you all!

  16. @ Bill – It amazes me every time I see people not understanding the GPL, but I guess some people just insist on stomping their feet like little kids until they’re given for free what they feel they rightfully deserve. I see it all too often these days with grown adults and it’s obnoxious.

    In no way does the GPL or WordPress (Automattic) imply that charging is “not in the spirit of WordPress”. In fact I’ve had personal conversations with Matt Mullingweg directly along with Cory, Brian and others and never once has he even suggested that. In fact he’s more than happy to have people dedicating their time to improving the platform he helped build. This is evident by WordPress.org announcing they’re opening a Premium Theme directory very soon. The GPL clearly states that anyone who purchases the themes then has the same rights. Plain and simple!

    Here is the link to the GPL on WordPress.org http://wordpress.org/about/gpl/ and let me quote a specific paragraph for you Bill…

    “When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for this service if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you know you can do these things.”

    Matt along with anyone else closely associated with the industry knows that the added value premium theme/plugin developers bring is enormous.

    Matt, WordPress and Automattic have taken funding from VC’s and make most of their current money off of WordPress.com. This is not an option for the average theme developer. So the question comes down to this Bill… are you prepared to see the decline of the platform if there were no premium themes? Sure everything will be free, but with no one enjoying the fruits of their work we’ll be right back at the shitty theme repository WordPress has had for the last few years.

    Nothing wrong with innovation being rewarded. Otherwise I’d like to know what your job is and see how I can get you to do it for free everyday.

    Sure there are other business models, but charging for themes is currently the most profitable and sound model. So please… next time think before you post and look at all the reasons someone is doing something. Cory has a team of great guys doing tons of hard work so questioning their legitimate business model to me is just obnoxious and rude especially when you haven’t done your homework on the reasons behind it or the industry in general.

  17. I recently purchased the full Flexx package and could not be happier. As a fairly new WP user, this has really helped me get up to speed, sooner rather than later.

    Congratulations on taking this step. I’m sure it was not an easy decision.

  18. Obnoxious and Rude? Because I question their business model, I’m obnoxious and rude. Nice.

  19. I’m sorry here but I disagree with how the GPL is being used here. If you read the text of the GPL you get a different view on how software is to be distributed:

    You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program’s source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program. You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.

    Per that, you cannot charge a fee for the software but you can offer support and other services. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not trying to get something for free, I am just pointing out that I believe that the wording of the GPL prohibits from charging for the actual software.

  20. @Kerry: Wrong!

    This is one of GNU-GPL FAQ’s:

    If I distribute GPL’d software for a fee, am I required to also make it available to the public without a charge?

    – No. However, if someone pays your fee and gets a copy, the GPL gives them the freedom to release it to the public, with or without a fee. For example, someone could pay your fee, and then put her copy on a web site for the general public.

    If I know someone has a copy of a GPL-covered program, can I demand he give me a copy?

    – No. The GPL gives him permission to make and redistribute copies of the program if he chooses to do so. He also has the right not to redistribute the program, if that is what he chooses.

  21. Kerry, I’m not going to get into the details of the actual license and debate them here, but yes, you CAN charge for distribution. It’s about distribution not price.


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