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200 Themes Removed From – Matt Explains Why

200 Themes Removed From – Matt Explains Why

There’s been some ruckus about the sudden departure of some 200 themes from the theme directory. Justin Tadlock and both had a lot of things to say about this.

I emailed Matt Mullenweg, and he explained that the reason for the massive theme purge was that there was a lot of spammy SEO links as well as various violations of the GPL that is required to be hosted in the directory. He also said this, to address the people who are worried about what is really going on with the theme directory:

There were also a few that violated WP community guidelines, like the domain policy. So since Monday we’ve been clearing stuff out en mass. If you’re kosher with the GPL and don’t claim or promote otherwise on your site and your theme was removed, it was probably a mistake. Give us a week to catch up with the bad stuff and then drop a note.

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So there you have it. Mystery solved, hopefully. The whole thing is, however, a reminder that a theme marketplace is needed, although I would say that it might be a better idea to offer links to the ones that have already established themselves, given how late to the game a WordPress hosted one would be.

View Comments (20)
  • I’ve been suspended for having an ad for woothemes on my private homepage. That’s got nothing to to with the themes, spammy links or GPL violations. It’s about not allowing others to make money with or advertise for premium themes.

  • Yup – have to agree with Pete on that. That’s a shitty excuse from Matt and if that is indeed the truth, why not just publish that on a blog post BEFORE actually cutting the themes?

  • I don’t sell premium themes, and was kicked out

    How does one violate the gpl, I have never tried to tell anyone what they could do with the themes, although I usually don’t help people with them if they delete my design links.

    I was told links to my home page would no longer be allowed, I don’t actually sell anything or even had ads or adsense running on the site

  • While Matt’s response is someone unclear, his policy has been that voiced by the WordPress Community for years. Free means free. No strings.

    When WordPress hosts Plugins or Themes on their directory – THEIR directories, others can do what they want – the WordPress Community has a very high standard and expectation that WordPress Themes and Plugins do not have “commercial” elements or ties.

    For most of us in the WordPress Community, this means that there are no hidden links, nothing to tempt us or our readers to pay for anything, and that the code is solid and well formed. In other words, the Themes and Plugins are donated from the good will of volunteers and enthusiasts to encourage the growth and continued support of WordPress. To give back to the community for what the community gives them for nothing.

    None of this stops the many who promote and sell their Themes and Plugins from doing so elsewhere. There are a few who have developed careers on the back of WordPress Themes and Plugins.

    As a long time volunteer, I can imagine how hard it was for the team handling this to decide which stayed and which didn’t. Some of those reasons could be that the Themes no longer work for recent versions of WordPress or have some errors in the code, not just because they had commercial ties or relied upon commercial Plugins. I’d love to know their criteria, and I’m sure it will come out in this discussion – from the folks directly involved, not the assumptions of others.

    Too many people have been ripped off by unofficial WordPress schemes and I’m thrilled to see Matt and the WordPress team taking a strong stance to protect users FIRST.

    Yes, a WordPress Marketplace must be established, and I know work is ongoing in that area, but for now, I’m with the rest of the WordPress Community that has long spoken out in favor of WordPress hosting FREE and trusted WordPress Themes and Plugins.

  • @Lorelle – I won’t argue with what you’ve said. But don’t you feel that a more proactive and transparent approach by Matt & co would’ve eliminated all the bad vibes that are currently going around?

  • I’m sorry Lorrelle, but I cannot agree with you.

    I’m sure that it is true that not all themes that were removed were removed simply because of direct or indirect advertising of paid themes; however, that seems to be the primary issue as most people will agree that removing devious themes is a good thing. That being the case, I’ll have to make my discussion about the action against the links on theme producer’s sites and not about any of the actions against themes that had violations directly in the theme, which honestly, is what this is all truly about and is why everyone is talking about it.

    Removing perfectly valid, GPL-compatible themes from the theme repository simply because the person who created the theme has links on their site (not on their theme) that doesn’t like hurts users (I.E. The Community) rather than protects.

    Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of “protect.” If you define protect as guarding users against code that will secretly turn a user’s site into a link farm or try to use their server as a spam factory, then this has nothing to do with anything the theme creator may have on their site. If you define protect as guarding users against people that are trying to profit monetarily from their efforts in producing, releasing, and supporting the theme, then this action also fails as it simply targets paid theme marketing and not all marketing.

    In the end, the only thing such an action protects is’s and Automattic’s desire to marginalize the “premium” theme market. Since this market does so well, I would argue that the community of users of WordPress are saying three things 1) the free themes that are available are not enough to meet my need, 2) I’m willing to pay for a theme that better meets my needs, and 3) I don’t care about all this licensing stuff, I just want a theme that works and looks the way I want.

    I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t make any claims about what is or is not able to hold up in court with regards to GPL. The fact is that “premium” themes offers a middle-ground to give users access to a product that would otherwise not be available if they did not exist, a way to get more options than the free themes offer without having to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a theme developer to create a custom theme for them.

    I find this action to be very damaging to the community. It will probably cause many promising theme and plugin developers to not be active in the community anymore for fear that their themes will be suddenly dropped with no notice due to politically or monetarily motivated changes. Explicitly prohibiting producers of “premium” themes from volunteering any of their efforts to the community will immediately reduce the quality of the community due to the loss of potential diversity on the repositories. It can also entice some developers to abandon the platform entirely and move to other ones that are free from political and legal posturing so that they can be free to do what they do best: produce awesome plugins and themes.

