I work as a freelance web designer. In my line of work I am normally tasked with acquiring a web domain and setting up a theme for the client. The WP themes are sometime freely available and other time they are premium. All themes are under a GPL (GNU) licence (https://wordpress.org/about/gpl/). I would like to ask if I can acquire a premium theme and then sell from myself, according to shariah or would this be impermissible because of copyright.
Waʿlaikum Assalām Waraḥmatullāh,
After having gone through the GNU General Public Liscence version 2.0, which forms the bases for WordPress themes, I am confident that the License allows a free open source environment.
The license mentions that any individual may acquire these theme codes and re-distribute them as he pleases as long as the particular conditions of providing all the source code, rights and original licensing instructions. It states in the preamble:
“For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.”
Thereafter under the conditions it states clearly:
“1.You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program’s source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program. You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.”
The above two clauses clearly allows the re-distribution of copies without any modification, i.e verbatim. This means that their policy does not restrict the user from re-distributing a customized code/theme. It also means that the user may also charge for selling such themes as well.
The only contention which remains is whether it is permissible for a user to purchase a premium theme and then freely distribute it online. I have not come across a clear statement for this from the different explanations on the License. However, the above clause mentioned does not make any differentiation between the type of acquisition. It simply states, “Program’s source code as you receive it, in any medium” regardless of whether it is original source or a modified source.
Moreover, the license also prohibits enacting any further restriction on the original or modified themes under point 6 where it says:
“You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted herein. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties to this License”
In light of this, and some online explanations to the GNU GPL Licensing from tech forums, it is sufficiently clear that distribution of premium themes, gratis or for a fee, will be completely acceptable practice.
From Sharʿī point of view, it will be permissible for you to purchase or acquire a premium theme from a third-party and then use it for your web-development. You may also modify it, reuse it or re-distribute it as you please, provided that you also forward the GPL licensing information as stated in the conditions.
At the same time, it would be wise to see whether these third-part themes are actually being distributed under the GPL license or not. This is because some developer may not issue their theme under GPL rather privately patented license. In this case you should follow the appropriate proceeding and have permission from the author to modify, re-distribute so as to keep conformity with the law.
Mufti Faisal al-Mahmudi
This answer was collected from Fatwa.ca, which is a fatwa portal operated by Mufti Faisal al Mahmudi from Canada.