Mr. Mullenweg argued, with a strong contingent of WordPress enthusiasts behind him, that Thesis Theme is violating the GNU/GPL license of WordPress because Thesis Theme entirely depends on the WordPress framework to work, yet is not released under the GNU/GPL license as WordPress requires.
Pearson argued that he could, in fact, create anything using the WordPress framework and sell it as a premium product just like premium theme providers do.
Here’s where Pearson ran into trouble: the GNU/GPL license specifies that derived works must be re-released under the same license. Meaning people cannot take the code, modify it, then sell it using more restrictive licensing guidelines as Pearson has done.
Thus ensued a heated debate among the open source community. There was talk of court battles, and a moderated Skype debate even occurred. The issue went as far as to garner debate and odds on SBRForum, a odds-making site.
Matthew Ross, Media Strategist for SBRForum gave us his two cents: Both sides of this debate have compelling arguments. What we can say at this juncture is that the outcome of any potential ruling on this matter will be landmark and have far-reaching consequences. The fact that both Mullenweg and Pearson are active, well-known personalities in the space, only adds to the intrigue of this intense storyline. From an odds perspective, SBRforum.com has a beat on the matter. But, we also know that the odds could change based on any number of potential variables in the coming weeks and months.
After weeks of debate and controversy, the issue is over. Pearson yielded, offering Thesis under a split GPL license which will allow him to maintain control over the product while staying in legal compliance with the WordPress folks. This will also allow people who purchase the Thesis Theme to develop, modify and redistribute the code as their own with the necessary attributions.
In my opinion: we’ll take this as a victory for free software.