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[BLOG] What is GPL?

The GPL is the Free Software Foundation’s General Public License. The GPL is considered the standard open source software license, and many non-software works are published under the GPL as well. The purpose of this license is to ensure that a work can be freely distributed and modified by anybody, and that no proprietary works can be derived from the original work. Past versions of the GPL have been quite liberal in what they allow an end user or developer to do with software, but have been vague in some definitions. The third version of the license, currently under development, aims to more clearly define and restrict developments such as DRM. This has led to much controversy, and traditional supporters and advocates of the GPL are currently split as to its continued value.

The original GPL was a combination of licenses written by Richard Stallman for software he wrote himself. Finding contradictions in some of his licences that made them mutually exclusive, Richard developed a license that satisfied his very strict desire to see software code made publicly available, yet was abstract enough to apply to all the different titles that he sought to protect with it. This had the compound effect of allowing different software titles released under the common licence to share a code base, thus saving valuable programming time and disk space. The first official version of the GPL was released in early 1989. The main innovation of this licence was the requirement that the source code of all GPL’ed software be made freely available. No other licence had addressed this concern at the time, in fact most software then in use went to great lengths to protect and hide its source code. Within two years Stallman realized that his licence could be easily circumvented by those who would slightly change programs released under the GPL. These variants were being released under different licences that neither required the availability of the source nor credited the original author. So version 2 of the GPL included a new clause: any work derived from GPL’ed software must in turn be released under the GPL as well. At the same time as GPL v2 was released, the less restrictive LGPL was introduced for software libraries that would allow for the sharing of code across applications.

While most software titles distributed today are released under proprietary licenses, quite a few GPL programs have gained in popularity in the time since the second version of the GPL was released. Foremost among these is the Linux operating system kernel, and most software distributed with it. Probably the most familiar GPL licenced program is the Firefox Internet web browser, which is replacing the proprietary Internet Explorer on most desktop computer systems. While not as popular as Firefox, Open Office is another GPL program that is seeing fast adaptation on home and office desktop PC’s. Other common applications of the GPL include the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, and Sun’s Java programming language.

Courtesy of What is What
Or to put it a second way…

What is GNU GPL? – Definition

The GNU General Public License was first published in 1989 by Richard Stallmann, co founder of the GNU Project. In 1991, the second version GNU GPLv2 and in 2007 the last current version GNU GPLv3 were published. The license ensures the right to for free use and modification without the developers being denied the authorship. This is usually done by placing a copy of the official GNU license text attached to the software. So every GPL license gives a lot of rights like to reproduce, distribute, modify and make the software publicly available. Therefore the publisher must also make the source code publicly available. The most well-known software, which were under this license, are Linux and WordPress.

For example you have the following rights by using WordPress :

Right 1: Everyone has the freedom to use WordPress for any purpose he or she likes.
Right 2: Everyone has the freedom to examine the WordPress source code and customize it to their own needs.
Right 3: Everyone has the freedom to copy and redistribute WordPress at will.
Right 4: Everyone has the freedom to improve WordPress and share these community improvements so everyone benefits.
If WordPress were a country, our Bill of Rights would be the GPL because it protects our core freedoms. Matt Mullenweg, Co-Founder of WordPress

In addition to rights created by GNU GPL, the GPL also sets obligations that licensees must consider if they wish to use their rights. One of the most important is known under the name Copyleft.


Copyleft is a clause contained in GPL that ensures that any software derived from the original must carry the same license as the original version. This means that any derived or modified version of GPL software if it´s accessible for the public, must also have the same GPL license. Based on copyright, the Copyleft symbol looks exactly the same, just upside down.

This makes it possible for “” to distribute overpriced plugins and themes for a small fee and make them available to people on a low budget. Fees we receive are spent on acquiring new plugins and themes, thereby expanding our offerings. Our philosophy is to help WordPress developers, who run on a low budget or don´t need professional support, remove all obstacles to developing professional websites. A WooCommerce online shop can costs with all themes, plugins, and extensions sometimes up to $10,000 per year.

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