Licensing options for theme and plugin authors on ThemeForest and CodeCanyon

When you’re distributing items via the Envato Marketplaces, our licensing model ensures that your ThemeForest theme or CodeCanyon plugin is sold with a GPL compliant license. This applies for themes and plugins for platforms that are themselves licensed under GPL, such as WordPress and Drupal.

You can also offer themes or plugins for GPL-based platforms under a 100% GPL license. That is, our split license won’t apply and the item will be completely licensed under the GPL. You can decide this on an item by item basis once you have opted in from your author settings page. Once you opt an item into 100% GPL you cannot change the licensing on that item back to split license.

For both licensing options, we will include the licensing text and Read-Me text files automatically in your item.

What does split license or 100% GPL mean?

Our split license means that when you have multiple code types and assets within a composite item, some elements will be licensed for others to use on a ‘proprietary’ basis (that is, placing restrictions around the use of those assets) whereas anything that needs to be licensed as GPL will have the relevant GPL version apply.

Taking a theme as an example: parts like CSS, design, photos, graphics are usually subject to the restrictions of the ‘Envato part’ of the split license (for example, only one End Use is permitted) but the PHP and integrated HTML fall under the GPL, which means buyers are free to use and distribute the PHP and integrated HTML, as long as they do so under the GPL.

The 100% GPL option will apply the relevant GPL license version to your entire theme or plugin, which means others are free to deal with, sell or distribute the item (or its components), as long as they follow the requirements of the GPL. 

It’s your choice what to do with your original work. 

The split license is our default option when you sell on our Marketplaces. You can choose to offer specific items as 100% GPL. Your items will then be marked on the item page as a 100% GPL item, and buyers will be informed what this means in the licensing FAQs and in the download files.

What to take into account when I make my choice as an author?

Both the split license and 100% GPL options are fully compliant with the GPL license. For information on how this applies to WordPress themes, see here.

Different authors have different needs and views about the options. Here’s a couple of examples to illustrate using a pair of hypothetical web developers with differing philosophies.

Geoffrey enjoys being active in the open source community and is passionate about going to meet-ups to share what he learns. Geoffrey sells plugins on CodeCanyon and themes on ThemeForest and is keen to ensure that his items are released entirely under the GPL.

Geoffrey understands that once his items are released he has no further control over them and cannot enforce a proprietary license over them, or parts of them, even if others sell his themes or distribute his plugins. Geoffrey does not mind this because he expects that he can earn his living through sales, his personal brand, and because clients will come to him to provide support work for the items they buy from him.

Stefan really enjoys using platforms like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla in his web design. Stefan comes from a graphic design background and his CSS is to be marvelled at. 

While appreciating the simplicity of the open source platforms to allow him to create a structure for his themes without being an expert programmer, Stefan believes the intrinsic value in his work is in the design component – his use of colors, images, his own photography and the style sheets he creates. He feels that he is selling the design, not the structure.

Stefan wants to ensure that the parts that need to be released under the GPL are licensed under the GPL (and he is very appreciative of open source platforms) but he also wants to protect his ability to control how the elements he creates, particularly around design, are distributed. Stefan feels that he can do this by retaining legal rights to enforce his intellectual property if he chooses to. 

Stefan has enjoyed selling on ThemeForest because of the opportunities the split license gives him to earn a living from his themes while also complying with his legal and community obligations for open source licenses.

Is there anything else to think about?

Educate yourself on the 100% GPL and what it means for you.

Are you passionate about open source? You could take either option as both the split license and the 100% GPL licensing models comply with the requirements of the GPL. Some authors consider this a philosophical decision, others consider this a pragmatic decision connected to how they want to earn from their work.

Do you want to retain legal rights to stop people distributing what you have created without your permission, or taking assets out of your item to use in a different context or using your item on multiple occasions? Choosing the split license gives you this control (except over the PHP and integrated html).

Do you want to speak at or sponsor community events aimed at promoting the 100% GPL philosophy? Some open source communities or events will require you to select the 100% GPL option for your items, in order to participate in these ways .

Still not sure what to do? Read up more, or ask someone knowledgeable about the GPL. You can choose how to treat each item, so you don’t have to choose the same option for all your themes and plugins.

I’m an exclusive author. Can I choose the 100% GPL option?

Yes, the 100% GPL option is available to you if you’re an exclusive author. When you sign up as an exclusive author with the Envato Marketplaces, you're agreeing to not sell your items elsewhere, such as on your own site or on another marketplace. Exclusivity is an agreement about where you sell your items. It is not affected by the type of license you offer through Envato (regular, extended, or 100% GPL).

Licenses, including the GPL, give the buyer permission to use your items in certain ways. The 100% GPL option allows the buyer to sell your item elsewhere if they choose to (unless of course they have an exclusivity arrangement with Envato too!). 

Use of Third Party Plugins or Assets

If your item contains third party plugins or other assets, you must ensure that you are following the licensing terms of these components. 

This means that you cannot license your item as being 100% GPL unless either (a) the item is entirely your own original work, or (b) the components themselves are also licensed under the GPL or another open source license compatible with the GPL.

Nuts and bolts - once I’ve decided, what do I do?

If you want to opt-in to 100% GPL:

You can opt-in to 100% GPL at any time, for your new or existing WordPress themes or plugins.

  • First, go to your Author Settings (inside the Settings section of the account drop-down) and select the option to be given the 100% GPL opt-in for your items in the relevant theme and plugin categories. This will not opt in your individual items to 100% GPL.
  • Once you’ve selected this option, you’ll be able to change the licensing to 100% GPL for individual items in the relevant categories. You must follow these steps for each item you want to be under 100% GPL.
    For existing items, this option can be found in that item’s Edit tab. 
    For new items, an option to select the licensing will be shown in the upload form. 

Important: Once you opt an item into 100% GPL you cannot change it back to split license.

If you want to use the default split license (you do not want to opt-in to 100% GPL):

You don’t need to do anything different.

  • Do not select the option in your author page to participate in 100% GPL.
  • Follow the upload guidelines for your items as normal. 
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