Question about GPL and NON-PHP Themes

Aveu's picture

If I build a Theme that uses no PHP or GPL'd JavaScript but does incorporate PERL code in the template would that PERL code need to be GPL'd?

I realize of course this would mean that the hosting installation would have to have PERL enabled on their server (not a normal Drupal setup) but I don't think that is the same as "requiring a 3rd party proprietary program" since PERL is open source and quite common on many hosting services.


Give it a rest

no longer here 327072's picture

I have been lurking your threads. I'm sure you mean well. But your quest is getting a bit much.

Your question is easily answered by doing a google search:

Perl is GPL'd as ALL open source languages are.

SO... if your motivation is to create a theme for Drupal and hold an exclusive copyright to the code, good luck. We are at a historical point in time where that model won't work due largely to the nature of the Internet. Anything that is open source is going to be GPL'd. I guess you could write your template in machine language, then no one could copy it.

If you are searching for a way to hold an exclusive copyright on something to make money, and use the Internet, you are facing the same issues that software companies all over the planet have struggled with for years. It is something that photographers face as well, and writers, and many, many other people who create intellectual property.

Your point about Drupal having a steep learning curve for designers is well taken, but given the complexity of problems Drupal is attempting to solve, there isn't much to be done about it. I think people have tried to explain this in many different ways. A rose is a rose is a rose by any other name.

I would like to not have to unsubscribe from themes, seeing as I am always seeking to learn about them, but I'm not sure your missives are really helping me gain that understanding.

Why you would want to write anything in Perl when you could write it in PHP is beyond me. It's like reaching round your head to scratch your nose.

Give it a rest, OK? :)

madame philosophe
so many little time.

Perl is GPL'd as ALL open

tgeller's picture

Perl is GPL'd as ALL open source languages are.

I find this hard to believe, and think it begs re-opening wars over what "open-source" means. There are numerous software licenses that are commonly labeled as "open-source" and "free".

Also, you seem to have an idea that aveu's "quest" -- whatever it is -- is distasteful. Maybe that's something to either discuss privately, or raise in full publicly. Right now it just seems like dark insinuations.

Tom Geller * Oberlin * San Francisco *
Author/Presenter, Drupal video series at
Creator of materials for Drupal-focused companies

Dark insinuations?

no longer here 327072's picture

I'm just tired of this! It's that simple. It feels like spam.

That is about a dark as I can get, but perhaps you have something else in mind.

madame philosophe
so many little time.

PHP itself is not GPL'd, for

Garrett Albright's picture

PHP itself is not GPL'd, for example. I was also confused by:

Anything that is open source is going to be GPL'd.

So does madamep think other licenses are going to disappear? Maybe she doesn't quite understand what the GPL is…

Todd Nienkerk's picture

Keep in mind that the GPL doesn't require you make something free -- or even publicly available. The GPL simply requires that GPL'd works be self-perpetuating: Anything derived from GPL'd work must itself be licensed under the GPL. You are free to sell it, give it away for free, or not give it away at all.

Todd Ross Nienkerk
Digital Strategist and Partner
Four Kitchens: Big ideas for the web
IRC: toddross

Your questions are answered...

oadaeh's picture the available documentation:, particularly

It doesn't matter what the language of the code or the content of the file, if it's in Drupal's repository, it's GPL'd.

If you don't want your code or files to be GPL'd, don't put them in the Drupal repository, and then you can license them however you wish.

Not entirely accurate

Todd Nienkerk's picture

If you don't want your code or files to be GPL'd, don't put them in the Drupal repository, and then you can license them however you wish. [emphasis added]

This isn't accurate. The licensing FAQ you linked to clearly states that redistribution of any executable code requires it to be GPL'd. From question 7 of the FAQ:

7: If I write a module or theme, do I have to license it under the GPL?

Yes. Drupal modules and themes are a derivative work of Drupal. If you distribute them, you must do so under the terms of the GPL version 2 or later. You are not required to distribute them at all, however. (See question 8 below.) [...]

There are specific exemptions, like image assets and CSS, that are outlined in the FAQ.

As you say in your reply above, anything in the Drupal repository -- even images, CSS, etc -- is GPL'd. Period.

