Over the last week or so, I’ve been writing about the various pillars of the WordPress Philosophy.

These include:

And today, I finally finish up with the Bill of Rights.

The WordPress Philosophy

Ultimately, I’ve been looking at how I believe that the majority of us who are involved in driving the WordPress economy in some way have been ignoring these core tenants.

This isn’t to say that we’re all doing it, and this isn’t to say that they’re all being ignored, but I do believe that there are some significant issues that are happening within the WordPress product space that need solutions.

This isn’t to say that I have it figured out – hardly so – but I do believe that one of the things that many of us need to do is to begin forcing segmentation in the market based on how we price, support, and offer our products.

The final aspect of the philosophy to cover is that of the WordPress Bill of Rights. I almost opted not to write about this particular part because it’s directly influenced by the GPL which always has been, and always will be a fire starter of sorts for the WordPress economy.

Even still, it’s part of the philosophy and should be included.

The WordPress Philosophy: The Bill of Rights

Straight from the philosophy page, the Bill of Rights states:

WordPress is licensed under the General Public License (GPLv2 or later) which provides four core freedoms, consider this as the WordPress “bill of rights”:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • The freedom to redistribute.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

Part of those licensing requirements include licensing derivative works or things that link core WordPress functions (like themes, plugins, etc.) under the GPL as well, thereby passing on the freedom of use for these works as well.

Obviously there are those who will try to get around these ideals and restrict the freedom of their users by trying to find loopholes or somehow circumvent the intention of the WordPress licensing, which is to ensure freedom of use. We believe that the community as a whole will reward those who focus on supporting these licensing freedoms instead of trying to avoid them.

The most responsible use of WordPress community resources would therefore be put to best use by emphasizing high quality contributions that embrace the freedoms provided by the GPL.

For much of the debating and back and forth that has come from the GPL, the Bill of rights isn’t really that complicated.

To be clear: This isn’t to say that we won’t all have our own questions, interpretations, or that some will seek “loopholes” but, for the most part, I think that people who care about the WordPress economy will opt to take advantage of the Bill of Rights and leverage it for their success.

It’s other types of licensing or interpretations thereof that end up causing a lot of confusion and conflict (and sometimes unnecessary conflict, at that), but I digress.

What Am I Getting At?

As I mentioned, this article isn’t meant to be about the GPL nor is it about how code should be licensed, but I recognize it’s hard to talk about one without the other.

Even still, the licensing is relatively straightforward, isn’t it?

  • WordPress is GPL
  • Derivative works inherit the same license
  • Themes and plugins are derivative works
  • Therefore, themes and plugins are subject to the GPL

Yes, there’s more to be said about compatible licenses for, say, some of the assets that are included with the work, but to me, all of the above is the crux of it.

Anyway, you may interpret the Bill of Rights to be a summary of the GPL, or you may interpret it to be an addition to the GPL. But whatever case, all of us who are part of the WordPress design and development economy and who help drive it forward are granted these rights.

Sometimes, I think that we forget that. Instead, we view them as limitations – as hinderances – to how we would like to ultimately market and/or share our work.

But if that were truly the case, why would we pick an open source foundation to begin with? Further, why would we argue when we’re held accountable to the very points to which we seemingly agreed?

So What Should We Do?

In short: We need to do a better job of remembering what the Bill of Rights states and abiding by it.

WordPress is licensed under the General Public License (GPLv2 or later) which provides four core freedoms…

This is why many people see the following four points as a summary of the GPL. Of course, as with any license, it’s much longer and can be read and interpreted by anyone including people who are far more educated in, y’know, law.

Still, having the summary is nice, isn’t it?

 …consider this as the WordPress “bill of rights”:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • The freedom to redistribute.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

If possible, try for a minute to imagine that you’re part of an economy that offers this Bill of Rights to anyone and everyone who participates in it. Don’t think of this as someone who builds products for that economy, but purely as a consumer.

The fact that we – as a consumer – have the ability to run the program for any purpose, study how it works, redistribute to our friends – modified or not – is really, really powerful, isn’t it?

I see this both in terms from an educational perspective and even from the perspective of a business. For the most part, I’m not concerned with sharing my code with other people at the risk of, say, turning a profit because many of the people to whom I’m trying to sell my work aren’t the type of people who want to study code in the first place.

