Open-Source, the GPL, and your Business

WordPress is free and open-source software: it costs nothing to use, and is built collaboratively by volunteers across the world. Whether you knew that or not, you might have some concerns about using free software to promote your business online, or for other commercial purposes.

Is free, open-source software suitable for your business?

In this post we will discuss the implications of using WordPress or any other free, open-source software package for your business, and under what conditions you can use this type of software. We will also take a look at as some of the associated costs of using WordPress.

Is WordPress Really Free?

The short answer is yes. WordPress software is free to download, install, and use to build and manage websites.

The WordPress software is free to download, install, and use.

With WordPress you are also free to modify the software itself in order for it to better meet your needs.

However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll never pay money whatsoever to get your site built or keep it running: there are also associated costs of using WordPress—or running any website. We’ll get to those in a minute.

What am I Allowed to Do with WordPress?

WordPress is free, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t protected by copyright—just that its copyright license allows the software to be used freely. WordPress is released under the GPL or GNU General Public License.

Thanks to the GPL, WordPress will always be free to use.

Essentially this license means that the software, and all modifications and derivatives of it, are not restricted by traditional copyright law. You can read in more detail about how the GPL applies to WordPress, but those are the main points.

If WordPress is Free, Do I Own My Website?

One concern business owners may have surrounding the issue of using free or open-source software is to do with ownership, and specifically the ownership of their website and the content they publish on it.

Any modifications you make to the WordPress code will also be covered under the GPL open source license.

As WordPress is licensed under the GPL, it is free to use and modify. However, as mentioned previously, this also means that any modifications you might make to the code of your WordPress site will also be covered under the GPL, and therefore free to use by others.

The content you publish on your WordPress site isn’t covered by this license and remains your property.

This inheritance of the GPL doesn’t apply to the content you publish online using WordPress. This means that any written articles, images, videos, or other documents that you publish online will remain your property—providing they are not the derivative work of WordPress or covered by copyright elsewhere.

This means you are free to publish your content online and build your website with WordPress, safe in the knowledge that you remain the owner of that content, and it cannot be used elsewhere without your express permission.

You do not need to register or copyright that content, and under the Copyright Act of 1976 from the moment you hit the publish button, your work is protected.

Will WordPress Stop Being Free?

Will I ever have to pay to use WordPress?

Another concern is related to whether the free or open source status of WordPress will ever change.

This is an understandable concern, since many commercial products use free trials to entice customers to sign up. When these promotional periods expire, they leave the user with the option of either stopping use, or paying to retain access.

However, this isn’t likely to happen with WordPress. WordPress has always been free both in terms of “without cost”, and in terms of how liberally you’re permitted and able to modify it. So even in the very unlikely event that the “no cost” aspect were abandoned by the current core of developers, you can be confident because of the size and scale of WordPress, coupled with its GPL license, you’re safe. Someone else will almost certainly always provide a liberally licensed, no-cost version.

Free to Use, But Not Free from Cost

While downloading and using the WordPress software is free, you should be aware that there will be some costs involved in setting up and managing a WordPress website.

To get your site online, you will need a domain name and web hosting.

The most obvious costs you will encounter in getting your WordPress website online are:

  1. Paying to register a domain name for your website, and
  2. Choosing a web host who can provide the web space to get your website online.

These payments are made to third parties, and not to the WordPress Foundation, which help steer the WordPress software itself.

How Much Will These Extra Costs Run Me?

Buying a domain name should be quite cheap, on the order of $10 per year. That’s unless you’re looking for one that’s already registered—say, cars.com. We’ve put together a guide to choosing a great domain name that can help you navigate this process.

Finding suitable web hosting is one cost that all WordPress websites will incur. These costs can vary depending on the eneds of your business; to help you better understand the options available, our recently published guide to the best WordPress hosting options will you get you up to speed and help you pick the right type of hosting for your website.

Using some WordPress plugins can also incur costs.

Your site may incur costs in a number of other ways. While the core WordPress software is free, and there are many free plugins available that will allow you to add more features to your website, there are also many premium (paid) plugins, each with their own fees and costs.

Choosing a premium WordPress theme is highly recommended, but will also add to the costs involved.

The elephant in the room is what you’ll pay a web developer to help with your site.

And the elephant in the room—likely to dwarf all the other costs combined—is what you’ll pay a web developer to help you put your site together and extend it with the custom functionality it needs. There’s plenty more to say on approaching finding a developer and the costs involved; here’s a start.

So while WordPress is free to download and begin using, if you want to get the most out of the software and tailor it to meet your needs, then you will more than likely incur some one-time or ongoing expenses.

Summary

The GPL means WordPress is free to use and modify.

So to conclude, WordPress is open-source software, which means it is free to use and modify thanks to the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Your content that is published on your WordPress site remains your property.

However, any content you create and publish on your website, is yours and does not come under the GPL license. This means you don’t have to worry about others being free to copy the original content on your WordPress site.

You should also remember that while the software is free to download and use, in order to create a website that is available online, you will need a domain name and web hosting. The WordPress software can also be enhanced by premium themes and plugins which you will need to budget for—as well as the most expensive piece, a developer to put the whole package together and customize in the necessary ways.

WordPress is ideal for commercial purposes.

Overall though, WordPress is free to use and is ideal for commercial purposes such as promoting a business, creating an e-commerce store, and almost any other type of website you can think of—not bad for free software!

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5 Responses to Open-Source, the GPL, and your Business

  1. Pingback: What Open-Source Means for Commercial WordPress Users

  2. Pingback: A Look at What the GPL and Open-Source Means for Business Users of WordPress - WordPress News

  3. JeffC says:

    Good article, but there is one thing I wanted to point out. Based on my knowledge of the license, a price tag could be slapped onto WordPress tomorrow and it wouldn’t violate the license. The license doesn’t insure that the WordPress project will be free as in price for eternity, only that it will always have the freedoms that the GPL allows and those freedoms are passed on to users.

    From the license text.

    When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for this service if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you know you can do these things.

    • Hi Jeff,

      That’s a good, interesting, and correct point. I’ve corrected the bit of the post that suggested otherwise. We appreciate the correction.

      In the case of something that’s truly been as free (as in beer) for so long, if the core team decided to band together and sell it it is likely that a free stream would exist forever. Maybe it would become a separate development process, maybe it would be a “pirate” stream, something. Thankfully, it seems pretty unlikely that that kind of change would ever happen on WordPress itself.

  4. John Melone says:

    Joe, thanks for this article that at least touches the GNU public license and its implication for WordPress. Still a lot of people are obviously confused when it gets to its legal implications. My understanding is that is largely the case because we all grew up in a Copyright-World which makes us believe that all code that was developed by one person only belongs to this person and taking all or parts of it to create something new is “theft” or “unethical”. That is very much short sighted from my point of view. There are so many great software projects (like most parts of Linux) that can just exist because people understand software as a common good that everyone can build upon without the requirement to ask for permission. I am therefore one of the few WordPress enthusiasts who supports websites like https://gpldl.com that offer Premium WordPress products for free. I do not consider this immoral or harming the WordPress Ecosystem in any way. What we as developers need to learn is that people who buy our products do not just buy code but they buy a “product experience” including support, help in customization etc. that actually creates value for the users. We need to get this right and always allow others to build upon our code, fork it or redistribute it to make it better. Thanks for your attention!

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