Todd Ross Nienkerk
Digital Strategist and Partner
Four Kitchens: Big ideas for the web
IRC: toddross

Re: Not entirely accurate

Acubed's picture

What the FAQ asserts is about as relevant as an act of Congress declaring that Earth is flat. It's informative, not authoritative, and in this case the information is plain wrong. A copyright license has no authority to dictate such terms, and the courts have upheld this fact of copyright law. There is no citation of the actual law or even court cases to back that claim up, as opposed to the number of cases that have declared that writing a software program from scratch, even if it copies an API, is not a derivative work (a so-called "clean-room" write or rewrite).

Consider the side-effects of this idea. There's no reason that all software programs wouldn't be derivative works of the operating system. It would follow that with a properly worded license, any program that runs on Windows could be subject to Microsoft's approval if the author wanted to distribute it (because after all, it's a derivative work of Windows). This is a massive departure from the intent and purpose of the GPL.

Is Drupal shooting itself in the foot?

Aveu's picture

My so called "quest" is to find a way to help designers to be more motivated to work in the Drupal world, period. I believe, as many do, that we need to do this to grow Drupal. It is my opinion that improving the economic incentive is a keystone to attracting the best & brightest to our community. Is that a bad quest ?

The problem is that Drupal intentionally removes a major avenue of economic incentive.

This is not my opinion, it is the explicitly declared policy of the Drupal Association as you will see if you continue reading ...

I am a coder who cannot draw a straight line without a ruler but I am a writer & poet and I do understand the artistic mentality. The best designers are able to be the best because they have a passion for what they do, much the same as the best coders have a similar passion. We are not so dissimilar, we artists and coders. :)

Web & Theme designing is hard work requiring copious amounts of visual artistic talent, a variety of skills with advanced tools plus significant investments of production time and, like all artistic endeavors, invaluable investments of one's self to some degree.

Add in the web and the physical media artists must adapt to become "Web Designers". To make this transition the artists must buy new tools (a fast computer with a high quality monitor at least) and invest a lot of personal time learning & practicing new skills. Such an investment may also require buying certain softwares, books, classes, peripheral devices, etc.

Now along comes Drupal and to become a "Drupal Theme Designer" we add more requirements of investments similar to those required to be a web designer. In the Drupal world you must learn a respectable amount of PHP and study the way our theming system works. For this investment you get to sell your art to a whole new market, but there is a problem ... the Drupal / GPL system intentionally removes a major avenue of economic incentive.

Visual artists by any name earn their living either:

(A) by selling one creation to one person/company for a (relatively) large price (hundred$ to thousand$),
(B) by selling one creation to many people for the same price shared around in smaller amounts.

Model A ("commercialization") is more stable (profit is negotiated for each work) but the market is narrow with fewer buyers that are both able and willing to pay the larger fees for art.

Model B ("commoditization") is less stable (profits may be positive or negative depending on unpredictable volumes) but the potential market is vastly larger and more varied.

Unless someone can show me otherwise, there are NO other business models for artists (except perhaps teaching which is economically "futile" - see below).

The principal is simple: The more buyers you have the less you need to charge each buyer to cover costs.

GPL proponents and some Drupalistas are quick to talk about how coders can make money providing customized services and support but that business model simply cannot be applied to art. (It also cannot be applied to some kinds of code but that is not a discussion for this forum).

If what madame philosophe says above is true then that raises serious concerns, because it means that artists will be forced to return to the pre-industrial era where the only ones who can afford great art will be the wealthy elite who are willing and able to pay for their creations (model A). Art requires tools, materials and time .. artists require food and shelter. In today's world the only way to obtain these consumable items is money. So artists will either be forced to either make art their secondary occupation or else to work for the elite. Art will suffer because the elite will determine what is acceptable art (voting with their purses). DaVinci would have created so much more if he were not restricted to focusing what his patrons approved of.

Drupal is a rising star, but I have been told point blank by the Director of Legal Affairs for the Drupal Association that the GPL and Drupal will support "commercialization" (model "A") but they will not support "commoditization" (model "B" above):

It is, however, directly contrary to the spirit and intent of Free Software because of the "redistribution prohibited" part. The GPL was written specifically with the intent of removing that clause when applied to software, on the argument that it was unethical. That the removal of that restriction makes that business model more difficult and frequently untennable is not a bug but a feature of the GPL and of Free Software.

