Kevin Muldoon

WordPress Reviews | Internet Marketing

WordPress GPL and Ethics

WordPress is released under the GNU General Public License. Amongst other things, this license allows everyone to distribute free copies of the software and charge for it if you wish. One key feature of the license is that you have to give everyone the same rights of the license that you have. This means that others can freely distribute any WordPress plugin or theme you release. They can release it free or charge money for it.

Jean Galea started an interesting discussion on this issue on WP Mayor the other day with his article “Is the WordPress GPL Being Abused?” (There are a lot of great comments from other WordPress developers at the bottom of the article – I encourage you to read them).

Profiting From Other People’s Products

One of the websites that Jean discussed in his article was WP Avengers. The website was created by developers who were sick of WooTheme constantly breaking their promises and increasing their prices. According to WP Avengers, over the last two years WooThemes have:

  • Replaced unlimited usage with tiered licensing.
  • Closed down their affiliate program (Disclaimer: this directly hit affiliates like myself in the pocket as I had been promoting them for years).
  • Reduced developer commissions.
  • Reduced unlimited website licenses to only 25 websites.
  • Reduced lifetime support to only two years.

Led by Nathan Walker, WP Avengers are offering a whopping thirty six WooCommerce plugins. Many of these plugins cost $199 each; however WP Avengers plan on selling all of them for $299. Owners of online shops will subsequently save thousands of dollars by downloading premium WooCommerce plugins through WP Avengers instead of WooThemes.

WP Avengers Pricing

WP Avengers are not the only website doing this. GPL Club are offering all WooCommerce plugins too for $25 per month or $199 per year. They also include some WooThemes themes and premium plugins such as Gravity Forms and BackupBuddy.

GPL Club Pricing

The rise of websites selling other people’s products for cheaper has certainly rustled a lot of feathers within the WordPress community. Of course, this is not a new debate. This discussion has been ongoing for years. You can read my thoughts about GPL and the ethics of forking a project over the last three years on WP Hub (links below):

Before I revisit the issue of WordPress and the General Public License, I would first like to talk specifically about WooThemes being targeted by disgruntled developers and customers. Do I feel bad for them? No, not in the slightest. There is certainly an irony about the fact that WP Avengers are doing the same thing to WooThemes that WooThemes did to JigoShop. What goes around comes around.

For those that don’t remember, WooCommerce was “Forked” from the eCommerce plugin Jigoshop. The plugin has been developed a lot since then, however the initial release was basically Jigoshop with a WooCommerce logo and a built in HTML email template add on.

Ethically, there is nothing wrong with forking a GPL licensed plugin. There are actually many benefits. For example, when a plugin no longer has the time to develop a plugin (e.g. one that is listed at, another developer can take over the project and continue development. Also, plugins being released under GPL allows developers to take plugins in different directions. There are thousands of great plugins on that started life as another plugin. That is what the GPL is for. Code that is released under the General Public License does not belong to anyone. This allows anyone to use the code in their own projects and release it to others.

What I did not agree with was the way in which WooThemes forked JigoShop. Jigsoshop was completely free and the developer made money by selling related themes and plugins. WooThemes came in with hundreds of thousands of existing customers and “forked” the project. The developer of JigoShop (Dan Thornton) did not seem to be too upset about it all as he was pro-GPL; but there is no doubt in my mind that he lost a huge amount of money because of WooThemes. He had spent years and years developing JigoShop into the best eCommerce plugin.

WooThemes had tried to buy Jigoshop. Their bid apparently “grossly undervalued the business and didn’t come close to covering initial development costs“. When they would not sell, WooThemes rebranded JigoShop and sold it as WooCommerce. To make matters worse – they hired the developers who were coding JigoShop. Was that ethical? Of course not. It was a very scummy way for WooThemes to handle things.

So whilst I do not feel any hatred towards WooThemes, I certainly have no sympathy to their current situation due to the cold and heartless way they screwed over JigoShop.

WordPress, GPL and Ethics

General Public LicenseLet us get one thing straight. It is not WooThemes that are losing out due to the actions of WP Avengers and GPL Club. WooThemes make tens of millions of dollars every year and I do not think their bottom line is going to be greatly affected.

The ones that are being affected are the independent developers who are working thousands of hours to develop unique extensions for WooCmmerce customers. They are relying on the sales of their extensions through WooThemes. If other websites start offering thousands of dollars worth of their products for only a few hundred dollars, they are going to lose a large part of their income. That income is being lost directly to people who are not forking their plugins. WP Avengers and GPL Club are not enhancing the plugins and spending tens of thousands of dollars improving them: They are simply reselling them on at a cheaper price. And for me, that is the problem with all of this.

Going back to what WooThemes did to JigoShop two years ago, I believe the issue was not because they forked JigoShop. That is, afterall, what the GPL was created for. The first versions of WooCommerce were almost identical to JigoShop, except for the WooThemes branding. Over time, they have developed WooCommerce further and made it a noticeably different product.What upset a lot of people was the underhanded way that they handled it all. When they could not purchase JigoShop, they simply hired the developers who were coding the plugin.

Right or wrong, the General Public License allows any WordPress related product or theme to be forked, redistributed and resold. When any developer develops a plugin or theme, they knowingly (or in many cases unknowingly) adhere to those same rules. Therefore, there is not much they can do if someone takes their product and resells it.

What is Good for the WordPress Community?

There is clearly nothing wrong with someone taking a free WordPress plugin from and offering it free elsewhere (such as within the zip file of one of their own products). Nor do I think there is anything wrong with taking a free WordPress plugin, developing it and selling the new plugin for a fee.

When you start talking about premium GPL products, the line between what is right or wrong gets a little blurred. Perhaps the terms “Right” and “Wrong” should not be used in this debate at all. “Good” and “Bad” are more suitable. GPL is supposed to benefit the WordPress community. So we need to consider what is good and what is bad for the community?

If a premium plugin is forked by another developer and used to create a different product, I think this benefits the community. Particularly if the new product goes in a different direction or focuses on features that the original plugin did not.

On the surface, it may seem that redistributing a premium plugin for a cheaper price benefits the whole WordPress community too. After all, WordPress users are saving money when an expensive plugin is resold at a cheaper price. If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear that redistribution has the potential to do more harm than good for the WordPress community in the long term.

Robin Hood

The people who are reselling WordPress plugins and themes are doing nothing for WordPress community. They are parasites. They are not improving the plugins. How could they? Premium plugins such as Gravity Forms are developed by large teams. How could any person or company continue to develop around forty premium plugins of that size and charge 10% of the cost. It is just not possible. All these people are doing are taking money directly out of developers pockets.

Let us get rid of the idea that a company that charges a lot of money for a product is doing something wrong. Developers are not evil. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed just like me and you. When premium products can be bought elsewhere cheaper, the developers of the plugin lose a lot of money. In the short term, this rise in websites such as GPL Club is going to benefit all of us as we can get high quality premium plugins at a reduced rate. In the long term, this is going to push lots of great developers and entrepreneurs away from WordPress.

GPL Club gives updates to “customers” (I use that term lightly) as soon as the original plugin is updated. If developers stop updating a plugin, websites such as GPL Club may cease to exist as they rely 100% on someone else developing plugins. This may seem a little far-fetched given the number of people who use WordPress; however if developers are struggling to make good money from WordPress, they may look at alternative ways of making money online.

