The short answer to who owns WordPress is this:
It depends. 🦸
The WordPress software project that’s housed at WordPress.org – what most people think of as “WordPress” – is a non-profit, open-source project, which means that no one really “owns” it. In a way, it belongs to the community.
However, from a true accuracy standpoint, the WordPress trademark is owned and managed by the WordPress Foundation. This non-profit organization has acted as the custodian of the open-source WordPress project since its establishment in 2010.
WordPress.com, on the other hand, has a clearly defined owner – Automattic, a for-profit company founded by Matt Mullenweg (who was also one of the two co-founders of the open-source WordPress project). However, WordPress.com is not really what most people mean when they say “WordPress.”
Confusing, right? I know – you’re not alone. 😎
If you still want to dig into the WordPress ownership question in more detail, this post will fully explain the distinction between the WordPress project and WordPress.com, as well as the ownership details for everything related to WordPress.
📚 Table of contents:
Understanding the difference between WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
If you want to fully understand who owns WordPress, you first need to understand the difference between WordPress.org vs WordPress.com.
For the detailed version, we have a comprehensive comparison post explaining all the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
👉 Here’s the short version:
- WordPress.org represents the open-source, non-profit WordPress project. Anyone can obtain the WordPress software from WordPress.org, install it on their own hosting, and use it to create a website. When people mention “WordPress,” they are almost always referring to the open-source WordPress project in general, which is located at WordPress.org.
- WordPress.com, on the other hand, is one specific implementation of the WordPress software. You can consider it as a distinct hosting provider that, due to some unique circumstances, can use “WordPress” in its domain name. When discussing WordPress.com, most people will specifically refer to it as “WordPress.com” and not simply “WordPress.”
Now that you understand that WordPress.org (the WordPress project) and WordPress.com are not the same entity, we can delve into the question of who owns each of them.
Who owns the WordPress project (WordPress.org)?
WordPress is an open-source project, which implies that it’s owned by the community as a whole rather than a single owner.
However, from a technical standpoint, the WordPress trademarks are owned and managed by the WordPress Foundation, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
The WordPress Foundation is a non-profit organization created by Matt Mullenweg in 2010. Along with Mike Little, he was one of the original co-founders of the WordPress project.
The goal of the WordPress Foundation is to guarantee free, open access to the WordPress software forever.
This is why I believe it’s more useful to consider the community as “owning” WordPress. WordPress is an open-source project with tens of thousands of contributors worldwide, not to mention millions of users.
The WordPress Foundation’s stated goal is to maintain free and open access in perpetuity.
Even though the WordPress Foundation officially holds the trademarks on paper, these individuals are what shape the WordPress software.
However, it hasn’t always been that way! 🚦
Before the formation of the WordPress Foundation in 2010, the WordPress trademarks were under the control of Automattic, a for-profit company that you’ll learn more about shortly.
While Automattic remained committed to preserving the open nature of WordPress, having the WordPress trademark owned by a for-profit company posed potential issues. For instance, if a third-party company were to acquire Automattic, it might not have wanted to maintain the same open nature of the project.
This is why the transition to the non-profit WordPress Foundation in 2010 marked a significant change in WordPress ownership.
It’s crucial to note that the intention was always to transfer the trademarks from Automattic to the WordPress Foundation. It simply took longer than expected to establish the WordPress Foundation, which is why Automattic acted as a temporary trademark owner from 2006 to 2010.
Who owns WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is owned by Automattic, a for-profit company that owns a number of popular WordPress plugins (WooCommerce, Jetpack, etc.) as well as other properties like Tumblr, Gravatar, Pocket Casts, WordPress VIP, and more.
Matt Mullenweg also founded Automattic. You might remember his name from the previous section, as Matt was one of the co-founders of WordPress (along with Mike Little).
Before the creation of the non-profit WordPress Foundation in 2010, Automattic also held control over the trademarks for the open-source WordPress project.
However, while Automattic still plays a significant role in the open-source WordPress project, the WordPress Foundation has operated independently of Automattic since its inception in 2010.
Despite this, some news organizations may incorrectly state things like “Automattic owns WordPress.” This is not accurate. It stems from a common misunderstanding of the difference between “WordPress” and “WordPress.com.”
If you ever encounter an article that attributes ownership of “WordPress” to Automattic, you can leave a comment with a link to our WordPress.org vs WordPress.com comparison to help the author understand the difference. Alternatively, WPIsNotWP.com is a website dedicated to quickly explaining the difference.
Who owns Automattic?
Automattic is a privately held company that was founded by Matt Mullenweg. He remains the CEO and he also holds a position on the Automattic Board of Directors.
Over time, Automattic has raised funding in six separate rounds of fundraising, totaling somewhere between ~$770 million and a little under $1 billion, depending on the source. Most recently, Automattic was valued at around $7.5 billion, which is the valuation that it used when it bought back around $250 million in stock in 2021.
Here’s a look at some of the companies that have invested in Automattic:
Since it’s a privately held company, the precise ownership structure isn’t publicly disclosed. However, Matt Mullenweg still likely controls the vast majority of voting shares in the company.
For example, in the most recent $288 million fundraising round, Matt stated on his personal blog that “This round was common stock, and like all funding since 2011, included a proxy assigning me the right to vote on the shares”.
This means that, even though other companies were investing in Automattic in exchange for equity, Matt still retained the voting rights to those shares.
Who owns your website if you use WordPress?
If you build your website with WordPress, you own your website and all of its content.
This is true whether you install the open-source WordPress software on your own hosting (called “self-hosted WordPress”) or whether you use WordPress.com.
If you want the most control over your website, we recommend self-hosting the WordPress software on your own WordPress hosting.
However, even if you make your website with WordPress.com, you still own your site and all of its content. The only major difference is that you’ll need to adhere to WordPress.com’s rules when it comes to what content you can publish and how you monetize your site.
Even if you start with WordPress.com, you can still migrate your WordPress.com site to self-hosted WordPress. 🦆
Final thoughts on who owns WordPress 🏁
Answering the question of who owns WordPress depends on whether you’re talking about the open-source WordPress project in general, or the WordPress.com service.
For the open-source WordPress project (WordPress.org), it’s probably most useful to think of it as being owned by the WordPress community. However, technically speaking, the non-profit WordPress Foundation owns and controls the WordPress trademarks.
WordPress.com, however, is owned by Automattic, a for-profit company that’s privately held and was founded by Matt Mullenweg, who remains in control to this day.
Automattic used to control the general WordPress trademarks in the past. However, that stopped in 2010 when the WordPress Foundation was created. Automattic does still play a pivotal role in the open-source WordPress project, though, even if it doesn’t “own” WordPress.
If you’re interested in making your own website with WordPress (which you would fully own and control), you can follow our step-by-step guides on how to make a WordPress website or how to make a WordPress blog.
Do you still have any questions about who owns WordPress? Let us know in the comments section!