As a supporter of Free Software principles, you are correct that I am not "suspending my doubts" to try and find ways around that policy. I am trying to explain why it is impractical and/or impossible to do so. As Director of Legal Affairs for the Drupal Association, I am representing the official position of the Association in this matter as documented in the Legal FAQ, which is quite clear on these matters.

Yes, the GPL supports making money as long as the 4 Freedoms are kept intact. Commoditization does not keep those 4 Freedoms intact. Therefore the GPL does not support Commodization. QED.

All of that investment just to become a Drupal Theme Designer and then the artist is blocked by policy and license from the more viable of the two business models available to them. Is Drupal shooting itself in the foot?

Drupal is the #3 (#4 in Germany) CMS and the two largest complaints we keep hearing are that the learning curve is too big and the available themes are too poor compared to our competition. We need to solve those issues if we want to improve Drupal's future.

I love Drupal, I promote Drupal and, yes, I make money with Drupal as a Web Developer. All I ask is that we recognize that some of the business models available to coders are NOT available to artists and we need to find a way to balance that out and give them more economic freedoms to justify the investment they will have to make.

Look, I'm with you. The GPL

Garrett Albright's picture

Look, I'm with you. The GPL is BS. Having someone else's starry-eyed idealism forced upon the code you write is offensive. (Though I generally wish my code could be more free, along the lines of BSD/MIT-type licenses, not less.)

But it's the way things are with Drupal. Sorry, but you can't change it; the toothpaste can't be put back into the tube. You can either deal with it and use Drupal within the restrictions of the GPL, or you can leave Drupal behind and use something else. Changing the way Drupal licenses itself at this point just isn't on the table.

Blame Stallman, the hippie.

Re: Look, I'm with you. The GPL

lukus's picture

Look, I'm with you. The GPL is BS. Having someone else's starry-eyed idealism forced upon the code you write is offensive.

The GPL is not BS; if you're making use of (and building upon) the effort of a large group of people, I think it's only fair to ensure that subsequent groups are able to benefit in the same way that you have.

re: GPL forced upon you

cpelham's picture

Who exactly is forcing you to use Drupal or to contribute code to the Drupal repository? You can always choose a different system, or write your own from scratch and assign it whatever license you wish. I do agree with you though that while everyone has the right to discuss the relative merits of different licenses, you are not going to actually change the Drupal license by complaining about it here.

Christopher Pelham
CRS (Center for Remembering & Sharing)

CRS (Center for Remembering & Sharing) is an arts & healing center located just south of Union Square in Manhattan.

I completely agree .. I have

lukus's picture

I completely agree .. I have no problem with the GPL license.

GPL has delivered for Drupal

cleaver's picture

Far from being starry-eyed idealism, I'd say the GPL has been a benefit for Drupal and other software that uses that license. Off the top of my head, there's Linux, Wordpress, Joomla and countless other successful open-source projects. At one time I would have favoured the BSD license, but mainly through exposure to the Drupal community, I'm strongly in favour of GPL.

In a healthy open-source community like Drupal, you see that those who contribute the most seem to benefit. Think Lullabot, Development Seed, Acquia, et al.

Garrett, I've seen your contributions in g.d.o and other places. You have offered insight and assistance and probably a lot more that I'm not even aware of. If I was in a position of deciding to do business with you vs. someone with fewer contributions, I'd obviously lean toward you. I'm sure the same would be for others.

Intellectual property laws initially were designed to promote innovation. Over time, they've evolved to do the opposite. I think the GPL goes a long way toward fixing that. I'd say that almost all of the true innovation on the Internet in the past 10 years has been GPL (or other open license) related.

Thank Stallman, the hippie.

twisting words

greggles's picture

"Commoditization" of GPL code is not possible. But Commoditization of Drupal themes (including their css and images which have a different license) is entirely possible.

See, for example Fusion Drupal Themes which has a pretty solid business selling commodity themes and consulting/design services to back that up.

Exactly. Just to add more: in

betarobot's picture

Exactly. Just to add more: in terms of selling themes you can also license graphic design of the theme in general.