What Say You

The issue of WordPress, GPL and ethics is dividing the community. People like Justing Tadlock are are great believers in GPL and have built their business around it. Justin noted that:

“The act of copying my themes, making no changes, and selling them is perfectly fine. I gave you permission to do so by placing it under the GPL license. Just in case that wasn’t enough, I’m giving you or anyone who wants to do so permission right now. It is not unethical for you to do these things so long as you do them within the confines of what’s allowed by the license.” – Justin Tadlock

Justin’s Theme Hybrid club is a good example of how people can adhere to the GPL and still make money. The club offers themes and plugins free but charges $29 per year for tutorials and support. Companies with different business models will be more affected by websites such as WP Avengers and GPL Club. When your income relies solely on direct sales from your product, it can be decimated by people who redistribute your products for a cheaper fee. Does that mean that all WordPress theme and plugin developers should change their business model?

I could easily write another few thousand words on this topic, however I feel that I am already covering the same ground I covered earlier. So with that in mind: It is now over to you.

What is your view on websites who are reselling premium WordPress products at a reduced cost? Right, wrong, good, bad. Let everyone know your opinion in the comment area.

Thanks for reading.


* Hat tip to Sam from WP Squared for recommending Jean’s article to me :)

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About Kevin Muldoon

My name is Kevin and this is my blog :) I am an experienced blogger who has been working online actively since 2000. Through this blog I talk about internet marketing, technology and travelling. You can get updates to this blog by subscribing via RSS or Email. Alternatively, you can follow me on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

73 Replies

  1. Wow, very good article.
    To be clear, I can buy premium theme on ThemeForest, redesign it and give for free or sell for a few bucks, right?
    If yes, it sucks. I get the idea of GPL, but stealing (yes) someone’s work and money is highly unethical.

    On the other side, low prices of themes and plugins are somehow building WordPress community, because a bigger part of it can buy better products.
    But what if developers won’t put so much work into it because it will be simply unprofitable and the end result will be low quality product.
    There are always two sides of a coin.

    1. Thanks Kris.

      Yes that is exactly how it works. I do not believe ThemeForest themes have been targeted by this too much as they are fairly cheap at around $50. Many WooCommerce plugins cost $199 so some website owners are paying thousands of dollars to run their online shop. That is why WooCommerce has been targeted.

      It is a difficult issue. I have read many good points from pro-GPL users who point out things such plugin developers benefiting from others developing code for WordPress etc. Then I read a developers point of view of how how he worked for months to develop a new plugin; only for it to be sold elsewhere at a cheaper price.


      1. I do understand developers, but if they work for a community, they should share code, but only the author should have rights to sell it for commercial purpose. It’s not a perfect solution.
        Anyway, it’s good that with GPL we can avoid cases like patent trials between Apple and Samsung 😉

      2. Jon

        I think it all boils down to fair pricing. I am not at all surprised at the rise of “Robin Hood” like organisations to offer the grossly over priced premium plugins at more reasonable prices minus the support. Woothemes have changed their model in such a way that they are forcing their customers now to pay for support they may not even need. They have completely alienated the developer community by removing developer licensing and and all but admitted they have made these changes in the name of greed. I am sorry, but it’s their monopoly tactics that ultimately harm the WordPress community because their exorbitant pricing models set a precedent that other plugin developers might choose to follow if they are shown any more support for their decision. WordPress premium theme and plugins sales are kept sustainable by the sheer size of it’s market place, which allows for premium quality products to be sold a relatively low prices due to economies of scale. I don’t mind paying for a good plugin. I don’t even mind paying for only a year’s support for the plugin if the price is right. I do mind getting robbed in broad daylight for it. That, in my opinion, is what WooThemes are doing with their pricing, and they create the space for the likes of WP Avengers and GPLclub.

        1. I don’t think Ferraris are priced fairly. Doesn’t give me the right to steal one. Perhaps an extreme analogy, but I don’t think being unhappy with the price of a product gives justifies stealing it.

          Also, you need to understand that it isn’t WooThemes that are losing out here. These websites are reselling WooCommerce extensions that were developed from third-party sellers. Frequently, these extensions make up the bulk of a developer’s income. Which means these stores could be reducing a developers income from $5,000 per month to $3,000 per month; a significant amount, particularly if you have a family to support.

          My advice to people who are not happy with the way WooThemes operates is to not use any of their products.

          1. Jon

            You make a fair point Kevin, and for what it’s worth, I do agree with you that if one is not willing to pay the asking price for a product, they shouldn’t use other means to go about obtaining that same product in unethical ways. In that regard, I am in full agreement with your article and the end point you reach. I guess I was just highlighting a perspective that the particular model that WooThemes have adopted (and by extension imposed on their once happy customer base) has caused a lot of discomfort in the WP community and there is a justification for it. My comment was merely pointing out that the emergence of entities such as the ones I mentioned is almost a natural next step from a change such as the one WooThemes adopted, ultimately getting to the point that if plugin developers start charging hugely inflated amounts for their products, it eventually does hurt the WP community, which was mean’t to be an open source platform that everyone could add to. But that is another debate. Kudos on the good article.

            1. I do know what you are saying Jon.

              I don’t like the way that companies will draw customers in under a certain pricing model and then switch things around later. WooThemes did that and I can understand why so many people were annoyed with them (i.e. switching from unlimited licenses to yearly licenses). At that point, a customer is invested in the product and their company may depend on it so simply choosing another product is not always easy.

              I have never been a big fan of WooThemes. For a number of reasons, such as the way they handled the spike from JigoShop to WooCommerce, to the way they closed their affiliate program and cost affiliates like myself who had promoted them for years a lot of money.

              The pricing of plugins is always subjective. I can maybe justify paying $500 for a plugin if my website has enough traffic and the plugin can affect my website positively. Others could not justify paying $10 for the same plugin.

              And a lot of it comes down to economies of scale.

              Take a plugin such as Visual Composer. It sells for only $33, but with the functionality it offers, the developers could justify selling it for $99. However, they have over 4,500 sales on codeCanyon and that is partly due to how affordable it is.

              Now consider a plugin that is not suitable for every WordPress user. Perhaps something to do with custom post types that only developers will use. They could also sell the plugin for $30, but developers are usually willing to pay more for products that help with functionality etc, so they could lose money by pricing it so low.

              In this regard, I believe pricing is sometimes more of an art than a science.

  2. Casey Dennison

    Great post, kevin! Me and a buddy at work were just discussing GPL and this issue today, at work. It really does suck, but like you said, it all comes down to ethics. Thing is, there’s a lot of “unethical” people out there who will do anything to try and make a few extra bucks.

    1. Agreed. I do believe that forking can be justified, but simply redistributing premium plugins add nothing. I’d love the WooCommerce extension developers to just offer their plugins for free and charge for support in order to screw the parasites over.

  3. Ricky

    Your mention of WooThemes taking over Jigoshop is not the same thing as other people “wpavenger” and “gplclub” selling their products for cheap.

    WooThemes forked it but kept it FREE…Is not like they forked it and then started selling it. So you can’t possibly compare that to people who are taking their products and re-selling them for a very low price…Completely different matter.

    1. Hi Ricky.

      I completely agree that they are different matters. I did not suggest that they were the same thing in my post. My issue then, and now, was the way that WooThemes handled themselves in business. When their low offer was refused, they simply hired the people who were developing it (presumably paying more to entice them).


      1. “They simply hired the people,” makes it sound like the people had little to no say. I run a team that gets offers to work elsewhere regularly (including for greater salary to entice them). More often than not, they don’t leave.

