Thesis And WordPress Clash Over GPL

I am not a Thesis user. I have designed for Thesis, but I have no love of it. Frankly, it bites. I wrote about Thesis before, and even though I offer a free and simple skin, I still have no love for it.

Thesis does not enhance SEO in any way. In fact, here is what Matt Mullenweg retweeted from @studionashvegas on Twitter.

The whole shebang started before the above Twitter re-tweet between Matt Mullenweg and Chris Pearson, and it spurred on a lot of conversation.

WordPress allows people to alter its code, fork off the code, develop plugins, develop themes, redistribute it, and more. That is how open source is so great. WordPress allows for people who are web designers and developers to take something and improve upon it. However, they (WordPress / Automattic) have been steadfast in not supporting WordPress related software that does not also allow much in the favor of open source and GPL.

Thesis allows people to download the product for an enormous fee. In fact it is nearly $30 more for a single licensing fee than some of the top premium and more pleasing themes out there in the WordPress theme market. The majority of people that use Thesis really are not that different from each other aesthetically in design. This is not some megalomaniac type statement. Look around, it is so obvious. It really is a shame when the product needs more flexibility rather than revamping tidbits of code and offering developers an expensive price that offers VERY little other than multiple installs.

Why bother when the WordPress default TwentyTen theme has so much more potential to be customized and even looks better than Thesis.

For designers and developers who have been in the field of freelancing or offering free themes, Thesis is not something to embrace as a nice product. It is like the annoying premium plugins that end up being a pain to customize. You have to learn their product because they decided to not go with WordPress and tinker with making a ridiculous amount of coding to make hooks that really are not even necessary. They still end up doing the same thing as putting functions and filters in your theme and your theme’s functions.php file.

There are people using Thesis that still have to use gobs of plugins. Do yourself a favor and shop wisely for a WordPress theme if you are going to buy premium themes. Many of them not only offer as many options as Thesis, but go above and beyond in design.

It is a product that works and a lot of people have embraced it, but really, how many hard core WordPress designer and developers would loyally use it, let alone recommend it? Not many that I have seen, especially with the amount of freelance work I get just fixing code on work by other web designers, including a few Thesis related projects. And by the way, I do not see many of those type of projects listed on the freelance boards.


I go back to my point I said earlier about Thesis still using WordPress to execute its functions and even though there is a huge argument over GPL, I am not in total agreeance with Why the GPL does not apply to premium WordPress themes. The Thesis product is a derivative much like most WordPress themes, according to Mark Jaquith. It is like if I make my own theme, write a bunch of unique hooks, but those hooks actually operate off of the WordPress core. It is a roundabout way of operating a site. The core is not hacked or altered in any manner.

To learn more about GPL, here are a few resources:

What are your thoughts?


  1. James says

    It’s probably in the best interests of both parties to drop the bickering altogether. By not enforcing the issue WP/Automattic gets the best of both worlds in terms of commercial development that drives innovation and free source code for WP. If Pearson stops pushing the issue, he won’t incur the financial costs of a lawsuit and the business risks associated with it.

    • says

      It is a matter of not giving credit. From the Thesis end, they were allowing people to believe their product actually enhances WordPress when there is nothing but extra unnecessary code.

      There are people who try to list their premium plugins in the WordPress directory and they do it through sneaky tactics… like DirectoryPress. They offer the layout in the plugin directory… which is not even suppose to be there because it is a layout and not a plugin, but you have to buy the plugin to get it to work.

      It may or may not go to court, but the choice is really simple to put it down. This really is not a battle that should have been started, especially between two people who have said they were friends. I understand from a developer and business standpoint the issues. However, I am not on Thesis side. Mark Jaquith did a great job of going into detail about the issue and I stand by that.

  2. says

    Nile, thanks for the recap. I've been reading quite a bit on this topic and based on what I heard on the interview with Chris from Thesis and Matt, I would dump Thesis like a hot potato. I agree with you that they are some other much better themes out there. Chris is obviously using this just to bring attention to himself because when I heard him say the he was one of the 3 most important figures in WordPress, surely he can't really feel that way.

    • says

      Chris being one of the 3 most important… I do not think so and I have met quite a few in the WordPress community that have a higher reputation, not just within the WordPress community, but in other niches too. That is cocky for you and something I would never say unless it was the truth.

  3. says

    Nile, great article. I was brand new to self-hosted WordPress until March of this year. At the time, I noticed many of the high profile bloggers that I've read for years were hyping the Thesis theme. It didn't take long to realize that all of this "hype" was followed with affiliate links.

    I had used Press Row by Chris Pearson for my first blog theme on wordpress dot com blog. I looked into Thesis and noticed the same thing as you. Most of the Thesis blogs looked basically the same. Pretty much like Chris' Neo Classical WordPress Theme from years ago.

    Even some of the high profile sites using Thesis like Michael Graywolf's blog had padding issues all over the place and image thumbnails that didn't fit at the time. I think Michael's finally fixed those.

    I appreciate hearing your perspective as a graphic designer. I've played around with the Hybrid Theme Framework which has been gaining popularity possibly related to the #thesiswp backlash.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    My recent post Loud Mouth golf pants – what

    • says

      Putting affiliate links out there is fine for me… but putting them out there for a product that really is not that great. I would rather go and promote StudioPress anyday… and I really need to since I did sign up for an affiliate link…lol

      However, I code my own websites. When a client wants a certain theme from a known premium WP theme site, I will use it and alter it to the client's specifications. I know in doing so that the client is going to probably put their own alterations… and that is fine. That is how GPL works. You can do anything you want, but the original creators still are honored, rather than being bypassed and crappily "hidden"… when in reality, there was really no hiding done.

      Side Note:
      Graywolf, while he has traffic and nice rank, I do not agree at all with his reason for turning off comments. It was a real turn off especially when that defeats the purpose of gaining real feedback from visitors. You can benefit from comments. I wrote about it at

    • says

      I really recommend StudioPress. As a developer and designer I can easily go through and add or remove what I want. I have not been disappointed when using any of StudioPress when a client requests to have one as its framework.

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