I'm in both models of Commercialization and Commoditization for somewhat 6 years and happy (yes with Drupal themes). So I do not understand the point of all this discussions at all. It's been discussed so many times already.

Re: My so called "quest" is to

lukus's picture

My so called "quest" is to find a way to help designers to be more motivated to work in the Drupal world, period. I believe, as many do, that we need to do this to grow Drupal. It is my opinion that improving the economic incentive is a keystone to attracting the best & brightest to our community. Is that a bad quest ?

I believe your quest would actually create an economic landscape which could disadvantage the smaller independent designer; and I don't totally understand your motives.

If your quest is successful, big-business would stand to benefit more than the majority of designers. The commoditisation of any product leads to situations where 'price' becomes the major competing factor. Larger players are usually in a better position to absorb costs and operate smaller profit margins, to the detriment of independents and smaller companies.

In any-case, as others have mentioned, there are examples of people already operating successful businesses selling Drupal themes. If this is the case, why would a person continue to pursue the conversation?

I can see one major benefit to ratifying the legal aspect of Drupal theming;

As you have indicated, the market for Drupal themes stands to grow a great deal in the coming years. Larger entrants to the market would be very concerned about how they could protect their IP, because they'd need to be able to ensure that their 'creative capital' isn't able to be exploited by other competing companies.

I'm sure such companies would be very interested in this conversation.

In the real world...

dreamleaf's picture

You have a noble quest, I agree 100% in principle - Drupal needs more designers and great quality designers. I think you are not really understanding why designers aren't flocking to Drupal though.

I've delved into a few of these similar types of conversation previously and they all end up circular arguments, picking on random interjected points rather than the issue of why designers don't integrate.

I would say it's not an issue of licences or business models. I am one such designer who approached Drupal to see if it would be a good platform to work with and also (equally important) could it provide a regular source of decent income. Hands down Drupal won the good platform argument and after a few years of learning the ecosphere yes it is possible to make a decent income from working within.

So why aren't designers lined up? My belief (from my own experiences) would be:

1) Developer-centric - this is not a bad thing, just a thing. It's the devs that have/do create such a fantastic system, so of course they deserve an environment they can quickly and easily work with. The down side to this is that designers aren't moving within the same workflows/patterns and therefore cannot find a way to integrate.

2) Contribution black hole - I can probably count on one hand the number of professional designers I know that would understand what CVS (or git) is. Beginner programmers are fearful of the command line.. designers believe the command line is something in Iraq (generalisation). For me, I have several really nice D6 themes I have wanted to contribute on D.O. but haven't for one reason... it's too bloody hard. Yes, designers could learn CVS (and git), designers could team up with an existing theme maintainer and do it that way - but they won't... because it's too much work. The other notable issue is that designers would generally want "create control", which is not really in-keeping with the "community plumbing" ethos. Imagine a great designer spending countless hours to release something for free, 'for the community' to be suddenly faced with an issue queue full of well meaning users requesting changes to the design.

3) Do they know? - The majority of calls for designers to participate take place in threads such as this. But guess what, the designers aren't reading this thread. In the latter part of 2010 I proposed and attempted to setup a new group on g.d.o specifically for designers which was rejected, with the suggestion of incorporating my ideas with the group. I think some fantastic things have come out of that group, and it's mission is indeed to get designers involved - but it's just not happening in reality. A scan through the member listings of DoD shows a plethora of good designers, are they active in discussions, posting mocks for themers to comment on?
Designers don't want to wade through content to see what's relevant - if there is a group for designers (as opposed to themer/designers) then it should be about design - not code.

There are more reasons, but then I'd be ranting.
The long and short of my reply is to say that designers ARE out there wanting to get involved - look at Woothemes... they are a company with a sound understanding that design sells - and are branching into Drupal themes. We need to realise that the leading sellers of themes for other systems are taking drupal seriously, and filling the gap while threads like this are being circular.

Model A vs. B

cleaver's picture

In a former life, I was a partner in a software consulting shop that was an IBM and Microsoft partner. The figure from IBM was that for ever $1 we sold in IBM licensing, we should expect about $6 in value-added services. The real figure we saw was more like $8 or $10 for ever $1 in licensing. (We worked hard to keep the license cost down.)

What I see is that in working with open source, we merely cut out the initial $1 and the whole budget becomes services. Essentially, this is model "A".