        Making offers to hire people isn’t bad, wrong or unethical. Companies don’t own people. People get to make decisions. And in this case, they decided to leave the company where they were.

        I’m surprised so many people blame WooThemes for creating job offers. It often sounds like staff were absconded or stolen. Everyone (from Jigoshop, to WooThemes, to the developers) had options and made choices.

        1. Maybe you are right Chris. For all I know, JigoShop was paying terrible rates at the time and the freelancers were unhappy about it. I don’t know exactly what happened: Only WooThemes and JigoShop. WooThemes were a million dollar company so I imagine they could have paid over the odds to make sure they got the right people for the team.

          This kind of thing obviously happens a lot in software companies. Due to this, many software companies insert clauses into staff contracts that forbid them from passing on company secrets etc. I know Internet Brands did this with the former developers of vBulletin, however their court case against them failed as their new discussion forum software was designed from scratch. With GPL, this kind of thing cannot be enforced.

  4. Ricky

    That is a business decision and shouldn’t be judged by that. You have to give them credit for at least trying to purchase it first and not just taking it like nothing. And there is nothing wrong with hiring their developers if the price is right as the developers are the one who agrees to join no? That is also a business move which is nothing new in any business world.

    Same cannot be said for sites like avengers and gplcode….

    1. Just to clarify again, I am not saying those things are equal. They are not. However, I disagree that it was simply a “business decision”. It was very underhanded to say the least.

      Let’s say that you own a blog which is very popular due to the three authors that write for you. Let’s say I offered you $10,000 for the blog; even though we both knew the real value of the website was close to $30,000. After you declined my offer, do you think it would be fair if I simply hired your writers and built a blog using your ex-staff.

      In that kind of scenario, technically nothing illegal has occurred; however it is a very scummy way to do business. I have no doubt that this kind of thing occurs everyday in the business world. Though that is no justification for the way they handled things.

      Also, I completely agree with you about WP Avengers and GPL Club. The whole point of my article was that they contribute nothing to the community.

      1. Ricky

        Well lets compare what Woothemes did versus what WP Avengers and GPL Club did.

        Woothemes – while respecting GPL, wanted to buy off Jigoshop plugin as a courtesy. Offer did not take so the plugin was forked and re-branded Woocommerce but has been enhanced way above what Jigoshop is now. That is GPL at its finest. Where a software is forked and enhanced all while keeping it FREE as was before and available for the general public.

        Ok now lets see WP Avengers and GPL Club – they didn’t even fork the products. They decided to just take it and re-sell it… Is that what GPL is about?? Sure it is legal within the licenses, but ethically, that just sucks. The spirit of open source, is to take an existing product and improve upon it and do what you see fit with it.

        You can’t really blame Woothemes for offering the developers to join them. Google and many big companies do this daily. They would scout out high potential execs and give them an offer they can’t refuse and they end up joining them. It is the decision of the execs ( developers in this case ).

        Let’s put this more in prospective, if you were offered a annual salary with bonus you can’t refuse, you would jump ship no? Sure some feelings may be hurt but this is a career decision.

        I am also a pro GPL and a developer so I can only imagine what it would be like if others take my products ( not forking ) it and simply reselling it very cheap…If they took my product and significantly improved upon it and resold that, I would commend them….otherwise is almost just like stealing legally…

        1. Please re-read my post. I have already explained my position about WP Avengers and GPL club and made my feelings about what they did clear. You are arguing the same points about those websites that I did in my post :)

      2. Kevin, the invective “cold and heartless way they screwed over JigoShop”, and the use of words like “scummy” and “underhanded”, are not helpful in understanding the real issues here, and seem to tell us more about your personal reaction to losing your affiliate income, than they do about GPL licensing.

        Its called “business”, and if you are a good businessman ~ or businesswoman ~ turning down the offer of $10k means you will have studied what might happen, and you may, or may not have a contingency. Either way, that is a decision best taken BEFORE you spend years of time and money creating a business based purely on a GPL license.

        But of course, there’s nothing to say that being a good developer makes you a good businessman, and the wisdom of hindsight is priceless.

        My own view is; for a business to survive and prosper in the WordPress ecosystem, over the long term, it cannot simply sell the products of others ~ strange you see that in the activities of “wpavenger” and “gplclub”, but not your own affiliate business ~ and it should provide additional services of substantial value, such as tutorials, support, and customization.

        1. Hi Terence.

          I do not recall ever being an affiliate of JigoShop. I was an affiliate of WooThemes and I lost income because of it.

          Did that frustrate me at the time? Of course it did. Companies such as WooThemes contact bloggers like myself and ask for their products to be reviewed and encourage me to join their affiliate program in order to earn money from it. I then invest a lot of time reviewing products and building small content websites in order to generate affiliate income. So when they turn around and then close the program without warning it is very frustrating.

          However, these two issues are not related. If you look back to my original articles about what WooThemes did to JigoShop, you can see I had the exact same opinion and it happened long before WooThemes closed their affiliate program. So please do not put one and one together and get three. You are making assumptions as why I feel strongly about this topic.

          Additionally, did when did I say my own business model was based on affiliation? Yes, I do make some money through affiliate marketing, but my online income is not dependent on it. I have published books, I freelance for many websites, and I do a lot of consultation. Again, you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about me to give your own position more weight.

          I do agree that past incidents have shown that when it comes to GPL, you live by the sword and you die by it. However, the whole WordPress community would be worse off if everyone just resold everyone else’s products as their own; and that is what concerns me.


  5. Andrew

    As a developer of WooCommerce extensions that sell through WooThemes I can tell you that

    “Reduced developer commissions.”

    is incorrect, unless you are talking about something else.

    1. I apologise if that was incorrect. I should have researched that issue more. I was simply stating the reasons that WP Avengers give on their website. I have clarified this in my post.

    2. On a side note, how do you feel about websites such as WP Avengers reselling the products you have developed? I’m interested in hearing from developers who are directly affected by this issue.

      1. Andrew

        Well, obviously I’d rather they didn’t do it, legal or not. To be fair I’d rather WooThemes was the only source of WooCommerce extensions but, you know, competition and free markets and all that 😉

        My biggest issue is support, I know of cases where customers of these third parties have been referred to WooThemes for support and upgrades that’s where this kind of thing becomes problematic.

        1. That’s unbelievable. So not only are they selling extensions on at a lower price, they are telling their “customers” to go to WooThemes for support. I hope you tell those people where the door is. They knowingly purchased your product from one of those websites and know that they have cost you money; so it is cheeky for them to even ask you for help.

          1. Andrew

            Not all of them, just some. There are more than your list that are offering WooThemes products. At the end of the day they are legally allowed to do it but the customer needs to be aware that they may not be getting support, bug fixes and upgrades – that’s what companies like WooThemes are really charging for.

            If the customer is cool with resolving problems themselves then fine, if they need additional help and support then they should look at spending a bit extra*.

            Ultimately these sites and sites like them should at least be honest about their support policy and let the customer decide. WP Avengers, for example, has announced very little about support other than the possibility of giving some support credits with the initial purchase and then charging for additional support requests (good luck policing that) – I haven’t looked that deeply and freely admit I may have missed something. GPLClub states in the FAQs that they don’t provide any support.

            *Sites like WPAvengers might offer 37 extensions but if you only need 5 or 10** then you might only save $2 – $300, factor in any additional support costs and how much are you really saving?

