The GPL licence, which is the foundation of WordPress and all plugins in the WordPress repository, is a great license, no doubt. It has permitted WordPress to become what it is today, and have such a wonderful community form around it.
I’m lately seeing a small surge in the number of people who are taking advantage of the GPL in what many consider an unethical way. I’m talking about the WordPress plugin stores that are cropping up and selling plugins developed by other people.
We’re not talking about ripware sites here, but rather of new and real businesses built solely on the selling of products which they themselves did not develop.
This raises a few questions:
- Is it ethical to profit in such a way on another developer’s hard work?
- How will we make sure end users know that they need to make this decision between buying from the original developer or a third party?
- What kind of support can such reselling companies offer?
- Are these companies sustainable, how long will they be around?
- Isn’t it bad for customers that some of these companies operate anonymously?
You will find strong opinions both in favour and against in the WordPress community. From my observations the proliferation of these stores has not had a negative on the bottom lines of the plugin and theme shops concerned. In fact, most of the developers I spoke to are not concerned about them and don’t really spend time chasing them. They prefer to focus on improving their product and on their paying customers who are happy to continue paying every year for the support received.
The people behind these companies (most of them anonymous, no doubt because of the stigma), will argue that all they are doing is doable within the GPL licence, and they are moreover doing a ‘Robin Hood’ act of making plugins and themes more affordable.
Here are some of the most famous sites that fall under this category.
GPL Vault is one of the newer sites and looks very professional. This is the most trustworthy site I’ve come across, with several plugins and themes from leading WordPress companies. It also has the cheapest plan with no restrictions on downloads.
GPL Guru provides you with access to products from WooThemes, WooCommerce, Gravity Forms, Elegant Themes, iThemes, WPMU-Dev etc. You can get a number of premium plugins, themes, addons or extentions starting from just $5. It provides simplified pricing with regular updates of the products, as well as further discounts when getting a club membership, 6 months plan or a yearly plan.
CMS Market offers around 3400 themes & plugins for WordPress, which is probably the largest collection on any website of the sort. They offer premium themes and plugins for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal & OpenCart at affordable prices. These products are advertised as having unlimited domain use, 24/7 support & free updates.
Use the discount code 9pszh to get 10% off your first purchase.
Memberships at $19/month or $99/year. Includes a ton of WooCommerce plugins and themes as well as many other premium plugins like WP All Import, WPML, AffiliateWP, Advanced Custom Fields Pro, WP Job Manager and Gravity Forms.
Membership at $15/month. Individual purchases also possible. Includes WooCommerce and other plugins. Some examples: Advanced Custom Fields Pro, Events Calendar Pro, BackupBuddy, Gravity Forms, iThemes Security Pro and more.
A Russian website offering a huge collection of themes and plugins. One of the best in terms of its vast collection of WordPress themes. It has a points based system for downloading files.
This is quite a different take on the whole GPL plugins market. The owner of this site has decided to package 72 WooCommerce modules into one big package.
There are three pricing levels as shown below, together with a Lite (free) version including 15 WooCommerce extensions.
UltimateWoo also provide support and automatic updates for their plugins, which again is very different from most other vendors who only provide the plugins and no automatic updates or support.
Another well organised site offering more than 700 premium WordPress themes and plugins. The main focus is Woo themes and plugins however there are also many plugins from other vendors. Some of them are WPML, Events Calendar Pro, ACF Pro and several plugins from Elegant Thems and OboxThemes. This is the only plugin I’ve come across that features WPMU Dev plugins (the whole set).
GPLDL is currently FREE.
Access to the member’s club and access to all plugins available at just $15/month. You can also purchase a club membership that includes not only all plugins but also all themes at $25/month.
They also sell StudioPress themes (the whole set) for $10/month. Apart from WooCommerce plugins, this site also features other plugins like Gravity Forms, BackupBuddy, Events Calendar Pro and iThemes Security Pro. This is also one of the only sites that distributes the Yoast Premium SEO plugin bundle.
Memberships available at $15/month or $60/year. There is a $5 sign up fee too. Individual items can be bought for as low as $5. No automatic updates or support, 1 year access to your account to download updates.
Individual plugins or themes available at just $5. No support offered. Memberships available at $99/year or $14/month.
Includes all kinds of WordPress themes and plugins. This website adds credits within the plugins so if you’re looking for unmodified plugins identical to those you get from the original vendors this is not the place for you. Plugins and themes here are available absolutely for free.
Sites that are no longer available
Over the years, many GPL clubs have cropped up and been closed down.
Here’s a list of the ones that were available when this post was originally written in 2013, but which have since been closed down.
- GPL Club
- Woo GPL
- WP Avengers
So what do you think about these GPL clubs? Let’s have a discussion about it…
Update: Take a look at these related articles
- The Ultimate Guide to Legally Protect Your GPL WordPress Plugin Business Against Trolls
- It’s Legal But Unethical
- The GPL is for users
- Victory of the Commons
- Discouraging public redistribution of commercial themes and plugins – poll results
There have also been three follow-up posts which are an interesting read, and also have some great comments:
- WordPress GPL and Ethics
- Why Are We Paying For GPL Licensed Code?
- Commercial WordPress Product Descriptions Can Mislead Customers into Purchasing More Licenses Than Necessary
More thoughts from the community
Aside from the above, Thomas Maier from the Advanced Ads plugin has also brought up the idea of a private GPL club just for plugin and theme developers. It will serve as a community through which developers can work together on potential conflicts, partnerships and collaborations all in one place.
I’ve also done some more reading about this myself and dug up some interesting snippets.
Here’s what Justin Tadlock, a very prominent theme and plugin developer in the WP Community, says about the subject:
“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.”
BraveNewCode, makers of the super-popular WPtouch Pro plugin (licences available in the range of $49 – $999), state on their website:
“Licenses sold for WPtouch Pro are for support + product updates only. No fees are charged for the GPL software license and its freedoms attributed to this software.”
Presumably therefore they would be perfectly OK with their plugin being resold or re-distributed in the manner discussed above since their value is mostly in support.
For those not very familiar with the GPL and what it entails, here’s a video from Matt Mullenweg himself, in which he explains the GPL and its ramifications in simple terms.