Why Is WordPress Free? Uncovering Hidden Catches

This article examines some of the key licensing issues governing the free use of WordPress and whether or not there are any hidden catches with using WordPress.

Why Is WordPress Free? Uncovering Hidden Catches

Why Is WordPress Free?

In this article, we look at some of the key licensing issues governing the Free use of WordPress and examine whether or not there really are any “hidden” catches.

WordPress – Is There A Hidden Catch?

As we’ve mentioned in other articles, WordPress is 100% free to download and use. WordPress is a free and open source software, licensed under the GNU General Public License agreement …

GNU General Public License

You can install WordPress on your own domain and do whatever you like with the WordPress code. You can extend or modify WordPress however you choose and use it commercially without licensing fees or restrictions.

We also saw that WordPress is free not just in terms of price, but also in terms of the amount of control you have in using it. For example, you have the freedom to run the program, for any purpose, the freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish, the freedom to redistribute the application, and the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

So … is there a “hidden” catch to using WordPress?

How can such a powerful software that is currently used to power millions of websites around the world—including thousands of commercial sites—be made so freely available with no hidden catches?

Let’s begin by asking the most obvious question:

Why Don’t The Creators Of WordPress Sell The Software?

As we have already explained, free open source software allows anyone to view the software’s source code and modify it. When the creators of WordPress decided to make their software available as open source software, a community of software developers began to gather around to find ways to improve it.

Because these modifications and improvements can then be freely distributed to others (who can also, in turn, modify, improve and redistribute the software code to others), WordPress itself began to evolve as its own organism.

Basically, no company or individual actually owns WordPress. WordPress is an open source community project that attracts thousands of talented programmers, who then contribute to its development, report bugs, suggest new features and vote on what the next version’s priorities are.

So … if no one actually owns the software, how does anything get done?

Well, there is a core team of WordPress developers that lead the project development, but essentially anyone can get involved in the WordPress community and begin contributing to improving the software. In fact, active participation and contribution are encouraged by the WordPress community, as this leads to the development of a more secure, robust and feature-rich application that then benefits all users. There are WordPress events like “Word Camps” and local meets all around the world, as well forums, user groups and a whole range of other opportunities made available to WordPress users to meet and exchange ideas.

Contrary to most commercial business models, the philosophy behind the Open Source software movement is that software is not like other tangible products. Once created, software can be copied over and over again with very little cost involved.

A great example that illustrates the argument put forward by the Open Source software movement which is often quoted, is that of a car parts manufacturer. Each car part has a cost to manufacture and a factory that makes car parts needs to take this and other costs, plus a reasonable profit margin into account when calculating the viability of continuing the production of its car parts. Making copies of a software program, however, does not follow the same principles as making tangible products as we’ve just described.

If an entire community participates freely in developing the software, and there is no actual cost to reproduce the software, then why should the price of acquiring a copy of the software not reflect this?

Ok … but there are still some costs, right? I mean, who is paying for the servers and domain names used by the WordPress development team, and how can they afford this if everything is free?

Great question! How can the WordPress team afford to keep things going, and who is paying for the technical costs (e.g. hardware and webhosting).

Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder and of the main developers of WordPress, owns a company called Automattic, which provides a number of blogging services, including many “freemium” services, where the basic service is free but restricted, and paid or “premium” options are available to unlock these restrictions …


One of these services is a free blog hosting service at WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org, which is where you can download the software to use on your own domain – this is called self-hosting).

WordPress.com is a restricted blog hosting service, where people pay to upgrade and unlock features if required. So, the core developers have the means to sustain the costs, by providing related products and services to their community of users.

As you will see below, this is exactly the approach many open source software companies adopt to make money.

How People Make Money With WordPress

Just because something is open source and free, doesn’t mean that it should be treated differently than proprietary technologies or commercial products. The key strategy behind making the software freely available is “branding”. By itself, branding doesn’t generate any money, but if done correctly, it can lead to greater visibility and a rapid growth and domination of market share. This attracts new users, which can then be converted into buyers of related products and services.

The profitable aspect of making money with any open source software, therefore, is by providing products or services built for and by people who use the same open source software.

WordPress has developed a satellite of product and service providers, all based on helping WordPress users get more benefit out of using the software. There are many successful and highly profitable businesses today that provide a range of excellent products and services catered exclusively to the WordPress market.