            ** Chances are you will only want 1 shipping extension and 1 payment gateway for example

            1. That is a very good point Andrew. I hadn’t really thought about it. Few shop owners will need all extensions, so by using these cheaper websites they may just be exchanging good support for extensions they are never going to use. Seems like a poor trade off.

              I can relate to any website owner trying to save money. We all want to keep our costs down. However, I have little compassion for people who have bought from GPL Club and then been left with no support.

              I’d be interested to hear from someone who has actually purchased from one of these websites.

  6. Hey,

    Interesting article Kevin.

    There’s a lot of points raised here, and touched upon, that it’s a little hard to know which one I want to chirp in on :)

    The issue of GPL and ethics, in my opinion, is moot. You either subscribe to the good, bad and ugly of a license, or you don’t. The license is mature enough now that when we work within that environment, we must accept the consequences both good and bad.
    Discussing ethics is completely, and always will be, a wholly subjective opinion and the arguments are arbitrary. WordPress will always be GPL and if you work within those bounds you have to suck it up. If you do well from it, great! If you don’t, then the unique value proposition you’re presenting isn’t quite unique enough.

    Reading “what started it all…” on WP Avenger is a perfect example of arbitrary. They want to dictate the terms under which they buy products because they don’t like things as they are.

    Interesting quote from them:
    “Free and GPL has been the reason behind WordPress and WooCommerce’s success and it feels it’s now all about $$$$!!”

    Matt doesn’t go around buying sites and businesses, and running Automattic for free.

    Make no mistake – WordPress is business.

    If it was just because of “Free and GPL” Drupal would have been just as successful.

    I don’t agree with the view on WooThemes handling Jigoshop. It paints WooThemes as a bully that “stole” developers. Those developers made the choice to move of their own free will. The incentives to do so had to have been quite large enough to actually convince them to move in that direction. This points to huge issues underlying the whole thing, that none of us will probably ever know. And therefore, we can’t really form an opinion of that and still be reliable.
    Are we to chastise those developers for “selling out” then?
    Where does the buck stop?
    Why should there even be a buck?

    My point is, this idea of hating on a company has little merit.

    These are the rules of the game. It’s harsh, but as you say, developers gotta live too, and as is the way with business, not everyone succeeds.

    The jumping on WooThemes also points to another issue I see in the WordPress community… Too much hate. It’s everywhere. If someone doesn’t put a capital “p” in WordPress, they’re lynched.

    Like you, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for WooThemes and the position they’re in. Not out of _spite_ because of a decision they might have made, or because they shift their licensing, but because they are in the same game as everyone else, and that’s the field they’ve decided to play in. If their support that they sell is that good, they’ll have no problem with things like GPLclub… no problem at all.

    Anyway, I think I’ve probably ranted enough and offered plenty of my own arbitrary points and subjective views for one day. :)


    1. Great comment Paul. You raise a lot of great points. As you rightly point out, WordPress is a business, and a the developers of WordPress make a living through it.

      I believe the first time I installed WordPress was 2006 (could actually have been 2005). It was not until 2007 that I started writing about WordPress regularly: Focusing on the usual WordPress topics such as themes, plugins, news etc. The world of WordPress is very different from then. There were only one or two WordPress theme stores and the premium plugin market was non-existent. WordPress always has to be GPL and its growth and popularity are no doubt due to its open source nature. Yet the adoption of WordPress by website builders has certainly played a big part too.

      With regards to where the buck stops :) WP Avengers and GPL Club are charging money for premium plugins that other people developed. Here’s a thought….what if someone went one step further and released all premium plugins free. For example, a plugin and theme directory that allowed every single premium WordPress theme and plugin to be downloaded free of charge. No malware, ho hidden agenda. Simply someone who wanted to share all premium plugins with the world.

      How do you think the WordPress community would react to this? Would it kill the market for premium WordPress products or would developers have to focus on support?


      1. I don’t actually think it would have as detrimental effect as we all believe.

        You see here’s the thing everyone forgets… behind every business website built upon WordPress is a business. And if the business needs an eCommerce site, then they’ll pay what it takes to get it. My guess is WooCommerce knows this, and they know they can charge businesses for that. They are afterall a business who pay for services themselves.

        Business – and it’s business that pay developers, not the “community” – don’t care if their site is built on WordPress. They don’t care about the WordPress community. That’s not because they’ mean, or evil – it’s because they’re businesses.

        If I was the developer for a client and I “knew” Woo and I said, this is how much it’s gonna cost: $abc. Then they pay it or they don’t.

        If they say, “Well look, I can go and download it here for free.”. Then two things I can say about them:
        1) They’re not really a business
        2) I wish them all the best in setting up an ecommerce store with no support.

        Because after all is said and done, yes, we’re paying for developers to make stuff, but businesses pay developers to construct the final piece from all the parts.

        I have never bought a theme or plugin that I haven’t had to custom code. A few weeks ago I bought some themes thinking- “how much extra work must it be to get this to suit my needs?” A LOT, it turned out! And I also needed the developer’s help to get it to work – and I too am a developer. So if I’d downloaded those themes for free I’d have spent waaay more time fixing it than the 10 minutes needed to get the support. That’s easily worth paying for. Why? Because as a developer, I AM a business. (see opportunity costs below)

        So whatever we buy or download, we still need experience and support to get us to the final result. And that’s what businesses pay for.

        Nothing is free. And with WordPress, this is especially the case. The only thing free about WordPress is the download. And I think there’s a real disconnect within the community on 2 key principles:
        – cost
        – value

        We think free is good value, but we completely neglect the “opportunity costs”.

        Opportunity costs refer to effectively the time spent on 1 task versus what you could be otherwise spending that time on that would be of much greater value.

        A WordPress backup plugin is free. Great! But how much time to you spend managing your backups? Now how do you calculate the value of something like WorpDrive (disclaimer: it’s my product) when you don’t actually spend any time on it, and compare it to backup plugins that you have to baby sit?

        The agent that best knows how to answer this is Business Because if they can’t answer this question of value and opportunity costs, they’re not in business.

        So, in summary, if all the plugins and themes in the world are made free… the market will go on, but there would be a much faster shift towards value-adding service providers, away from product/commodity providers.

        But the real money would still flow.

        Perhaps my view is simplistic, or unrealistic, or folks don’t like it. No problem… I’m happy to stand corrected.

        One extra point – GPLclub etc…. they have started a race to the bottom. And they usually end horribly.

        1. Support is definitely the key issue here. That is why many developers use a freemium model where the plugin is free but support is not. I agree with you that GPL Club is starting a race to the bottom. In the short term, I think we will see websites like this come and go. In the long term, it seems that there will always be websites like that.

          I offer support myself. The people that have hired me for consultation for blogs and WordPress related issues are looking for resolved quickly and professionally. There will be always be people who look for free solutions and those who will pay to have a problem resolved immediately. As you say, many people aren’t treating their website like a business.

          Although I have never developed a premium plugin and had it ripped off, my books have been uploaded to blackhat websites. I have also had lots of people scrape and copy my content over the years. There’s not much you can do about it. It’s a losing battle. I soon realised that my time was better spent writing new content than fighting people that were stealing content I had already written. I imagine plugin developers feel the same way.

  7. Forking a project should not have to come with any stigma (it’s immoral etc), that’s going against the ideas that power the GPL & WordPress and have made it such a success for everyone. Of course, there are ways to go about in ‘underhanded’ ways as you put it. This is especially an issue when you have big players with more resources looking to make strategic shortcuts to create a quicker foothold in the market.

