Headway Themes is now licensed under the GPL

As many of you may have noticed, over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion going on on twitter and elsewhere about premium WordPress themes and frameworks.  Especially centered around the question of licensing and the GPL.

For those of you who don’t know, WordPress is licensed under the GPL.  Headway on the other hand, was not until a few days ago.  Headway Themes was launched on July 31st, 2009.  Not that I want to use ignorance of the GPL as an excuse.  But, I was really not aware of any questions on the GPL until Clay and I went to WordCamp New York.  I was aware of the GPL, just not how passionate Matt and his crew are about it.  That was when I was asked to be on a panel where we discussed the GPL license, WordPress and premium themes.

After the panel discussion, Matt Mullenweg and I had a chance to visit some more about the GPL and Headway and where we all fit together.  I also had a chance to meet and discuss this with Brian Gardner in more depth too.  To be very frank, I came away from both of those discussions not convinced putting Headway under the GPL was a smart business move.

I am not going to get into the “its the right thing to do argument” nor that premium themes do or don’t fall under the GPL.  My position on the GPL was my own and it was coming more from a business model and scaling question.

First, I was not convinced that as a premium theme or framework, we fell under the GPL. No, I am not going to back this up with any thought out legal or ethically argument.  Simply put, no one had shown me nor convinced me we were in violation, nor that there was controlling case law showing we were in violation of the WordPress license.

Second, I was worried from a strictly business stand point that if we were GPL, we would go broke.  Headway would be stolen and downloaded by thousands and we would be building a kick butt WordPress framework for nothing.

But you are selling support…

To that I continued to say bull crap.  Like a lot of the premium themes and frameworks out there, I was and continue to be of the position that we build a quality product which comes with support.  I was not convinced making people pay for support alone was the answer to my business concerns of going GPL.  While we do offer support with each and every license purchased from us by our members.  I was not of the position that selling support was a valid business model. And I still don’t believe this.

Let me explain a bit further. Take for example products like iThemes, Press75, StudioPress and Thesis.  It is my firm position none of them are selling products based on the fact they provide great support only.  They all are offering great products first and foremost.  And that is why people are buying their products.  Great support comes with the purchase of a great product.  Not the other way around.

Further discussion and research on my part

Over the last number of months, one person I have confided in a lot on this subject has been Cory Miller of iThemes.  In fact, Cory and I have become great friends. However, Cory has been very open with me as we discussed my own concerns as to the GPL and Headway Themes.  iThemes did the same thing as we did in the beginning, moving from non GPL to GPL.  With Cory’s help and guidance, I have become convinced that my fears of going GPL were not based on any solid evidence.  And actually my concerns were based on my own self-imposed fears and pride.

I also spent some time talking to Jason Schuller over at Press75, Brian Gardner of StudioPress and Carl Hancock of Gravity Forms.  Michael Torbert from All in One SEO Pack has also been a great source of information too.

I talked to all of these guys at the Boston Wordcamp. And I spent some time in Miami talking to Michael Torbert.  Clay and I even drove down to Oklahoma City to personally visit with Cory about this subject.  My point, this was a process we spent a lot of time and energy on and we wanted to make sure our decision was the best for us, Headway Themes and our own community.

In addition, part of my own problem with going GPL was the fact I am one stubborn SOB and very prideful.  Mainly very proud of what Clay, my son has built with Headway and I did not want anyone telling us what we could or could not do.  And all of that was misguided to say the least.

The solution to the Headway GPL question

Needless to say, I and Clay have been discussing and cussing this issue and question for almost a year now.  While it may seem we made the decision solely on the events of the last week or so, this is not entirely true. And it would be wrong of me to not admit, yes the last week or so certainly caught my attention and perhaps spurred me to give this my utmost attention.

And let me clear up any question as to whether I was personally or if Headway Themes was as a business entity threatened in any way by Matt Mullenweg or by anyone at WordPress or Automattic.  The answer to that question is no.  No, we were not threatened this last week or so with a possible law suit.

That being said, witnessing what transpired between Thesis and WordPress was a bit troubling and certainly got my attention.  While our timing on making the switch may seem suspect, this was a business decision we have been in the process of deciding and now seemed like a good time

Now was a good time as we are in the process of releasing a huge update to Headway which we feel is light years ahead of where Headway was just one year ago.  Not only are we releasing a huge update to Headway, we are completely redoing the Headway website and brand.  And if we were doing all of that, now was a good time to move on putting Headway under the GPL license.

Split License

While I know Matt would rather we would have gone 100% GPL, we felt more comfortable with a split GPL license.  We actually modeled our license which we have included in a revised TOS after what Jason has at Press75.  Below, you will see the exact language we now have which according to Matt Mullenweg is “100% legal.”


All WordPress themes produced by Headway Themes are released under the GPL version 2.0 license (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html GNU/GPLv2). Specifically, the PHP code portions are distributed under the GPL version 2.0 license. If not otherwise stated, all images, cascading style sheets, and included JavaScript are NOT GPL, and are released under the Headway Themes Proprietary Use License v1.0 (See below) unless specifically authorized by Headway Themes. Elements of the themes released under this proprietary license may not be redistributed or repackaged for use other than those allowed by the Terms of Service. Please review the Terms of Service for further information on these usages.


The Headway Themes Proprietary Use License is a GPL compatible license that applies only to the theme images, cascading style sheets, and JavaScript files in WordPress themes produced and distributed by HeadwayThemes.com. As stated by the GPL version 2.0 license, the elements of product that are not compiled together but are sent independently of GPL code, and combined in a client’s browser, do not have to be GPL themselves. These images and cascading style sheets, and JavaScript files are copyright HeadwayThemes.com (Headway Themes, LLC) and can be used and manipulated for your own or your clients purposes. You cannot redistribute these files as your own, or include them in a package of your own without prior consent from HeadwayThemes.com (Headway Themes, LLC).

The split GPL license still allows us to retain enough teeth that we can bite someone in the butt if they violate our own license for Headway.

The future for Headway is bright

Now that we have put to rest the question of Headway, WordPress and the GPL we can get back to what we really want to focus on.  What Clay and I and the rest of the Headway team want to focus on is building the best and most innovative Premium WordPress Framework out there.  And we firmly believe the next version of Headway is going to back up that focus 100%

If you would like to learn more about Headway Themes, you can visit our website.


About The Author
Grant Griffiths is founder of Blog For Profit and co-founder of Headway, the first Drag and Drop WordPress Theme Framework. You can follow Grant on twitter at @grantgriffiths
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