Whether you’ve started using WordPress recently or been a long-time user, you made the right choice. It is the most popular CMS (Content Management System) and powers more than 40.5% of the top 10 million websites on the Internet. But have you ever wondered who the creators and current owners are? You should’ve, at least to find out how downloading, using, and editing such a high-quality product is possible without limitations. A good example – you can remove their credits from the WordPress footer and other links to WordPress without any consequences. So, how is that legal and regulated? Who owns WordPress?
Who founded WordPress?
Well, depends on the WordPress you’re referring to. Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little co-created WordPress.org, the free, open-source CMS, in January 2003 and released it on May 27, 2003. WordPress.com is a freemium platform for hosting websites, usually blogs, and released in August 2005 by Matt Mullenweg alone. We already described the difference in our article on what is WordPress. Now, here are the differences in ownership between the two:
Who owns WordPress.org?
WordPress.org is free and released under the GPLv2 (GNU General Public License, version 2) or later. WordPress Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that maintains the project, and assists in its development. Matt Mullenweg founded it in 2010, and it works entirely off donations. Of course, despite not officially being the owners, Matt and a team of developers from WordPress.com serve on the board of the organization. As such, they hold a large power over decision-making and future changes and make a majority of code contributions. So, to find who the owner is, all you have to do is access the WordPress website via FTP. Then, find the license.txt file in the root folder. Alternatively, you can read it in full on WordPress’s GitHub page.
Do I own my self-hosted WordPress website?
Reading the “Copyright 2011-2021 by the contributors“ line tells you all you need to know. Unlike other open-source software that is owned by a person or a corporation, everyone who contributed to WordPress becomes a copyright owner. In other words, no one owns the copyright to the entire WordPress code. So, by obtaining the software, you’re licensing it for free from the copyright owners. The license grants you the right to use, modify, copy, and distribute the WordPress software. Furthermore, you can charge for the distribution of this software, and use pieces of code to develop new software, as long as it remains free.
How do people sell WordPress.org code if they aren’t owners?
It might seem like that, but they don’t. Reading part 2, paragraph 5 of the license gives a solution. As long as you package proprietary code with even the tiniest portion of code that derives from WordPress code, it inherits the GPL license and has to be free. For that reason, if you distribute the two codes separately, you can sell your portion of the code. This is why you can only install free WordPress plugins or themes from the repository. Instead, creators of paid, premium versions of plugins or themes sell them separately, either on their websites or build them to order. And because you can charge for the distribution of WordPress code, you can monetize installing, hosting, or consulting on a WordPress website for someone else.
Who owns WordPress.com?
A parent company named Automattic Inc. owns WordPress.com. Matt Mullenweg founded this privately-held for-profit company in August 2005. Its goal was to monetize using the WordPress.org code by hosting, consulting, or developing and selling premium plugins and themes. Automattic Inc. also held the rights to the WordPress trademarks (logo, name, other entities) between 2005 and 2010, when Matt donated them to the WordPress Foundation.
Am I the owner of a website created via WordPress.com?
No, and neither is WordPress.com. Even though you’re given plenty of freedom, both you and Automattic Inc. still have to adhere to the GPL license for WordPress.org.