    There are major differences between reselling and forking something under a different name. The problem places like and wpavengers face is what happens if some of the creators decide to pursue them on trademark grounds, because a case can be made they are essentially using other businesses branding efforts to create a profit. That puts the legality in question I feel. If they forked the projects, it would be a different matter. That’s why I only think those places have a future if the original vendors endorse what they do, at least, if they continue to market the way they do now.

    But for those that worry about another party reselling/forking as if it’s an easy way to make money. I don’t think so. Managing a sustainable business is hard and is more than just the code. Just the idea of forking a product sounds like a headache to me. The only exception perhaps is when big players do it, because they have more resources to pull it off. But the big players get greedy and raise their prices and that should create opportunities for competitors. And as has been pointed out by other folks, when charging radically lower prices, you attract a different segment of customers. It’s not like the original creator has to worry all too much about losing customers – unless they are doing a real shit job.

    The bigger concern, I think, is not copycatting products, but the danger of having bigger outfits dictate the market to the detriment of the ecosystem. A wonderful case can be made for raising prices if you are a product creator. You can even argue that for a long time, lots of offerings were sold at undervalued prices. But the issue I think is that a good ecosystem can cater to all and make things inclusive and participatory. It’s a world ecosystem, and a 100$ is worth a lot more in some countries than others. If all the popular plugins and themes raise their prices, they are pricing out people in other countries even if those customers are prepared to pay the relative price in their own currency.

    Consider this. What if companies embrace and welcome parties such as the ones like GPLclub? There is upside to it for the original vendor, because you cultivate a customer base outside your targeted segment, when said customers grow, they are more likely to go the orginal vendor. By having your product out there for a low price, you discourage competitors developing copying your product. If I lived in the phillipines or somewhere similar, I could make a relative fortune matching some other product and selling it at a lower price.

    1. Good comment Peter. You make a good point about the value of money in different countries. I actually applied for a WordPress writing position recently and the owner got back to me today. He wished me luck but explained that he could hire a good English writer from the Philippines for only $450 per month. I will never be able to compete with that….nor would I want to (I would return to the financial sector).

      If WooCommerce is adopted in poorer countries, WooThemes may benefit later. Or perhaps those people would continue to try and downloading plugins free and simply pay for support locally (and hence local prices).

      WooThemes are definitely a big player so can afford to pay more for good developers. So their position allows them to hire the best staff. Chris raised some good points about staff being free too. Perhaps I have been a little hypocritical about the WooThemes issue. I am a freelance blogger. If someone came in and offered me twice my normal rate, I’d obviously have to reconsider my own situation (despite wanting to be loyal to current clients etc). My opinion of how WooThemes purchased JigoShop was always along the lines of me relating to JisoShop as a website owner. If someone offered me a terrible offer for my website and then simply hired all my staff, I would be very upset with them. So I always found it easy to relate to that.

  8. Cole

    That’s pretty nasty referring to others as parasites just because you feel them as a threat. If you didn’t, people like you and Carl Hancock from Rocket Genius (who is an arrogant prick) wouldn’t devote so much time to your extended responses trying to bash them. I’ve purchased from a site not included on this list and I was very happy with what I got. I got what I needed with some help on getting set up and I saved a ton of money. I know there are people who want support and so forth but these sites give people a beneficial option to at least try the plugins before spending the money on support. If devs don’t want this happening then don’t license under the gpl. Don’t license under the gpl by your choice and then cry about others doing what they’re permitted to do.

    1. Sorry. I strongly disagree that I was being nasty. They have taken dozens of plugins that developers spent months an years to develop. They didn’t fork the plugin and develop something on their own. They simply resold them. So in that respect, yes, I think they are parasites, as they are not contributing anything to the community.

    2. Andrew

      “If devs don’t want this happening then don’t license under the gpl”

      If you are releasing plugins for WordPress then you don’t have a lot of choice. They have to be GPL or have a GPL compatible license.

      1. Exactly. I think a lot of people forget that. If you develop any plugin or theme for WordPress, it has to be compatible.

        I read an interesting comment from the owner of WP Touch. He noted that anyone is free to fork his plugin, however they are not allowed to simply redistribute it as WP Touch as that name is copyrighted. They can, of course, release it under a different name. I imagine that websites such as WP Avengers are breaking the copyright of WooThemes plugins in the same way.

        1. Cole

          I believe you both are incorrect. There are developers who release WordPress plugins that are neither GPL nor GPL compatible. itthinx for example. I don’t see anything in their licensing that indicates even GPL compatibility. This is not a requirement and developers know what they’re getting into when they license things under the GPL. I also disagree that simply not adding value (another disagreement in itself) is synonymous with “parasitism”.

          1. How can you say that they are adding value. The products that they release have not been modified in any way. So how does that increase value? Are you suggesting they are adding value by simply redistributing it at a lower price. If that is true, should I release them free and add even more value?

          2. Andrew

            “There are developers who release WordPress plugins that are neither GPL nor GPL compatible”

            People do a lot of things they aren’t supposed to.


          3. Cole


            Adding value is a subjective argument. Me and many other people think it is adding value because it’s increasing accessibility. You don’t because the code isn’t being modified. If modifying code makes such a difference, would it be better if they stripped away everything to do with the original creator while leaving everything else in tact? And if making them available for free is something you want to do, you’re allowed.


            Can you please share a link to the codex itself that states any plugin or theme must legally be licensed under the GPL? You sent me an open forum link of a discussion from people who aren’t certain themselves. That isn’t very authoritative.

            1. So increasing accessibility always adds value to the WordPress community? If that is the case, why don’t we all start redistributing every premium WordPress plugin and theme for free.

          4. Cole

            That second comment was directed at Andrew, not Kevin.

          5. Cole

            What is adding value to you? Are you saying that adding value is a clear, objective thing that can be quantified? The way I see, people will have different values they attach to a service. You clearly don’t value these sites’ service but others do and, therefore, it adds value to them where it otherwise would not have been. Is that hard to admit?

            1. I get value by going to a local shop and stealing a 3D television. It is valuable for me as I want a new television and do not want to pay for it. Of course “value” can be quantified. What is valuable to me may not be valuable to another person. You are missing the point. Clearly, for you to get an expensive product at less than half the price is valuable to you.

              Reread my last comment and reread my post. You will see that I said many times about adding value to the WordPress community – I’m not just talking about you. I have paid for dozens of premium plugins. I could simply email you these plugins and that would be valuable to you as you would not have to pay for them. However, what that does is take money out of the developer’s pocket. In the long run, that does not add value to the WordPress community.

          6. Alex F.

            Is taking money out of the developer’s pocket the same as not putting money into it? I think in the case of software, with a 0 marginal cost, purchasing from one of these sites is not taking money out of the developer’s pocket. It’s not putting money in it. If it was actually taking money out then that would be stealing and it’s very unlikely that the GPL would allow this.

            1. Of course money is not literally being taken out of anyone’s pocket. A movie producer does not lose money when someone buys a pirate DVD or when someone streams a money they made through an online website for free. However, piracy does cost their industry billions across the door.

              It is the same with WordPress. Granted, GPL allows it to occur, however things such as trademarked names etc are still being included through these websites, and that does break the law.

              The fact is, if the WordPress community all start downloading premium plugins free or for a reduced cost, the developers will not be able to develop premium plugins. That is bad for the WordPress community.