And if they do want to study code or do want to redistribute it, then so be it.

I’ve worked in this space long enough, and have been fortunate enough, that although I’ve seen projects I’ve worked on slightly modified and resold, I’ve never directly suffered from it.

Argue about loss of sales all you want but undercutting competition and offering worse support is only cheating yourself and the customer.

Anyway, I’m not trying to make a hasty generalization by taking my experience and applying it to everyone. That’s not a fair thing to do because I do know people have been negatively impacted by this and I don’t want to come off as unsympathetic (because I really, truly am).

But the main point that I’m trying to make is that the people to whom I am working on selling my products to are usually the people least interested in the program for learning purposes and more for its utility and how it can benefit them – how it can solve their problem.

Part of those licensing requirements include licensing derivative works or things that link core WordPress functions (like themes, plugins, etc.) under the GPL as well, thereby passing on the freedom of use for these works as well.

This has been covered earlier in the article, so I don’t want to be redundant but I do want to point out that one of the things that we need to make sure that we do is that if we’re going to be building work on top of WordPress, when any third-party tools and/or libraries that we include in our work must be GPL or a compatible license; otherwise, it’s a violation of the Bill of Rights.

This means that if you’re bundling something proprietary with your work, then you’re better off open sourcing it, finding an open source alternative, or not using it at all.

Obviously there are those who will try to get around these ideals and restrict the freedom of their users by trying to find loopholes or somehow circumvent the intention of the WordPress licensing, which is to ensure freedom of use. 

Generally speaking, I think that most of the people who care about digital publishing and using WordPress as a means to said end abide aren’t interested in violating the GPL, the Bill of Rights, or the looking for loopholes.

They are people who want to write code to help themselves and help others (not necessarily in that order, of course), and understand the rules by which they’re agreeing when they get into the game.

We believe that the community as a whole will reward those who focus on supporting these licensing freedoms…

Perhaps that sounds a little too optimistic, but to help share some perspective, I’m a pessimist. At this risk of further painting myself in an even more negative light, I’m actually cynical about quite a bit of things; however, when it comes to the issues at hand, I tend to agree that “the community as a whole will reward those who focus on supporting these licensing freedoms” because I’ve seen it done time and time again.

I’ve seen it done with those who I consider friends, I’ve seen it done by those who I don’t necessarily know, and I’ve seen it done by those who I envy. But regardless to who it happens, that’s a pretty great thing, isn’t it?

But there’s a flip side to everything, isn’t there? And it’s addressed:

…instead of trying to avoid them.

For every rule, law, or any form of governance that exists, there will be those who will opt to avoid them. You’re kidding yourself if you haven’t done this somewhere in your life. Anyway, I’m not talking about those who do so out of ignorance – that’s just lack of familiarity with the licensing for a which a person, although should be doing their due diligence, really can’t be faulted too much – but those who opt to simply go their own way.

You could argue that that’s their prerogative, and I guess it is, but only in so far as they are able to carry it without violating the terms to which they’ve agreed when they’ve built products – out of ignorance or not – on the foundation that provides a license for itself and derivative works.

For whatever it’s worth, the main point that I want to make about this is that we simply embrace the four freedoms as listed above. It doesn’t say anything about pricing, it doesn’t say anything about marketing, and it doesn’t say anything about turning a profit, but this still doesn’t stop us from constantly having these discussions every few months.

Maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t know.

Truth be told, I feel a little lame even writing that last bit makes me feel a bit weird because I feel as if I’m now contributing to the same problem that I want to avoid.

But the point is that the freedoms listed above are not mutually exclusive to running a successful business, and we need to stop treating them as such.

This will additionally help begin to force a segmentation in the market that I don’t believe we’ve seen as drastically as we could should we all spend time embracing the freedoms rather than naval gazing about its finer points and what should or shouldn’t be allowed.

The most responsible use of WordPress community resources would therefore be put to best use by emphasizing high quality contributions that embrace the freedoms provided by the GPL

The Bill of Rights wraps up with this statement and I think it’s a great summary. For anyone who has worked within the WordPress economy long enough, who has made a living – or a partial living – or who has had their work improved because of the economy has done so because of the freedoms offered by the GPL.