Some of these products and services include:

  • WordPress Web Development (e.g. WordPress site installation, web design and site management services)
  • WordPress Plugin Development
  • WordPress Theme Development
  • WordPress Web Hosting
  • WordPress Training
  • WordPress Consulting
  • WordPress Support

Many companies and individuals that started out by providing products and services in the above fields have gone on to make sustainable or even multimillion-dollar incomes, and WordPress is still growing considerably.

So … not only can you make money running a successful business built using WordPress, you can also make money running a business that helps other WordPress users. This is no different than other online revolutions, such as internet marketing, online business development, video game, music and app developments.

There are just a few other important points that need to be made regarding WordPress and the implications associated with using the software to develop commercial products and services around it.

WordPress And Copyright – Is WordPress Copyright Free?

To put it quite simply, no.

WordPress is not copyright free. WordPress is licensed under GPL (General Public License), which allows you to use, modify and redistribute the code, but you don’t have copyright to the entire code. You do have copyright over any contributions or modifications you make to the software, but GPL requires that any derivative work you release or distribute should be licensed under GPL as well.

The definition of a derivative work is as follows …

In copyright law, a derivative work is an expressive creation that includes major, copyright-protected elements of an original, previously created first work (the underlying work).

(source: Wikipedia)

This means that while you may have the copyright and the freedom to do anything you like with the code, any work that is a derivative also inherits the GPL license automatically, allowing others the freedom to use, modify, and redistribute your code however they like.

If you need to understand more about GPL and the philosophy behind open source software, see the GNU’s Philosophy.

WordPress And Trademarks

Although WordPress releases its software under GPL, the WordPress Foundation owns a number of registered trademarks, including the words WordPress and the WordPress Logo …

WordPress Logos


Note: If you are thinking of starting a WordPress-related product or service, don’t use the word “WordPress” in your domain as this is against their trademark policy covering the use of domain names.

There are other restrictions associated with the use of WordPress trademarks. Read more about the WordPress Trademark Policy.

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of why WordPress is free, and how its development can continue to thrive and remain sustainable as an open source software.

To learn what costs are involved in using a WordPress-powered site, go here:

For more benefits of using WordPress, read the article below:

For useful WordPress statistics, see the tutorial below:


Most of the material used to create this article has been sourced from the official WordPress site at WordPress.org. For more details, see WordPress Philosophy.

WordPress.org Home Page

(WordPress image source: Evan Lorne / Shutterstock.com)



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Why Is WordPress Free? WordPress Costs Explained

This tutorial explains why WordPress is free and looks at the basic costs involved in setting up and running a WordPress-powered website or blog.

Why Is WordPress Free? WordPress Costs Explained

Why Is WordPress Free?There are many great reasons to choose WordPress to power your website (see our Introduction To WordPress tutorials).

Something that puzzles many people, however, is the concept of WordPress being “FREE”.

Typically, people want to know things like:

  1. Why is WordPress FREE?
  2. What’s the “catch”?
  3. How much does it “really” cost to set up and run a WordPress site?
  4. How does WordPress make any money?

Let’s start by looking at why WordPress is free and the costs involved in running a WordPress-powered website.

Why Is WordPress Free?

WordPress Is Free

WordPress is 100% free to download and use. WordPress is a free and open source software, licensed under the GNU Public License agreement. You can install WordPress on your own domain and do whatever you like with the WordPress code. You can extend or modify WordPress however you choose and use it commercially without licensing fees or restrictions …


WordPress is “free” not just in terms of price, but also in terms of the amount of control you have over using it. For example, you have the freedom to run the program, for any purpose, the freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish, the freedom to redistribute the application, and the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

What Free Software Means

When discussing software, and in particular open source software, it’s useful to first understand that “free” can have different meanings and to be clear what software developers mean when they say that their software is “free”.

There is “free” as in freedom (e.g. freedom of speech), and “free” as in free money and free beer.

Open source software is typically made available for distribution for “free”, in the sense that you have the freedom to use, modify, build upon, and then distribute the software to others however you like (you can even charge for it as you will soon see.)

WordPress is an open source software, so this sense of freedom applies to it.

However, and this can be quite shocking to some people, WordPress is also completely free in the sense of “free beer”.

WordPress is 100% free to download and use for commercial purposes. This means that you can download the complete software, install it on your domain, and build a wildly successful and highly profitable website or blog using WordPress, without ever paying the developers who created WordPress any software licensing fees, or experiencing any limitations or restrictions. And, just in case you are wondering, there is no “free” version with hidden advertising banners, or 30-day expiry notices either.