        2. Alex F.

          @Kevin I understand your point about developers not being able to maintain their products. However, do you think any of these sites will actually become big enough to put the developers out of business? There are always going to be people who would rather pay less for the plugin/theme itself because they don’t need the support. Doesn’t it make sense for developers to offer support as a separate service rather than including it in the cost of their product. Granted, it may make them more money but I think that doing this will lead a lot of customers to look elsewhere. There are developers who offer their downloads for free and charge for support. This obviously increases selection for customers. I’m completely fine with paying for a plugin but, personally, I don’t ever really need support and I’d rather pay $20 or so to get just what I need rather than $200 to get what I need plus stuff that I don’t. I think aside from less expensive licenses for “fewer sites” (this language is somewhat misleading because people can install the download on however many sites they want, assuming it’s under the GPL), selection is something not many developers provide. I’ve read other comments on this subject and it just doesn’t make sense that people put the owners of these sites down for doing what they’re explicitly allowed to do. While initially being against it, Jean from WPMayor actually approached other views with an open mind and his views changed. But other people make them out to be thieves and immoral “parasites”. Donnacha has been a very active participant in this conversation and his point that developers are misguiding and delusional for attacking these sites seems accurate. The GPL is what it is and it’s not going to bend to how developers want it to be. Attacking those who do what they’re allowed to do isn’t really fair. Justin Tadlock, a very well known WP developer, comes right out and tells people he gives them permission to do what these sites do by licensing his stuff under the GPL.

          The bottom line is that these sites will continue to exist (and others similar to them are likely to increase) as long as their practice is legal and they’re providing users with a choice that they desire. There currently is and there will continue to be a market for what they provide. The only way to reduce the market for these sites is for developers to go after it themselves. Attacking the individual suppliers will not reduce the market for what they provide and doing so is beating a dead horse.

          1. Hi Alex,

            I appreciate you taking the time to leave such a detailed comment :)

            I rarely use support either unless there is an error or problem with the plugin. I am sure most website owners are the same.

            I would always like to pay less for plugins. Of course I would. That is money I could use on something else. It’s worth pointing out that few plugin developers charge for support alone. Yearly subscriptions for plugins such as Gravity Forms cover support and development. If plugin developers offer support as a separate service, they are going to lose a lot of money. People like myself, who do not usually need support, would rarely pull the full price of the product if the core product could be downloaded for less (or free).

            I am fully aware of Justin Tadlock’s view on the issue and I admire what he has done for WordPress. However, his business model is not affected by what websites such as WP Avengers are doing. He makes money through support. If Gravity Forms was available free and they made money through support, their monthly income would drop considerably.

            You are 100% right that these websites will continue to exist. It will be interesting to see how things change over the next year.


          2. Alex F.

            @Kevin It’s all about economics. If I may ask, what is your opinion on explicitly stating that if customers need support and auto updates from the dashboard, they should purchase from the developer? For example, I’ve purchased a couple plugins from Proserve Web Solutions and they make it very clear on all of their download pages that if these things are needed that you should purchase from the developer. Personally, I think this is pretty honest of them. I’ve talked with Ren and he seems like a straightforward person. Also, would you be more likely to download from one of these sites or from a sketchy file sharing site? People will always find what they’re looking for for free/cheap. Anyone searching for a cheap or free version of a plugin is unlikely to buy from the developer anyway. I think at least purchasing from a known source that provides discounted plugins (e.g. Proserve) is safer than downloading from an unknown source. That’s just my two pennies.

            1. I have no doubt they are doing that because they cannot support plugins themselves. I see no real difference between downloading a premium plugin for free via a file sharing website or a website such as Proserve. The principle is the same. In my opinion, whether a file is safe is irrelevant in this issue.

            2. You are right that the issue is about economics. I can appreciate that some premium plugins are expensive. As someone who has purchased from one of these websites, I am curious as to whether your decision to buy elsewhere was purely financial. If your business became successful, would you start buying from the original developer?

          3. Alex F.

            Kevin, my decision to consider purchasing from Proserve was financial. When I discovered the site, I was curious and I asked some questions. The main reason I decided to ultimately purchase was 1.) It was much cheaper, 2.) The operation seemed legitimate and transparent, 3.) The service was friendly. I figured that it wasn’t as much of a financial commitment and buying from them would at least allow me to test some plugins I wanted to play with without having to spend hundreds of dollars. As someone who doesn’t need support, I really don’t see needing to purchase a license from the developer because I can get the plugin for a lot less with access to updates. Sure, the savings may not be substantial if you’re only using one or two plugins but if you’re running a Woocommerce store or need multiple premium plugins then the savings provided by these sites will really add up. From a business perspective, it makes more sense for me to purchase elsewhere because the value of the support isn’t worth the price.

            1. I do understand the financial side of things. I am not too concerned about multi-million companies such as WooThemes. It’s the developers I am concerned about. They are the people that are going to be hit financially by these websites – not the large theme stores they are selling them through.

              My hope is that they are not affected too badly. If they were, we might see many good developers move over to different platforms.

          4. Alex F.

            If you’ve noticed, most of the plugins available from these sites are Woocommerce plugins. When it comes to paying $10 to $30 on small plugins from Code Canyon or some other marketplace, I don’t think there is as much of a demand for alternative suppliers. The same is not true for large vendors like Woo and Rocket Genius. Woo’s pricing makes it very expensive and unaffordable for a lot of people and that’s why most of these sites have popped up.

            1. The question is: Are those people paying for CodeCanyon plugins too? I suspect that once a WordPress user has become accustomed to getting premium plugins free, they will never pay for them again.

              Take Gravity Forms for example. It only costs $39 and the team behind it offer great support and are always updating it. Yet it is one most popular premium plugin that is being offered on these websites.

  9. Prakash

    This is a great topic and the entire crux of the post and the messages I have read from all readers is that Theme and Plugin developers need to provide products at a reasonable rate and they also need to separate Product and Support in to two sections. This has been an endless debate which I have faced many times not only with WordPress but even with Joomla components. In my case, after paying close to $400 for a Joomla component the developer suddenly decided to end support and changed the version number and said all new component updates would be under a separate license. I was told if I need the latest version (which supported the latest Joomla version) then I would need to buy a subscription from them. I told them that according to the license when I had purchased, all updates and support were free. They said the terms had now changed. When I requested for either a refund, or allow me to continue with the product – I was simply blocked and I could no longer access my member area. I was told that we have blocked you as you do not agree to our new terms and subscription plans! The $400 which I paid had gone waste. I tried complaining to that countries business issues department, who said nothing could be done from their end. My issue always has been how developers conveniently change licenses without understanding that even the user who is buying needs to earn something out of it. It is like while buying a car after driving for 1 year, the manufacturer suddenly comes over to you and says oh sorry I have changed my license, now if you want to drive you will need to buy this from me or the product wont work. I think the principle of the site is correct, the method is wrong. Actually, there should be a parent body that asks users to subscribe by paying X amount (which is only for product downloads – no support) All plugins in the market are available there. The author of the product gets X % out of it and rest goes to maintain the parent body. Recently a leading Form plugin for WordPress also changed their license from a lifetime support license to a subscription model (updates would be free but support would be charged). Hence, my request always has been that for existing users who signed up / bought the product under a specific license and terms and conditions should continue to enjoy that or no one will trust a developer for buying a plugin / theme or component.

