Licenses for WordPress Plugins and Code Canyon Scripts which include(ed) GNU-GPL Code

Recently I came over a thread asking for Licenses and was wondering how actually ENVATO is treating this issue. Again and Again people get DMCA’d i.e. on Github, Gitlab, FB, etc. and when checking the Claims by Envato Authors they actually DENY often that it is an Open Source License or even write and testify to Github a.o,. that it is even closed source.

As we are in Process in developing code for online market places like Envato we like to know what especially the Envato Split License and the Licenses for WordPress Plugins (not for themes as with themes you have content like images, css files which are not written into styles.css which has to be GNU GPLv.2, and those could be licensed with a Split License)

A WordPress Plugin or any other script which includes GNU GPL code like i.e. Sngine until March 10th, 2021 by including GNU GPL licensed php_gettext and later a derivate where the original copyright notice of Danilo Segan even had been stripped off, have to be licensed according to the GNU GPL as a full work with the same license and that is GNU GPL.

Does it now mean when I do the same like Sngine did and include php_gettext into my application for translations or if I develop a Wordpress plugin like the other example I found on Github recently “ultimate_membership_pro”, that then the whole work has to be GNU GPL like FSF, GNU.org and even the developer Danilo Segan already verified by the way?

They said when we include any kind of GNU GPL licensed code in our script or develop a WordPress Plugin, all has to be licensed in GNU GPL, also our own php, html, js code which we added to the whole work and which is not licensed with a GNU GPL compatible license i.e. MIT, Apache2 BSD2/3 etc.

But when I look to those applications i.e. Sngine, they did even add the GNU GPL license files as required by the GNU GPL before March 10th, 2021.

Is Envato not checking the licenses of all their applications that they also fully comply with all used and existing requirements licenses (i.e. adding the license texts) of scripts used and integrated by the same script or plugin and that if a script uses GNU GPL code and delivers those in the same distribution that then also the whole distribution is licensed according to the GNU GPL requirements?

Here is what a Forum Member asked some years ago:

All WP plugins are free under GPL, the only reason to pay for them is for support and auto updates right?

I did therefore some research as we as a company don’t want to get in legal license issues in Germany.

Envato writes for that case clearly:

When you’re distributing items via Envato Market, our licensing model ensures that your ThemeForest theme or CodeCanyon plugin is sold with a GPL compliant license. This applies to themes and plugins for platforms that are themselves licensed under GPL, such as WordPress and Drupal. https://help.author.envato.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000534626-Theme-Plugin-Licensing-Options

As they also write just below that paragraph the following:

You can also offer themes or plugins for GPL-based platforms under a 100% GPL license. That is, there is no split and the item will be completely licensed under the GPL.

There often comes up confusion, especially with authors who then continue to DMCA repositories or people who publish Code of their plugins like i.e. just recently here (it is only an example of several authors who DMCA people for publishing GNU GPL Code and who even state that it is NOT Open Source and instead Proprietary Code.)

Ultimate Membership Pro Plugin Author DMCA’s Github Repository

or just another Example of a CodeCanyon Script - the one which had php-gettext included in their distribution via Envato until March in its version 3.0 -
Sngine by Zamblek - Yehia Abed and they filed a DMCA
and short after
Sngine Author Yehia Abed receives a valid Counter Notice

What is actually Envato doing to ensure that all those Scripts and plugins follow the license requirements of the code which might be a derivate of a GNU GPL code and needs to follow the GNU GPL license requirements (i.e. Sngine) or like a WordPress Plugin relies on WordPress chichis GNU GPL to work at all? For me it looks like ENVATO is not even checking the scripts and does not really care about what authors publish or include even in their Name and by stripping off licenses and/or authors.

You can check back all the DMCA repo for more examples and I recommend also check those who filed counter complaints against those authors. Some authors even DMCA you when you write about their plugins on Facebook and they don’t like it or if you write that their code is 100% GNU GPL compliant even with the Envato Split License and has to follow 100% of the GNU GPL requirements - which are mostly the same by respecting the 4 freedoms of the software and that they won’t allow another license which disables those 4 freedoms.

For me as a future Envato Author what Envato writes is pretty clear actually - no matter if I like it or not - but at least I can orientate myself on it and know that if I publish a WordPress Plugin it has to be GNU GPL for the whole work and I can’t DMCA people publishing my code on Github unless the publish Parts of the download which were included NOT in the script folder with the plugin or script. i.e. additional images, plugins, tutorials or other stuff I later have to integrate manually i.e. rev slider videos which are clearly separated from the actually script or WordPress plugin folder.

They go even further and explain clearly what it means but unfortunately, many Envato Authors seem to ignore those paragraphs which explain how integrating GNU GPL parts or building plugins that rely on WordPress which is GNU GPL v.2 gets dealt with at Envato or they include(d) like Sngine GNU GPL v.2 licensed php-gettext a.o, but still ignore the requirements of GNU GPL v.2.

Our split license means … whereas anything that needs to be licensed as GPL will have the relevant GPL version apply.