Remember, the license doesn’t necessarily dictate how we sell, market, build a business, or profit from our work. Sure, it’s related, but that’s not the purpose of the license and some people see it as such.

Instead, it’s more about the code, and it’s more about the rules that we have for how our code must be treated, handled, and shared.

My Ultimate Point

My point with this entire series of articles has been to two fold:

  1. To express frustration with the current state of the WordPress economy
  2. To analyze and explore the Philosophy that supports said economy

I’m not happy with how products are currently priced, and I don’t want us to see us – as an economy – initiate a gold rush to the bottom of barrel with half-baked code, high volumes of products, poor code, and even worse support.

But I fear this has happened, there’s plenty of evidence to back it up, and that’s a sad thing.

Anyway, I’d rather see us pricing our work what it deserves to be priced and that people know and trust that what they are getting is something that’s potentially far more than a $99, $150, $200, or even $500 price tag (depending on the part of the market that they’re after).

Secondly, the Philosophy is something that I think is deeply important to those of us who have been involved with WordPress, but we’ve not done the best job of paying attention to it, abiding by it, and asking if we’re what we’re doing doing supports it.

I’m guilty of it, but I’m trying to change that. So far, so good.

And as WordPress continues to move forward, and businesses like my friends, my own, and even my competitors move forward, I want to see us represent WordPress as the definitive, world-class platform for content management and publishing that we know it is and will continue to be.

But we can’t do that with the current behavior that many of us exhibit.

So let’s start forcing the segmentation in the market at least with how we’re pricing our software. I see that as low hanging fruit that can be adjusted rather quickly.

Yes, this may require you handle a massive amount of support, this may require that you grandfather some people into your plans, and this may require that you completely rethink your strategy, but for the sake of a successful economy, livelihood, and business, why would you not do it?

We know what’s unsustainable so let’s move away from that, and start creating top-shelf work, pricing it as such, and giving our customers the world-class solutions and support they, we, and WordPress deserve.

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. As we develop our first “premium” plugin, I too, wrestle with the current marketplace and long-standing pricing schemes that customers have been shepherded to.

    Will we be snubbed for not having a free-to-use version?
    Will there be outrage for $200+ pricing?
    Will we sell a single license?

    The obvious answer is: Define your target customer and price accordingly. Don’t price it to the bottom of the barrel. You don’t want that customer — you want the customer that WANTS your exact product. Not the kind that is trying to bend it into something that it isn’t, only to drown you in support costs.

    I think we can all agree that the shift is coming — especially in the theme space. The low priced-to service-all bubble is popping. This is great for business sustainability and a higher level of service to the customer. However, I am concerned about the “host it for you” bubble that is on the horizon — another race to the bottom. I’ll save that for a different thread.

    Your perspective is what our economy needs to turn the corner. WordPress historians shall echo your name.

  2. Will we be snubbed for not having a free-to-use version?

    Some will.

    Will there be outrage for $200+ pricing?

    Yes, but remember: You get to pick you clients this way.

    Will we sell a single license?

    Yes. Because people are willing to pay for – or invest in – their online property. It’ll sale. I doubt it’ll be an overnight success. I don’t know many themes or plugins that really are, but it’ll sale.

    I’d bet some cash on it … but you already know all of this because you answered all of this.

    I think we can all agree that the shift is coming — especially in the theme space. The low priced-to service-all bubble is popping

    I’m skeptical about this myself. I don’t know if it’s going to pop, or if we’re just going to see new tiers developing. I’m apt to assume in the latter but we’ll see.

    However, I am concerned about the “host it for you” bubble that is on the horizon — another race to the bottom. I’ll save that for a different thread.

    Luckily, we’re very early in that and hopefully the people at the helm of those companies will do a good job of learning from past lessons learned elsewhere in the economy.

    Your perspective is what our economy needs to turn the corner. WordPress historians shall echo your name.

    Thank you – but I doubt it :). Google may remember it, but that’s about it ;P.

  3. True words. But we will fail in finding that one solution. All we can do is, like Matt already said, focus on our customers and find our audience. There is only one holly bible but there are thousands of Christian denominations to interpret it.

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