    1. Hi Prakash,

      I am sorry to hear that you got screwed over by that developer. Changing the terms of a sale or license is not something that any customer likes. I can understand the frustration of being sold something as lifetime support, only for it to be changed.

      In my opinion, providing lifetime support is not always sustainable for companies as it means they always have to focus on generating new customers. If they fail to continually bring in new customers, they will struggle financially to support development of the plugin. So I prefer companies to offer one year of support with the initial purchase and then charge a renewal fee every year.

      That being said, $400 is a lot of money to spend. I would have less of an issue with paying renewal fees every year if the initial purchase price was cheaper, however $400 is expensive.


      1. Prakash

        Greetings Kevin,

        Yes, it was quite frustrating at first having started the project using that component and then suddenly knowing that licensing had changed and I need to pay additional money to get updates to the component when initially it was promised that it would be lifetime updates and support.

        I also agree to the point that its unrealistic to think that the developer would keep on supporting endlessly as they too have a home to run, but that said, even developers of components and plugins need to understand that their customers too have a home to run and they cannot endlessly pay subscription fees to get updates. I have discuss this with many developers that they need to keep support and product separate. Take a one time fee for the product and provide updates. For each support ticket they raise, take X amount or ask for support based subscription.

        Like for most plugins / components I buy I hardly use their support – its usually say once or twice a year and I could almost do away with support. Hence, each developer needs to consider that. It should definitely consider splitting between development time and support time so users know what they are paying for. Initially, developers say updates for life and support for life and suddenly one day they realize that if we charge for support we can still earn more money and that’s when the loyal customer base they built begins to crumble. For example if a developer charges $100 for a plugin and if he has a base of 1000 customers that’s a lot of money. Now even if the developer has to answer just 100 queries a month and charges from all 1000 customers that’s not fair.

        Usually once a plugin / component is built the incremental updates are usually not much and that is done in a planned manner. Hence, to expect that for minor updates or feature updates customers need to pay almost close to the original amount each year is again not fair nor is it economical to a large mass of customers.

        Like I said in my earlier post, its best that some kind of a parent plugin group be formed which provides these updates on a single subscription without support. So you need to subscribe to just one place and have all the developers upload their plugin there as soon as its updated and they are paid a flat X% of each subscription based on their product cost, download, etc.

        I hope one day I receive some good funding as I have long had a dream of starting a theme and plugin club which would provide all themes and plugins for free but only charge for support. Till the dream is fulfilled… lets stay positive and keep hoping something like that becomes a reality in near future so that many people can take real benefits from Open Source software like WP, Joomla, etc.

        1. I do not agree with all the points you raised. I think it is wrong to assume that all plugin developers have the same business model, because they do not.

          You note that a plugin developer that charges $100 for a plugin would have a lot of money with 1,000 customers. This is not always the case. Some companies have many staff: Coders, designers, marketers, content writers etc. Premium plugins that cost $100 are usually complex, so it is possible that a team had ten or more staff.

          Let’s keep it simple and assume that all staff got an even cut. That’s $10,000 each. That is not a lot of money, particularly if that is their only source of income for the year. In the UK, a good programmer could make that kind of money with four to eight weeks of freelance work.

          We need to take a step back and look at why plugin developers are pricing products like they do. They are not evil. They need to get a return for their hard work and time. You cannot say that charging every year for updates and support is not fair; particularly if the company is always improving the plugin. I do not agree with companies that change the terms of the product they sold, however in order for a company to survive, their business model has to be sustainable.

          1. Prakash

            Yes like I earlier mentioned both the developer and the customer have a home to run and both are dependent on one another one needs a product and one creates the product. Mid way through I have seen most developers lose that focus and then profitability becomes their main motive. How to increase revenue once customers are with you becomes their main aim. The point that most are making is when you have an eCommerce solution, why not have the basics in place? For each option why do you need additional plugins. Plugins if not well developed and integrated are a resource hog on the system. Further, usually additional plugins once developed do not need additional work other than basic maintenance. As this discussion is mainly based for woocommerce, the issue most are having is that year after year they need to pay loads of money because when you update woocommerce naturally you will need to update plugins as the latest plugins with support the latest woocommerce version. Now for version compatibility you do not need 100s of hours of work but in most cases say 8/10 times its just some minor fixes to be done or if some security loopholes are found, plug them. Hence, to keep charging 100s of dollars for renewal is again not correct, when you simply need the product and no support. Like I have mentioned in my earlier posts too, my main issue with most plugin / component providers is that when there are numerous examples of client frustrations due to license changes, why do they not learn something out of it and from day one differentiate support and product? Also I beg to differ that development is an ongoing process and take up 100s of hours each month. If thats the case they something is seriously wrong somewhere, because once the framework of the product has been done, what ever changes are done are usually incremental and requires only X/10 amount of time. I understand there are a whole host of people to support like developers, marketing team, advertising and finally support but most of these companies who have so much staff do not have one product to support or maintain and they also take lots of customization, installation and such other support work, which in reality should pay for most of their expenses. I am not trying to justify what avengers has done is right, but the price point at which product plugins are being offered are so high its not allowing the market to grow. If prices are reduced, more users will use their product, more might need support, configuration and allied services and in the end the whole market grows. WordPress or Joomla are fine examples to this of how even free products can survive and be better than some of the paid products.

  10. Hmmm. I’m very glad that I googled this topic. Great article. To be honest, I started out with WP when I needed to build a website for another business my wife and I run. I didn’t have any money, but I knew I could build it myself better than anyone else I knew. I bought a theme, spent many hours, contacted support, and bam: I had a website. Since then, I’ve built a few more websites, learned some coding essentials, and now do it on the side for small businesses and organizations.

    In my opinion, the GPL is what makes WP, and the internet in general (think Wikipedia), work. It has become the epitome of capitalism. You have to find your niche if you want to make a living and you have to play nice. Case in point, it would take me a very long time right now to custom code a perfect theme. While I’m constantly learning to code, my services are not defined by code and design. My service comes down to seeing a business model, interpreting a clients needs, and creating a website for them that is affordable, sustainable, and easy to use, and that’s exactly what small businesses need.

    As far as taking themes and plugins and reselling them goes, while it may be legal, I can’t say I feel all warm and fuzzy about it. In my mind, the themes and plugins that I purchase are the tools that I use to offer a good product and service to my clients. I consider them Costs of Goods Sold. It’s calculated into my overhead cost, but I don’t go out and recharge my clients for them. The individuals that develop themes and plugins exist in a different niche of the WP world, they do fantastic work, and without them, I wouldn’t be here writing this post.

    I feel the bottom line is that WP and the GPL has created an incredibly capitalistic and entrepreneurial atmosphere. But it’s a gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) game. After all, any person I would want to do business with needs to be ethical. And that is the basic premise of the GPL.

    Regardless, I’m fairly new to this whole thing, so I might be way off base, but I’m happy to be here.

    1. Hi Roger,

      In a perfect world, every WordPress user would be honourable about these things. It is not the case. A lot of people use torrent websites to get products free and GPL websites where expensive products are simply handed out. As the general public license allows this, there is little anyone can do. There is no doubt in my mind that this could hurt the WordPress community if it becomes more common. Hopefully that will not happen.


