While the hot issue of yesterday was more focused on paid links, I tried digging up a little bit how this came to be and found out that it might have all started with the sponsored WordPress theme issue where Google anti-spam engineer Matt Cutts previously commented on.
So, when I checked here on Weblog Tools Collection about sponsored themes, it says:
…many of these themes try to legally disallow you from removing the advertising link by claiming it’s part of the Creative Commons attribution to leave it. This is almost funny, because these themes are on shaky legal ground themselves. WordPress is Free, meaning youâ€™re free to do pretty much anything you like with it. It’s under a license that encourages user freedom called the GPL, which says if you distribute something that links internal functions and data structures of a GPL program (like themes do with WordPress) that also needs to be Free. At best, theme authors claiming you canâ€™t remove the link are ignoring or ignorant of the license issues, at worst theyâ€™re actively exploiting the work of thousands of volunteers that have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into WordPress.
In short, when you distribute something freely (under GPL), you’re not even legally entitled to that footer link. Is it the same way when everybody else are deleting all those default blogrolls on newly installed WordPress blogs? I’m a little curious.
The economics of free or open source themes revolve around the dynamics of supply and demand for links, which for most people translate to branding, traffic, link juice, and Page Rank that ultimately can be indirectly converted into cash. Will Google also consider link of free themes as part of link buying? In essence, the theme designer is giving away free themes in exchange for free links. Though the word “free” is there, the basic rules of economics still apply — barter/trade. So, to what extent does Google want to cover paid links?