I personally haven't tried model "B", but I know some people are going in that direction. Lullabot with ; Top Notch Themes with Fusion;

Further, when it comes to the truly unique and beautiful designs for Drupal sites, they will be almost entirely coming under model "A".

I think you'll get your best results by working with the GPL.

Thank RMS :)

So ...

marketacumen's picture

IANAL, but perhaps we can wrap this thread up with some clarity. So I'm going to try:

  • A - Commercialization model is (obviously) possible with the thousands of Drupal consultants out there, creating one-time custom themes and modules for clients
  • B - Commoditization model is possible, except you have to give away your source code, allowing anyone you sell it to to also sell it, if they want.

I think perhaps the issue with Aveu's position is that it would allow a designer to produce a theme, sell it for $10 a crack, and because the source code is encrypted/obfuscated they don't have to support it or anything. It doesn't behoove the designer to support their work.

Hence the GPL makes sense, it encourages people to create awesome themes, and support them with consulting if needed. Any good code without a developer behind it (or designer, of course) is not worth as much as one with.

My question then, is, what prevents someone from buying a theme from a company for $269 and then re-selling it for $69 elsewhere?

(aside from having a sense of ethics, naturally)

Market Acumen, Inc.
We build lasting businesses.

you missed points :(

greggles's picture
  1. Drupal themes are: tpl files, info files, graphics, css.
  2. Anything checked into has to be GPL v2+
  3. But if you host it anywhere else then the graphics and css can be any license you want, including one that limits redistribution

It's point #3 that lets commoditization work at $250 per theme.

Perhaps ...

marketacumen's picture

Thanks, I caught #1 and #2, and the point that anything checked into CVS is GPL'ed. But I missed the essence that all one would have to do is host it elsewhere.

Still, the PHP content (tpl, php, info) has to be given away (and GPL'ed) and if someone "re-implemented" the graphics and CSS, anyone could then re-sell your theme, n'est-ce pas?

I'm not arguing either way, actually, just trying to understand what it means.

Market Acumen, Inc.
We build lasting businesses.

Other copyright

Crell's picture

The code would be subject to the GPL. Images and CSS would be under the terms of whatever other licensing the seller used. Whether or not one could "re-implement" such work legally I am not sure, but I doubt it; it would likely depend in some part on the license. Visual copyright, I think, tracks with the look-and-feel, not the lines of code to implement.

Put another way, I've never heard of someone "reimplmenting" a copyrighted visual near-verbatim and selling it... and then succeeding. (The closest would be the various Apple-Windows lawsuits over look-and-feel, but IIRC that is a different case as the Windows interface was not a clone of the Apple interface, just a similar design. You can't copyright "a GUI", just the artwork within it. All of the icons were different.)

Not generally possible

Alex UA's picture

AFAIK, design usually falls under the "useful" or "idea" exemptions for copyright. Thus, stores like forever 21 or Urban Outfitters can rip off designers/artists without much fear of a successful lawsuit...

Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg
ZivTech: Illuminating Technology

Right, but photos and illustrations can be copyrighted

mlangfeld's picture

Hi Alex,

Coming from the world of graphic design, I've always been told that graphic designs themselves cannot be copyrighted. Photos and illustrations do have copyright protection, however. In today's world, many/most folks don't realize that.

I just read an article on Drupal Planet from a theming company that offers the base theme without charge, but sells sub-themes. Which seems to be accepted practice in the Drupal community. So the base theme can be placed on dgo, and sales of sub-themes can happen off-site. This seems a good way to go, giving back your base theme and still being able to sell your customized sub-themes.

Best, Marilyn

betarobot's picture

Alex, sorry, but you are not right at all. Example: the general as you mentioned idea or useful article would be "3-column website with header and footer". And right, this can not be copyrighted. But exact graphic implementation is a subject of copyright at the moment it was created. Later you can give it some less restrictive license as GPL if you wish. Try to make a rip of ZZZ Hollywood movie and sell it as it is just a "moving picture" and therefore it's exempt to copyright.

Marilyn, what you mentioned really sounds just like your educator/employer wanted to abuse your rights as designer.