  11. Cyrus

    How about the trademark issues? I really don’t understand. GPL allows me to redistribute CODE. It does not allow me to advertise/sell using “WooThemes” as the brand name. “WooThemes” is not code. The whole price comparison is based on knowing that it is ‘WooThemes” plugin. I am sure using their name and trademark is against the law. they can sell/redistribute the code but GPL can’t override trademark/brand laws. Those are private and can not be used without permission. Without the words “WooThemes” , Google would not bring up these sites in the search results. The names of these plugins are trademarked automatically upon doing business-much the same way copyright is accrued to the writer upon writing. I can’t believe a multi-million dollars company has not thought of this. I am not a lawyer but learned these a long time ago just by running a small business. These sites are not allowed to sell these things under the same trademarked names! The law prevents them even from selling them under similar names!

    1. You raise an interesting point Cyrus.

      I am not sure how the law works in that regard though I would expect that it is set up to protect businesses from this kind of thing. As you point out, these people are marketing WooThemes products for sales. If WooThemes cannot stop them from redistributing code, they can perhaps stop them from using their name and brand for profit.

      1. Cyrus

        How many people would buy AvengerCommerce because it is cheaper?

        There is nothing in GPL that transfers trademark rights over to the user. Majority of these sales is done because of the BRAND and the NAME. there are not looking for a new plugin. they are looking for a cheaper version.

        Try selling your linux distro under the anme “REDHAT” from your site and see what happens.

        1. Cyrus

          Just one more thing I wanted to say about this. Lack of response to a trademark violation in some states is tantamount to giving permission. In essence you tacitly agree to share you trademark with another entity if you don’t defend it by asking them to stop. But better late than never..This is not a code issue. That is given in a FS environment. But no one expects their “business” to get hijacked. your trademark and brand is really your business.

  12. Cyrus

    The only exception is what you see on generic prescription drug bottles. Law does allow you to refer to another product by using a phrase like :”compare our painkiller ingredients to [brand name]. the print has to be smaller and CAN NOT be the main point of advertising visually. All these has been litigated. These are old issues.But you HAVE to give your product a DIFFERENT name. You can’t sell your products under another company’s trademark. Even if they are IDENTICAL. CVS can’t sell painkillers named “ADVIL” even if the ingredients are 100% identical.

  13. Very insightful, thought provoking article. You raise an interesting perspective to this whole GPL “hijacking” issue that’s been going on, and to be honest I didn’t think it had much merit before reading this. I can see both sides of the fence though; with such a ginormous user base, it’s attractive and beneficial for Woocommerce users to take these offers. But the support aspect is a huge side of any tech business, especially ecommerce, and that is where companies like Woo should be putting some focus to generate more revenue.

  14. Brett

    This is a great discussion. I read through most of the comments and there are very good points on all sides. The GPL/Open Source debate is such an interesting one. I think the biggest equalizing factor in all of this is the internet itself. Articles like this, reviews, discussions, forums. When you get down to it, it’s all about branding and perception. I could easily set up a site like GPL Club and give away or sell premium themes and plugins. I would probably make some good money at first but what happens when there is a need for support and I don’t offer it? Or, if I get lazy on keeping up with new updates? I am going to get hammered by people online. It doesn’t take much to destroy a reputation and once that happens, I would be done.

    The beauty of open source is that it gave us WordPress which was forked from b2. Overtime it has grown into what we have today. I could take WordPress and create my own CMS and I would get a few people but WordPress has created a brand that people love and support. The same is true with WooCommerce. They have created a brand with their themes and plugins and people like them. When places like GPL Club offer the plugins/extensions at a greatly discounted price, they will get some people to purchase but those people are probably creating very small websites that cater to a very small group. I recently built a site using Woocommerce and needed a couple extensions. I purchased them from Woo. Then, I realized that I would need their specific CSV importer to import everything from the old store I was moving away from. I needed it for a 1 time thing and I found it at GPL Club. I didn’t need support, I didn’t need upgrades, I just needed the plugin once.

    There will always be people that come in and try to skim a little off the top with very little to no work. That is human nature and one of the costs of open source software. In the long run though, it makes everything better because it does bring competition. I doubt sites like GPL Club will hurt Woo long term but it may cause them to rethink their pricing or how they handle support. It may cause them to improve their support and customer service so they can convince people the value of spending more money to buy directly from them.

    When I look at it, everything comes down to customer service and creating loyal customers. What these types of sites are doing definitely looks bad and doesn’t pass the smell test and ultimately the market will decide their fate. They do provide some value because they do provide necessary plugins at a much lower price. If that’s all you need, great. If you need service, don’t buy from them and then get pissed off at Woo when they won’t help.

    GPL/Open Source creates a great system where people are free to do what they want (with some specific limitations) and let the market decide. We saw that with Thesis and we see that with WooCommerce.

    I have read a lot about what they did and I don’t think they did anything wrong. They offered money, it wasn’t accepted, they forked Jigoshop and made a wise business decision by hiring the developers who were already working on that plugin. It may not have been very nice but when has business ever been nice.

    The biggest problem in all of this seems to come from the misguided notion of the nature of Open Source. A lot of people want to believe that Open Source Software exists for the betterment of mankind but it’s all still a business. If there wasn’t money to be made, WordPress, Gravity Forms, WooThemes/WooCommerce, Themeforest, etc. wouldn’t exist. I had this debate with so many Firefox users who thought Mozilla Foundation developed Firefox to free the world of IE and bring peace to humanity. All the while the Mozilla Corporation was making millions of dollars each year from Google search revenue.

    WooCommerce was the best thing to happen to WordPress when it comes to ecommerce options. It makes WordPress a viable option for an online store. Because of that, it is the biggest player in WordPress ecommerce so there will be some parasizes (and yes, they are parasites by definition) who try to make a little money off of them.

    It is no different than buying “Oakleys” at the swapmeet. I bought a pair when I was 12 for $10. They looked just like the real thing, it made me look cool, but in the end I had a cool looking pair of crappy sunglasses. I doubt the people who bought those sunglasses could afford a real pair of Oakleys anyway so it wasn’t stealing customers away from Oakley, it was just creating new customers of crappy sunglasses pretending to be customers of Oakleys.

    That is probably true with people who buy all their plugins from places like GPL Club. They most likely are creating an online store to make millions of dollars on their great new idea that nobody will ever hear about and won’t exist in a year. Legitimate businesses and developers are going to buy from from the real deal because they will need the support or will want the peace of mind knowing that they will get updates right when they come out.

    1. I am sorry for the long delay in responding to this comment Brett (and to Tim’s comment below). I did not get an email notification about these comments at the time.

      It is interesting that this is such a hot topic.

      I speak with developers a lot since I write a lot of plugin and theme reviews online. What I have seen over the last year is an increase in the number of WordPress products that require a license key in order to work. This goes against the GPL policy of not restricting usage; however developers seem to be concerned about other people stealing their products.

      I think WooThemes gets a lot of the press about this issue, however, I imagine smaller developers would be hit the most if another person decided to offer their products at a fraction of the price.

  15. Tim

    Very predictable comments from the ‘holier than thou’ vested interests. Let’s admit it, the biggest problem with these resellers is that they don’t offer affiliate payments…

    Selling these products in the first place is where the supposed unethical behaviour begins. You’re basically selling a product which be definition of the licence is freely available.

    I have used – and will continue to use – resold plugins to develop websites. Sometimes I ditch the plugin in the development phase. If I use it in production then I buy it from the author for the support that goes with it, I would be stupid not to.

    Sell support, sell automatic updates or whatever but seriously don’t start talking about ethics.

    1. I disagree. This has nothing to with affiliation.

      Care to expand on this point?

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