Concerning ANY plugin delivered via Envato or any PHP Script which includes in its distribution GNU GPL Code the GNU GPL has to be applied to the WHOLE of the distributed CODE (not the documentation or the images/ screenshots in it which could work also as a stand-alone and as it is clearly separated from the rest of the PHP-SCRIPT or WORDPRESS-PLUGINS Code. In the distribution, the documentation is even placed in a separate folder.

But the plugins or PHP-Script Code is ALWAYS placed in either a ZIP by itself or a separate folder and all in that folder has to follow the GNU GPL license in case it is a WordPress Plugin or a PHP Script which includes GNU GPL Code i.e. php-gettext which is licensed GNU GPLv.2+ into its plugin distribution.

Envato gets even clearer about that fact further below - please scroll down on the same Envato Help page where they explain their licenses.

Stefan really enjoys using platforms like WordPress … Stefan comes from a graphic design background and his CSS is to be marvelled at.

Envato makes pretty clear that they are NOT Talking about any PHP, HTML or JS Code which actually depends on WordPress or the included GNU GPL v.2+ php-gettext (like mentioned in my script example) for translations [ when you delete php-gettext nothing would get translated anymore and therefore this script is an integral part of the whole program and would be it even if the script would be licensed under LGPLv.2.1!]

Envato continues in their explanation:

Stefan wants to ensure that the parts that need to be released under the GPL are licensed under the GPL (and he is very appreciative of open source platforms)

This is the point where the GNU GPL license itself comes into account and we would need to check what it is writing about their requirements.

he also wants to protect … particularly around design, are distributed.

Envato again clearly specifies that it is actually NOT talking about any PHP, HTML, JS Code which links statically or relies on parts inside the PHP or HTML code i.e. Classes, IDs, but about the Images and the Text, the content itself “Stefan” included into the distribution. As those images and the text can clearly be seen as a separate part too by themselves it is actually NOT covered by the GNU GPL. Many Envato Authors who license their products under 100% GNU GPL might even violate the GNU GPL by including images they downloaded from Unsplash, Pixabay, or Pexels as all of those and some more image resources have licenses that are NOT GNU GPL compliant! Many ignore that fact!

Read more about GNU GPL compliant image resources here.
https://make.wordpress.org/themes/2014/06/05/gpl-compatible-images/

Concerning WordPress Envato Authors also have to take into account that even the CSS which has been placed inside the styles.css script or which relies on parts of the CSS included in the styles.css has to be GNU GPL v.2+ because if you try to run your plugin without this styles.css it simply won’t work anymore - such as easy! The GNU GPL and LGPLv2.1 are very clear about the fact which parts have to be (as a must have) GNU GPL licenses or a 100% GNU GPL compliant license - like the Envato Split license is actually always a 100% GNU GPL compliant license.

Envato gets even more clearly when you scroll further down to the section about including “Third Party” scripts.

If your item contains third-party plugins or other assets, you must ensure that you are following the licensing terms of these components.

This means if your PHP WordPress Plugin OR Theme even includes GNU GPL or GNU LGPLv.2.1 or AGPL licensed code it has to follow entirely for the work as its whole this license and the GPL requirements!

To make the confusion of Authors just perfect they give an example which is actually a very rare one while just the opposite would be a pretty often case. They describe that authors include a NON GNU GPL compliant licensed code to their WordPress Plugin or Php-Script which would make the WordPress Plugin more or less unusable to be integrated into a WordPress site itself and would cause probably also conflicts with people who actually would rely on a Envato GPL compliant Split license as also that one could be no more be used as it would no more be 100% GNU GPL compliant. They write in their example:

This means that you cannot license your item as being 100% GPL unless either (a) the item is entirely your own original work, or (b) the components themselves are also licensed under the GPL or another open source license compatible with the GPL.

A much better example would have been just the opposite case: i.e.

This means that you have to license all PHP, HTML, JS Code which relies on the PHP, HTML Code to function, and in the case of WordPress even the styles.css your item as always to be 100% GPL for all those Code Parts as the work in its whole (a) even parts of the item are your own original work, but (b) the components themselves you include into the distribution or the application you write the plugin for i.e. WordPress, Drupal, are also licensed under the GPL.

This being said - just as an example because it is just recently available on Github DMCA - the DMCA of the Author of the Ultimate Membership Plugin would not be OK at all as the one who published his Code followed the requirements of the GNU GPL v.2 which allows him to distribute and even to resell the code BUT, and that is the important point and that might have been the case with the DMCA - we can’t inspect the DMCA’d repository of the one who published this plugin on GitHub anymore, unfortunately. If he published the complete download of Envato and NOT only the script folder he clearly violates the Envato Split license as all parts which are not inside the plugins, or script folder which includes parts of a GNU GPL licensed Script (Library) - i.e. Documentation of the plugin or additional files available for this plugin, often i.e. also a folder with other plugins is included which can be installed i.e. wp-bakery but those again would be GNU GPL licensed as a must-have as they again would rely on WordPress to function. But i.e. additional images or text segments that the author delivers in a clearly separated folder which is not part of the script/plugin folder itself.