Romantic Sunday evening copyright madness: buildings built after 1990 are subject to copyright (not everywhere yet but in EU/UK/US at least). So if you have one in you photo/design for commercial use get a permission. On contrary: Eiffel Tower is not a copyright subject but night illumination is! (Try to photoshop it off from night pictures) etc etc etc.

But seriously, please live any law topics/comments to dedicated groups.

PS: designer with law background.

Thanks for your comment, though nastiness isn't helpful

mlangfeld's picture

Hi betarobot,

I decided to do a little research, which showed your point to be true. So thanks for pushing me to do my homework.

I can't re-find the first article I found, but here's one that describes the issue and how to solve it, which you didn't do.

Registering your copyright in graphic design: how to fight back if the Copyright Office says no.

From the article, by a former graphic designer who practices intellectual property law, arts law, arbitration and mediation as a member of Owen, Wickersham and Erickson in San Francisco.:

Q. I do graphic design work, for example, annual reports and web sites. I've heard that graphic design cannot be copyrighted. Is that true? How can I protect my work from being copied?

A. This is a difficult issue. What you've heard about is probably the Copyright Office policy of refusing to issue copyright registrations for “graphic design.” The stated reason given by the Office is “copyright may not be claimed in works consisting only of familiar symbols and designs, basic typographic ornamentation, lettering, layout, and color schemes, even if the elements are distinctively arranged or printed.” However, that statement is absolutely incorrect as a matter of law. Under the Copyright Act and court decisions, graphic design (that is, the creative authorship comprising the selection and arrangement of text, images, artwork, typographic ornamentation, lettering, layout and color schemes) clearly qualifies as a form of “graphic artwork” that is protected by copyright. For example, back in 1970 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California), unequivocally held that copyright protected the graphic design of a series of greeting cards. (Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card Co., 429 F.2d 1106 (9th Cir. 1970)).

I believe the Copyright Office policy reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of graphic design and a misinterpretation of law relating to blank forms. It is true that court opinions have established that blank business forms are not eligible for copyright protection. These decisions held that blank forms are essentially functional rather than creative works, because they are used to record information rather than to convey content. Copyright does not protect functional works, hence, such blank forms are not protected. The Copyright Office has inappropriately interpreted this “blank form” principle to mean that the format, arrangement, or typography of any work is not copyrightable. The Office seems to think that graphic design is simply a “layout” or “format,” and thus uncopyrightable under its expansive interpretation of the blank form principle. Accordingly, the Office refuses to process applications for “graphic design” or “layout” as two-dimensional artwork. Copyright Office decisions can be overturned only through the Office's internal administrative appeals process or in litigation in federal court. Both options are expensive, and to date I am not aware that this policy has been challenged.

Having learned about this policy the hard way, I avoid triggering the Copyright Office reaction to applications for “graphic design” by treating applications for graphic design differently than other forms of two-dimensional artwork. Depending upon the specific works involved, it is sometimes feasible to apply for copyright registration of graphic design as a “compilation work.” As noted above, in copyright parlance graphic design is a compilation work in that it comprises the selection, arrangement and appearance of discreet elements such as text and images. Thus, instead of using the words “graphic design” or “layout,” I identify the nature of the work as a “compilation.” And I use the statutory language for compilation authorship, i.e., “selection, coordination and arrangement of text and images.”

Finally, remember that copyright registration is different than copyright protection. As more thoroughly discussed in the January Legalities column, copyright protection applies as soon as you create the work. Registration is merely a formality that brings with it important advantages. Generally, registration is a pre-requisite to bringing a lawsuit for infringement. However, the Copyright statute ensures that courts have the authority to overturn Copyright Office decisions regarding registration. Thus, if you applied for copyright registration but your application was rejected, you are still entitled to your day in court. As part of the lawsuit, you can ask the court to review and reverse the Copyright Office's inappropriate refusal to grant your registration. So if the Copyright Office rejects your application to register your graphic design, it does not mean your work is not copyrighted. Should you need to challenge the registration refusal, you would likely win. Meanwhile, make sure you include your copyright notice on your work.

So, my understanding is not the exactly the result of ignorance, sir. It's the result of the US Copyright Office's own confusion re graphic design vs graphics. Graphic designs, I have now learned (thank you) are protected, yet hard to register unless registered as compilations rather than graphic design.

Best, Marilyn