With WordPress, “free really means free”. You can download and use the full WordPress software, change the code and customize the software however you like, and you will never pay for using the WordPress software. It is truly a “free” open source software.

Now that we have hopefully made this point absolutely clear (WordPress is Free!) … does this mean that there are no costs involved in building a successful web presence using WordPress?

Absolutely not! You can download and use the WordPress software for free. You can also enhance your site’s functionality and design using thousands of free add-ons (called WordPress plugins), and free web design templates (called WordPress themes), and we explain this in other articles and our tutorials.

There are, however, some costs involved with using WordPress. As you will soon learn, these costs are perfectly reasonable and they are not hidden at all from you.

The Costs Of Using WordPress Explained

We’ve already established that WordPress is open source software and that the WordPress software is free to download and use commercially without any restrictions.

Now … there are costs involved with using WordPress, but most of these have to do with the normal costs of doing business on the web.

To install and use WordPress on your own domain, you will need a domain and webhosting. This is no different than if you were to set up any other website on your own domain name.

The good news is that the cost of registering a domain name and setting up a web hosting account are minimal. For example, you can get a domain name from GoDaddy for around $10-$12 per year and web hosting for a WordPress site from Hostgator for around less than $5 per month.


WordPress offers an option to create a free hosted blog on its servers at WordPress.com, but we recommend downloading the self-hosted version from WordPress.org and installing WordPress on your own domain, especially if you own a business.

Installing WordPress on your domain allows you to build an asset that you own and fully control. You also have more options on how to configure and customize your site if you use the self-hosted version of WordPress.

Additional Costs

The only real cost associated with learning WordPress is time. You can learn everything about WordPress, including how to install, set up, configure, use, customize, manage, optimize, secure and grow a WordPress site with our detailed WordPress step-by-step tutorials and get additional help from the WordPress community user support forums and various WordPress online groups.

DIY (Save $$$) vs Website Developers (Save Time)

You can learn how to install, configure and manage a website built with WordPress yourself using our tutorials, or pay someone like a website developer to install and set up a website for you.

Costs of building a website with WordPress

(Costs of building a website with WordPress)


If you plan to pay someone else to build your website, check out our list of 7 questions you should ask your website developer and make sure you use our WordPress Configuration Checklist when asking for quotes.

After your WordPress site has been installed and configured, all other costs are optional.

Optional Costs

You can extend your site’s functionality and improve your web design using free WordPress plugins and free WordPress themes.

There are thousands of free WordPress plugins available that you can download and use …

Free WordPress Plugins

And also loads of free WordPress themes …

Free WordPress Themes

If you can’t find a free plugin or theme that suits your needs, or don’t want to use free plugins or themes, there are many commercial (“premium”) WordPress plugins and themes available. These plugins and themes cost money, but the cost to purchase these is relatively small.

For example, many “premium” plugins and themes only cost around US$30 – US$100 to purchase.

The benefits of using “premium” plugins and themes is that you not only get greater functionality, more customizable options and exclusive designs, but more importantly, access to product support.

Other than the above, the only other costs to consider are for any professional WordPress services that you may require, such as:

  • Web development services (e.g. building and customizing sites)
  • Software application development (e.g. building custom plugins)
  • Web design services (e.g. creating a custom theme)
  • Web management services (backups and content management)
  • Web content creation services (e.g. article writers, video creation, etc.)
  • Web consulting and online marketing / online advertising services (e.g. Google AdWords)
  • Technical support (e.g. troubleshooting, data recovery)
  • Training workshops (e.g. online business marketing)


If you need help with WordPress, your first step should be to check out our comprehensive library of WordPress step-by-step tutorials.

Our tutorials are designed to help you quickly and easily master all aspects of using WordPress.

Why Is WordPress Free?

Hopefully, now you understand why WordPress is free, and what the costs of running a WordPress-powered site are.

Perhaps there is still some lingering doubt in your mind about WordPress. You may be wondering where the real “hidden catch” is (there’s gotta be one, right? Why would Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, develop a software that is currently being used by millions of websites around the world – including many profitable commercial sites, and then just let anybody download and use it for free?)

To learn more about some of the key licensing issues governing the Free use of WordPress, read the article below:

For more benefits of using WordPress, read the article below:

For useful WordPress statistics, see the tutorial below:

Laptop - WordPress Themes


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