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Last Friday in WP Chat I had the opportunity to chat with the owner of Premium Mod, a site which offers modified versions of commercial GPL themes for free. For more background information, be sure to check out this launch announcement post to get a better idea of what they offer.
We agreed to do an interview that was to be published here, which is below. In the interview we discuss the various feedback received as a result of launching the site, future plans for possible monetization and support, among other things.
Leland: How long have you been using WordPress, and what has been your involvement with the community thus far?
PM: I have been using since WordPress 1.5, which is a huge release at that time, and I stop keeping track how long ago was that. Before I started Premium Mod, I have released 2 free themes (still remained popular, with 10,000+ downloads) and started 3 WordPress-related websites with one of them selling Commercial GPL premium themes (two of these sites are sold).
Leland: Why did you launch Premium Mod? Was it to prove a point by “calling the GPL bluff” as some have called it? Are your intentions to provide value to the WP community? Explain more about this “movement” you’re trying to start.
PM: The reason I started Premium Mod is to start a movement – A movement for more people to produce high quality WordPress themes based on commercial GPL themes and make it available to public (in GPL license, of course) for free. I don’t want to prove anything and yes, it’s all about contributing to the community.
You see, a lot of people (web design newbies, freelancers, web design firms) are already actively modding commercial GPL themes, but they only kept it to themselves. The main reason they never release it to public is the fear of attack from the community. It does not take any extra effort to release it but only a little bit of courage. The ‘movement’ is about giving people the courage to do it. Because think about it, the community will only benefit from the release of modded commercial GPL themes. The one who will possibly ‘attack’ is the 1% of the community who are either premium theme authors or very good friend to the premium theme authors.
However, the sad thing is, these 1% are sitting on top of the WordPress community right now, and in a way ‘controlling’ the community. And after 3 days of launching Premium Mod, I proved myself right. These top 1% of WordPress community (with a few exceptions) almost never mention Premium Mod directly because they thought if they kept their mouth tight, the rest of 99% will never know.
Leland: How have you dealt with the negative feedback on Twitter, blog comments, and elsewhere? Some have suggested you’re “exploiting” businesses based on selling GPL themes. How do you respond to that?
PM: The negative feedback sure has been enormous. I have tried my best to respond to every single feedback on both Twitter and blog. And yes, ‘exploit’ is probably the harshest word I have received so far regarding Premium Mod and it is certainly not true. I can only tell them that the commercial GPL premium themes providers are aware of the GPL license and chose it without anyone forcing them. GPL is GPL, not PR/marketing stunt.
Leland: What kind of support and encouragement have you received as a result of launching Premium Mod and releasing modified commercial GPL themes?
PM: The only guy who supported us on the first day was Ian Stewart (@iandstewart). He tweeted our website directly and argued about GPL with Nathan Rice (for more than 10 tweets! which is cool). Then, Elpie (@elpie) also contacted us regarding keeping the original copyright notice intact in the source file to comply with GPL and helped us set it up correctly. Andrew Rickmann (@andrew_rickmann) proposed that we should include the footer credit to the original author (though not a requirement) and Jeffro (@wptavern) came up with a suggestion on the format. Then we implemented it, of course. Lastly, the moderator (Len from WPCanada.ca) of Weblog Tools Collection also permitted us to post our theme in their ‘New Themes Release’ forum because he is a ‘huge supporter of GPL’. All in all, the support and encouragement were great but sure far less than the critics and judgment (about the scale of 1:10).
PM: Yes, because we are huge fans of WooThemes. And we do plan to modify themes from other commercial GPL theme sites. More to come (we try to release 1 theme per week).
Leland: Speaking of WooThemes, have you had any sort of correspondence with Adii or other WooThemes employees about Premium Mod? Any correspondence with other commercial theme authors? How have they responded (if at all)?
PM: I have sent an email to WooThemes about asking for their permissions to support our users if they sign up as WooThemes customers. So far, no response from WooThemes yet. I have not contacted any other commercial theme authors but briefly chatted with Brian Gardner. He seemed to be fine with supporting our users (if they sign up support with StudioPress), and actually, Brian is the one who came up with the idea.
Leland: Do you have any plans to monetize Premium Mod? Have you considered selling commercial theme modifications? As of now all the themes are available for free download.
PM: Everything from Premium Mod is free and will be free. In future, I might include advertisements and affiliate links. But right now, the focus is on the ‘movement’.
Leland: What happens when people come to you asking for support? Do you have plans to offer a support forum on your site? Would you rather strike up some sort of affiliate deal with WooThemes to forward them support customers? Do you think they’d be willing to support your modified versions of their themes?
PM: For now, there’s no support request yet. Once there are, the best solution is to foward these request back to the original premium theme sites (with the requirement of these users signing up with them). This will be a win-win solution for either party and I don’t think there are any reasons they reject this. If not, I will just have to put up a support forum on my site and support it on my best-effort basis.
Update: A quick update. I’ve just received response from WooThemes. Directly quoted as below:
“Unfortunately we cannot support WooThemes that have been modified by Premium Mod. We can only support themes that we have 100% developed ourselves in-house. I’m sure you can understand.”
Leland: You have private Whois on your domain name, no about page on your site, no real clue as to who you are. Why the secrecy?
PM: My original intention to the anonymity is to avoid any risk of legal complications until things cleared up. I will be revealing myself soon.
This interview was unedited aside from a couple fixed spelling errors and the added links. This GPL topic seems to be pretty controversial in the WP community so I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments.
What do you think of what Premium Mod is doing? Although their have been sites which have released modified versions of GPL themes for free, such as this one, this is the first site I’ve seen that’s sole purpose is to release modified commercial themes for free.
What do you think of releasing modified versions of paid GPL themes for free? What about unmodified versions of paid GPL themes for free? Remember, you can redistribute GPL themes if you want to, just as long as it stays open source.