    To be open, I’m a member of the iThemes team. I spend every day working extremely hard to try to produce advances in theme design that will make the end user’s life easier and produce better results. I’m extremely passionate about WordPress and try my best to give back to the community any way I can, whether it be plugin development, developer resources, or modifying the Codex. Yes, that’s right, I’m a part of this community that everyone talks about as if they know who is and who is not a member of the community and claims to know exactly what everyone in the community thinks and desires. I may work for a company that sells themes, but I’m also an extremely motivated, passionate fan of WordPress, and I want it to succeed, thrive, and grow just as much other members of the community do.

    Everyone needs to remember that the community is an extremely diverse group of millions of people, not just the Automattic employees and big-name WordPress bloggers.

    We also need to take notice that is not against “paid themes” since they actually have a section on the theme repository titled “Paid Themes.” Just some food for thought as we ponder the reasons and effects of this recent action.

    • Going the conspiracy theory approach doesn’t help anyone. WordPress has been incredibly transparent historically, though people love to claim otherwise. Until I get the real story, not assumptions, I’m not going to judge one way or another. Matt says they are cleaning house and news will be out soon. What’s not clear are the specifics on how and why these Themes were picked, and until we get specific information on that, why see this as an attack on all commercial WordPress Themes? I don’t.

      I’ve never known Automattic, or anyone in WordPress to be “against” premium (paid) Themes nor working to stop them directly. Ones that are harmful to WordPress users, sure. To me, that’s different. WordPress Themes are available for sale all over the place. For some, it’s big business.

      The issue is whether or not they belong in the WordPress Theme Directory, and the community was VERY vocal several times over the past couple years with a resounding no.

      As for transparency, there is transparency, and then there is transparency. Me, I’m waiting for transparency. :D We’ll know when we know.

      What I am thankful for that Thord contacted Matt directly to get an answer, and got one. Good job, Thord. It’s much better getting it from the source rather than expounding on assumptions and unfounded accusations. We await the rest of the story.

    • By the way, I’m hearing from some who had their Themes removed or expressed their worries about this issue that Matt is contacting them directly to find out what is going on and talking to them about the issue. I expect something will be public soon. Bloggers just can’t keep their mouths shut when they got something to say. :D Hee hee.

      SIGH, wish other businesses would be that personal in their responses. I’m having a heck of a time with….ah, the list is SO long. ;-)

  • Sigh, I know some of my emotions got the best of me in my own piece regarding this issue but I’ve calmed down and the only thing that is going to fix this all up is a nice detailed post by matt explaining everything. Until then, I’m just waiting and not making anymore noise.

  • Yes free means free,
    I know the rules for

    under GPL you can’t say:please do not use my themes for adult content

    if I host my themes only at home I can

    at I can’t

    that ‘s the other side of : free means free



  • Everything is not always a conspiracy. Here is how I would have written this article.

    Title: cleans up theme directory
    Article: With the release of WordPress 2.7, the WordPress community members cleaned up the theme directory to make sure themes were compatible not only with 2.7 but the latest GPL requirements, as well as what is best for the WordPress Community at Large….

    This could have been spun in a very positive light….

    What should have happened was a more proactive approach from Matthew Mullenweg of Automattic or whoever is the official spokesperson of the Non Profit Arm

  • There are two policies at issue here: hosting and GPL compliance.

    I agree that themes that violate the terms of the GPL have no business being hosted at There’s no reason for the project to host themes that are in violation of the WordPress license.

    I also agree that whoever runs should set a clear policy of what constitutes acceptable contributions for things that they host. If they do not like porn, they should not allow pornographic themes. If they do not like link-farm themes, they should be free to omit them from inclusion. If they don’t like a themer personally, that’s their prerogative if they want to remove the theme, although that’s kind of skeezy.

    What I do not understand is why, if things in the repo must be GPL and therefore may be modified and re-released by anyone, they simply don’t allow the community to edit those themes to make them compliant.

    Doing so would involve the community, which is good, and benefit the community by retaining those themes, which is also good. Of course, it is their rightful decision not to do this, and perhaps there was a good reason to just dump these themes and create the fervor in the community, but it seems like a bad PR move. (Not that WordPress, the favored child of blogging, can do any wrong.)

    Aside from that, reading the comments of others here, I completely disagree with any thought that the sale of “premium themes” is acceptable in the WordPress “marketplace”. All WordPress themes must be released under the GPL or they are not in compliance with the terms of the WordPress license.

    I encourage others to actually read the licenses.

  • Yes, you can sell your GPL theme, but when I buy it you can’t restrict me from re-selling it for whatever price I want, including $0.

  • With a name like “the Blog Herald,” one almost expects some real investigative journalism. Your coverage here fails on every level.

  • I’m sorry to hear you feel that way Dave. The post was never meant to be more than a news piece built on the statement by Matt Mullenweg, and some background, while the actual story develops. The amount of time the commenters above obviously spent in participating in the discussion certainly shows that it was needed. As for your criticism, it might be a bit more helpful if you elaborated a bit. You’re more than welcome to shoot me an email at tdh at tdhedengren dot com.

  • I’m actually surprised “cleaning house” wasn’t done earlier as I thought there were a list of special guidelines/rules of what was accepted into their gallery.

  • Monika,

    under GPL you can’t say:please do not use my themes for adult content

    You most certainly can. You just can’t stop users from doing it. Furthermore, if you are the sole copyright holder of a GPL work, you could probably assert your legal rights under your national copyright statutes to override the GPL in certain cases. Open source vendors do this all the time by dual-licensing code under the GPL and another, more proprietary license. MySQL is a great example.

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