Split Licensing and the GPL — what does it all mean?

On some of the Envato Marketplaces (particularly ThemeForest and CodeCanyon) authors sell a range of items including themes and plugins for open source platforms. These platforms include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and a number of others, most of which are licensed under the General Public License (GPL).

Themes and plugins sold on the Envato marketplaces are sold under a default split license. This means authors can protect their rights and freedoms to respect (and comply with) the GPL as well as to control their own work.

What does using the GPL mean?

If you want to use something that is licensed under the GPL (whether as a buyer or an author) then, to meet the terms of the GPL, the GPL license must also be included with the item when it’s distributed because those terms also govern any further use of the part of that item that's distributed under the GPL. For an author, this means that when they upload their item, it should include a text file containing the GPL.

To make this process easy for authors we have made the license text files available, as well as a useful Read-Me to include with the license. When an author selects the item’s category during the upload process they can simply include these text files. You can read more on the upload process in our "General File Preparation Guidelines" for ThemeForest and CodeCanyon.

If an author is releasing a theme or plugin for a platform that is licensed under the GPL, the PHP code and integrated HTML of the theme or plugin must be distributed under the GPL.

So, when a buyer purchases an item from ThemeForest or CodeCanyon, and finds the GPL license text enclosed, this license applies to the item’s PHP code and integrated HTML. Other assets that are a part of the item may not be covered by the GPL - the Read-Me file will explain the separation. You can read more here.

What about Envato’s license?

Envato’s marketplace license for themes or plugins sold on the marketplaces covers all the components of these items, except for the specific components covered by the GPL. This is why it’s called a split license: because different license terms can cover individual components that make up a single item.

The PHP component and integrated HTML are covered by the GPL. The rest of the components created by the author (such as the CSS, images, graphics, design, photos, etc) are covered by the marketplace license.

How does Envato’s license protect authors?

Owning copyright in an original work gives you the right to decide how that work is used. When an author sells an item on the Envato Marketplaces, they use that right to agree to use our licenses when they sell items to buyers. The licenses set out how a buyer can use the item and the restrictions on that use. 

Our licenses also allow for specific components of an item, which inherit the GPL from the platform they’re built for, to be licensed under the GPL. Using this split license complies with the GPL’s requirements, while still providing protection of the author’s copyright on assets they’ve created.

Authors of items made for GPL-based platforms can also choose to offer some individual items as 100% GPL. This applies only to WordPress themes and plugins currently. 

What about other assets and other open source licenses?

Often an author will use other assets in their items that are created by a third-party, such as certain JavaScript libraries. These third-party assets most often come with their own licenses, and authors must make sure they have appropriate rights and permissions to include them with their item. Further reading on this is available in our article "What Images, Videos, Code or Music Can I Use in my Items?".

We’ve also prepared the license text files and a Read-Me to include with platforms like Magento and PrestaShop which are licensed under the Open Software License (OSL). When an author selects the item’s category during the upload process (guidelines linked above) they can simply include these text files. The same 'split license' approach applies for items under OSL platforms as for GPL. 

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