The DMCA mentioned above would also be advised to file by authors if the one who uploaded their code modified their code in any way and have NOT renamed their plugin to something else as in that case they would clearly violate the trademark of the plugin owner. In case they rename the plugin to something else which makes clear that it is a different plugin than the original one and it includes also clearly specified and most of all also clearly documented changes of the original code, i.e. by removing all API requests because of GDPR concerns to the server of the plugin owner or one of Envato and all mail backlinks, etc. to make it 100% GDPR compliant. and/or by adding additional or different functionailty, or i.e. a change of the permalinks which are hardcoded probably in the plugin itself instead of making them available to be changed by the buyer, in all those cases the plugin woudl need to get renamed to something else and it ios advised that it does NOT contain the original name in any way.

This also means when you publish ONLY the scripts code (not the documentation or any additional folder coming along with the distribution of an Envato download) your work might be able to be published legally and even distributed legally according to all requirements of GNU GPL licensed Code.

The same any code you include could be published in the same way legally of course i.e. code licensed under MIT, LGPL, i.e. tiny-mce, smart, Apache2, and if it is LGPL v.2 also all other parts have to follow the LGPLv.2 requirements, i.e. if you remove tiny-mce- the application would still need to be able to do all as if tiny-mce is installed from the functionality side (which is usually no more the case when you remove it), or you need to include a documentation on how to replace it with another app/script so that the functionality gets preserved. Is that part missing in your documentation you are violating the GNU LGPLv.2!

In any case I would recommend to ask the original author in advance if you intent to publish unmodified code not just only for the purpose to help others to solve bugs because the support might not be so responsive or because you need to collaborate on additional features you like to develop for a plugin or a php-script.

Authors on the other hand must be much clearer when they write their DMCA Claims on Github or Facebook. They can’t simply answer the question:

Is the work licensed under an open source license? If so, which open source license? Are the allegedly infringing files being used under the open source license, or are they in violation of the license?

like

The work is NOT licensed under open source license.

It is simply NOT TRUE

Even the Envato Split License would be GNU GPL compatible and to be compatible it has to respect the 4 Freedoms of GNU GPL, AGPL, LGPL licensed software and their specific requirements

A program is “free software” if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    https://openedreader.org/chapter/stallmans-four-freedom/

You can read more about it here to avoid complications with your WordPress Plugins or WordPress Themes (same for Drupal/Joomla,… which is licensed GNU GPL) or any script which includes parts or the whole of a GNU GPL licensed script/library or one of its derivates, here:
https://wpandlegalstuff.com/how-to-apply-the-gpl-to-your-themes-and-plugins-and-avoid-getting-in-the-shi/

The stuff written above should not be seen as copyright infringement and also not as legal advice. Please consult a lawyer who is specialized in Open Source Software for more accurate information and keep in mind that copyright laws and trademark laws also differ from country to country and that registered trademarks and copyrights might not be applied worldwide or only for a certain category of products, better check on that too when you try to DMCA one of your customers who have bought your script or vice versa if you are the customer and got just DMCA’d and are in process in writing the Counter Complaint - what I would recommend doing! (personal opinion if you love GNU GPL!) and want to help that all authors respect the four freedoms of GNU GPL.

You will get qualified answers from the Free Software Foundation fsf.org, the Electronic Frontier eff.org Foundation, and GNU.org. They will reply to you if you write to them the case and deliver to them the clear and if possible with screenshots (Mail size max. 10MB!) etc. proven view of yours in that specific case. You can ask them also for legal assistance and lawyers they might recommend or even help you pro bono perhaps!

P.s. Check the meaning of the word COMPLIANT!!! as the Envato Split License is GNU GPL Compliant! and that means it is 100% following and ensuring that the GNU GPL gets fully respected in all of its parts, including the 4 Freedoms mentioned already!

As Envato offers only the Split License which is 100% GNU GPL COMPLIANT or the 100% GNU GPL License for the whole work of your Envato zip download package, authors might need to check for other platforms to sell their products if they don’t agree with the fact that the Envato Split License is actually 100% GNU GPL compliant!

So the last questions here to ENVATO is what do you really check???

Are you actually getting in touch with Github to let them know that your Split License is actually 100% GNU GPL compliant and authors can’t say or state that their script is NOT Open Source?

If I had integrated GNU GPL code like Sngine until March, 2021 into their first two 3.0 releases - (they did not change the release numbers and did not even mention those changes in the changelog and the third release included that an MIT licensed php-gettext replacement) - can our customers than later still claim that the correct licenses - in the Sngine case GNU GPL v2+ of php-gettext get applied to the whole script including our own code and that of course than could be legally be published also on Github?

As we develop mostly for the German and European and US market we are pretty interested in the answers by Envato and their team! Especially because customers purchase the code actually not from us - the Envato authors - but instead from Envato which cuts off their part of income too, which is OK. Are we really required as authors to follow all the GNU GPL requirements when we sell our code via Envato or is that only written on paper and nobody at Envato actually would enforce or check that anyway?