Different types of WordPress theme licensing explained

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In Articles Dec 5, 2017
WordPress theme licensing

Licensing terms are always confusing for general people. Without the proper knowledge of how these licenses work, we fall into the trap of paying more or even worse we can end up creating copyright and ownership disputes. In this article, we will try to explain different types of WordPress theme licensing.

Free WordPress Themes

The term ‘free’ in free software, refers to freedom of use and not price. Free software can have a price tag. Even if you create a GPL theme, you can still sell it. The user who buys your free theme will be free to run, modify, and distribute the theme or any modifications of that theme.The price people pay for free software is actually for the supports and upgrades.

There are lots of Free Software licenses in common use, including:

• Apache Software License
• MIT License
• The GNU General Public License (GPL)

The GPL gives you the freedoms to use the program for any purpose. You can study how the program works and to modify it. You can also redistribute original copies and your modified versions of the copy. Even WordPress uses GNU General Public License (GPL).

Free Software licenses

Most free WordPress themes you find by searching for themes inside the WordPress Dashboard fall under the GNU licensing.

Commercial WordPress License

The best things in life aren’t always free. When it comes to WordPress themes, a lot of the best ones are commercial, and rightfully so. Below we explain the different types of commercial licenses you’ll encounter when it comes time to purchase a WordPress theme.

Regular license

The Regular License gives you a non-exclusive, worldwide license to make use of a WordPress theme on a single domain. The Regular License is a single application license which means you can install it on only one domain at any given time.

Regular license

Most themes found in the popular themes marketplace Theme Forest for example fall under this license, where a one time fee grants you indefinite use of the theme on a single domain, plus updates. Support however is usually limited to 6 to 12 months, in which a renewal fee is required afterwards for continued access to help.

Regular license with annual renewal fee

A variation of the regular license still lets you use the purchased theme on a single domain indefinitely, though requires an annual renewal fee to access any theme updates and bug fixes once the original period has expired. The renewal fee is usually lower than the original cost of the theme, though this can still add up over time.

An example of this type of licensing are themes from MyThemeShop

The Lifetime License (one-time payment)

With the lifetime licensing option, you pay a higher fee upfront for a theme, though the theme can then be used on an unlimited number of sites. Furthermore, updates are free for the lifetime as well. A great example of this are themes from StudioPress.

The Lifetime License with annual renewal fee

A twist on the lifetime license is one that comes with an annual renewal fee to gain access to the latest theme update. At first glance this may seem like an unattractive proposition, though with this model developers have more incentive to keep their themes up to date and on the cutting edge.

WordPress Theme Clubs

Wordpress Theme Clubs

And last but not least, there are WordPress theme clubs. They are similar to lifetime licenses with an annual renewal fee, though instead of just getting one theme, you’re granted access to the vendor’s entire bundle of premium themes for you to use on unlimited sites.

WordPress theme clubs provide one of the best value propositions for developers, or web site owners that run multiple WordPress sites. For a great comparison of the top WordPress theme clubs and bundles, check out this blog post.

The Wrap

Of course, not all WordPress themes licensing falls neatly into one of the above types, so please do read the licenses details before you purchase any WordPress theme online. Knowing what you can and cannot do with a theme not only helps you avoid any legal issues down the road, but can potentially save you a lot of money in licensing cost based on your needs.

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