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Licensing query re GPL

  • Not that I plan to do this against your wishes, but this is more of an academic query… the licensing page says “You can not include the ACF PRO plugin within a free theme/plugin”. However ACF Pro is released under GPLv2 – which gives the user rights to distribute it however they like (as long as it’s still licensed under GPLv2 or compatible).

    Is this a contradiction or is there something I’m not understanding completely?

    (Just to reiterate – I’m not going to do anything; I’ve just been trying to understand licensing recently and this is one of the things that confuses me =] )

    • James

    • April 15, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Hi @tdmalone

    Once you purchase a copy of ACF, the code is yours to do with and distribute as you want, but you’re not allowed to provide the license key, which activates the update feature.

    If you see the license, it says that free software doesn’t mean price, but freedom. It means you are free to modify and distribute ACF, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t charge it.

    Actually, that’s the same with all plugins and themes on WordPress if you read the WordPress fine-print. Because WordPress use’s the GPL_v2 licence, any plugin or theme that is released for it must also be GPL_v2 compliant.

    So the only thing you can actually charge for is the original code and then the service of updating.

    Please read the GPL_v2 licence if you are confused about any of this here.

    I hope this makes sense.

  • Thanks James – that makes sense. My question was more around the prohibition on including ACF Pro in a free theme or plugin – according to the GPL, that would be ok to do, right?

    • Elliot

    • April 27, 2016 at 10:15 am

    Hi @tdmalone

    Thanks for the Q’s.

    Being a programmer and not a lawyer, I don’t know much about licensing.
    All I ask is that ACF PRO is not distributed within a free plugin / theme.

    Otherwise, it would not be possible for me to work full time on this project.

    Thanks
    Elliot

  • Basically, if you include ACF in a free plugin or theme and you keep that plugin or theme updated, including ACF, then anyone can bypass the need to purchase the privilege of getting updates. While legally this could be done, it would likely bring about the death of ACF. This alone should be enough to make people think twice.

  • Got it, thanks for taking the time to come here and answer Elliot!

    • goldhat

    • December 18, 2016 at 3:11 am

    There are numerous GPL-sharing clubs/sites now. Most charge a fee, but there is a notable one (gpldl.com) that is free, driven by donations, and it already offers ACF5 pro and is keeping it updated. For people that want the code, without the updates and support it’s already available. Taking ACF pro out of a plugin that has included it, would probably be more effort and less reliable (more likely outdated, or edited) than using a reputable GPL sharing service that has some quality assurance to prevent sharing corrupted or edited files.

    Anybody selling GPL code (including my firm) has to be aware of the possibility of the code being widely available, easily available, even fully updated. I would expect over time more and more choices in the market are going to surface, both GPL-sharing and also GPL-code plus support packages.

    As for ACF, I respect Elliot’s right to “request a policy” which is all it is, a “request” that has no legal basis. One cannot blame him for wanting that, as it’s in his best interest to whatever extent it might improve sales. However, it would have been a lot more of a safeguard before the startup of GPL sharing sites, because again today those sites are much more convenient ways to get ACF5 Pro than having to take it from another plugin or theme.

    I think it is important to think about the ethics of including a codebase when you know that the original developer would prefer you did not. While legally GPL doesn’t change based on what the original developer wants, ethically I think you have to think about it. I’ve thought about it, and my conclusion is there is more help than harm. Meaning lots of people who get a better plugin or theme with ACF5 Pro included are helped. Open source is hugely beneficial from a collective standpoint. Yet it’s also hugely beneficial to us as individual developers, or site owners. It really is win-win. Now as for the harmful effect on ACF or Elliot as a developer… first I’d say it’s a nominal effect, or even a non-issue because again anybody willing to download plugin A to get plugin B included in it, surely would be willing to join a GPL sharing site instead. They clearly don’t want to pay for the support or updates provided by the original author. The hypothetical that they would be forced to purchase if no other option existed, is purely hypothetical because that is never the case with popular paid plugins today. Only smaller less successful plugins that “fly under the radar” will not be in the massive inventories of GPL sharing sites. Even in that case, a person who really wanted the code could probably find it on a torrent site, or ask around on a dev forum and find somebody that has already bought a license. So the real impact of including ACF5 Pro, or any other premium plugin in a project, is $0 in my view. Whatever decline that might already be happening for some sellers (and I don’t think there is any decline currently) will happen because GPL sharing sites are getting bigger and better. Most today don’t offer automatic updates, but if they did… their service would in some ways be more convenient than buying from original developers.

  • While legally GPL doesn’t change based on what the original developer wants, ethically I think you have to think about it.

    This is a good point, and I’ve also thought and read a lot more about this since my original post. Yes, as a fellow programmer, I want to support Elliot, and would be loathe to suggest anyone considers not doing so. Yes you could get the code from anywhere for free (and distribute it yourself anywhere for free), but if everyone does that, Elliot’s going to have to go get another job and stop working on ACF, so you’re not doing yourself any favours in the long run (much less Elliot!). A much better option would be just to consider the ACF licensing fee as a ‘donation’ to Elliot to thank you for his excellent work. 🙂 (Or even better, contract him to develop some bespoke support and addons??)

    Having said that though, I have to say I’ve come to the conclusion that the Distributing ACF in a plugin / theme page is misleading and unethical in itself. Why is that? Because as well as us respecting Elliot and the work he has put into ACF, Elliot also needs to respect WordPress and the work put into WordPress by thousands of other developers. There are good reasons why WordPress is licensed under the GPL, and as a derivative of WordPress, ACF (including ACF Pro) must also be (and quite rightly is) GPL-licensed.

    The restrictions put around the distribution of ACF Pro are therefore misleading because they take advantage of the fact that anyone reading them who is going to be impacted by them is not aware of their rights while using GPL-licensed software. That is, the restrictions (apart from the license key distribution) are not enforceable, and – depending on your view – also not ethical and shouldn’t be stated in the first place.

    In particular, the stipulation that it must be ‘made clear in the copyright / information that the ACF PRO files are not to be used or distributed outside of the premium theme/plugin’ would appear to contravene the GPL’s restriction on adding additional restrictions to the license, which gives the user freedom to redistribute it as they see fit.

    I don’t mean to imply this is intentional on Elliot’s part – he’s stated above he doesn’t know much about licensing – but when it has the end result of disrespecting the license of the software it is built upon (WordPress) while simultaneously requesting respect of its own license (which is the same license), it’s ingenuous at best.

    I don’t say any of this in an attempt to disrespect Elliot or the countless hours he has put into ACF (which we have all benefited from) – and I should state that I do use a developer license for ACF Pro – but I think that it would be wise to reconsider ACF’s stance on the GPL so that its users aren’t misled of their rights when using WordPress.

  • Yes, as a fellow programmer, I want to support Elliot, and would be loathe to suggest anyone considers not doing so. Yes you could get the code from anywhere for free (and distribute it yourself anywhere for free), but if everyone does that, Elliot’s going to have to go get another job and stop working on ACF, so you’re not doing yourself any favours in the long run (much less Elliot!)

    This is the main reason that I don’t include ACF in themes and plugins. Not really because of the statements, but because I don’t want to see ACF go away. If someone is going to buy a theme, another 25 bucks is not going to kill them, seriously, ACF Pro has to be the cheapest deal of any premium plugin lifetime updates for just $25 I dare you to show me another premium plugin with a better deal, or even the same deal.

    That being said, and as stated by @tdmalone, legally, you can if you want ignore Elliot’s guidelines, except that you cannot distribute your developer key.

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