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What is a GPL Licence

GPL Licence

What is a GPL Licence GNU General Public License (GPL)?

The GPL Licence is a free software license originally written by Richard Stallman for the GNU Project. It’s designed to guarantee freedom to share and change all versions of a program—to ensure it remains free software for all its users. Under this license, anyone is free to use, modify, and redistribute software.

WordPress and the GPL Licence

WordPress, being an offshoot of the b2/cafelog blogging software, inherited the GPL license. This decision by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg has had profound implications on how WordPress software is used, modified, and distributed. Essentially, the GPL license ensures that WordPress, including any derivative works, remains free and open-source.

Four Freedoms of the GPL Licence

The GPL Licence is built around four core freedoms:

  1. Freedom to run the program: Users are free to use WordPress in any way, including for commercial purposes.
  2. Freedom to study how the program works: The source code of WordPress is available to anyone, allowing users to learn from and adapt it.
  3. Freedom to redistribute copies: Users can freely distribute WordPress.
  4. Freedom to distribute copies of modified versions: Modifications to WordPress can also be distributed under the same license.

Implications for Themes and Plugins

One of the most significant aspects of WordPress’s use of the GPL Licence is how it applies to themes and plugins. According to WordPress’s interpretation, PHP code in themes and plugins must be GPL-compliant, as they are derivative works of WordPress. However, images, CSS, and JavaScript can be licensed under different terms as long as they do not incorporate WordPress code.

This open licensing has led to a vibrant ecosystem. Developers can build upon previous works without fear of legal repercussions, fostering a community-driven approach to innovation and problem-solving.

Benefits of the GPL Licence in WordPress

  1. Encourages Collaboration: The open-source nature of GPL-licensed WordPress encourages collaboration among developers, leading to a rich array of themes and plugins.
  2. Fosters Innovation: With the freedom to modify and redistribute, developers can build upon existing work, driving innovation in the WordPress ecosystem.
  3. Promotes Transparency and Trust: The availability of source code enhances transparency, enabling users to understand and trust the software they are using.
  4. Ensures Longevity and Independence: By being free from proprietary constraints, WordPress can evolve with its community’s needs, independent of any single company’s agenda.

Challenges and Criticisms

Despite its advantages, the GPL Licence in WordPress is not without its challenges and criticisms. Some developers argue that the GPL restricts their ability to monetise their creations effectively. There is also the concern that the open nature of GPL-licensed software can lead to security vulnerabilities. However, the WordPress community actively addresses these challenges through robust peer reviews and a strong emphasis on best practices.

The Future of GPL and WordPress

As WordPress continues to evolve, so does the interpretation and application of the GPL within its community. The spirit of the GPL aligns closely with the ethos of WordPress: to democratise publishing and empower users. As long as these ideals remain central to the WordPress community, the GPL will continue to be a cornerstone of its success and growth.


The GPL open license system is more than just a legal framework for WordPress; it is the embodiment of a philosophy that values freedom, collaboration, and open access to knowledge. By allowing users and developers to freely use, modify, and distribute software, the GPL Licence has played a pivotal role in shaping the WordPress ecosystem into a dynamic, inclusive, and innovative community. As WordPress moves forward, the principles enshrined in the GPL will undoubtedly continue to drive its success and ensure that it remains a platform that is by the people, for the people.

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