Negativity Over Distributing Premium Plugins

Note – I work for rocketgenius specifically on their Gravity Forms product. My comments and opinions below are not those of my employer, nor do I have any inside information about company policy above and beyond what is published on their websites.

There has been a huge discussion in the WordPress community about themes including copies of premium plugins like Gravity Forms in their releases. I found out about this discussion from WPTavern’s post entitled, When Commercial Themes Bundle Commercial Plugins, Users Lose. You can read more about this on the post that started this discussion on Coen Jacobs’ website (Don’t Buy Bundled Premium Plugins).

It looks as though some themes on ThemeForest were including premium plugins with their theme sales, and the community did what it does: it focused their negative energy on the situation.

My boss, Carl Hancock, has made his opinion clear stating things like:

Themes should be themes. What you are doing isn’t a theme. It’s a mess.

For the most part, I agree with him, but, just as I used to be known for in the WordPress world, I like playing devil’s advocate.

The thing that the premium theme developer did wrong wasn’t really the re-distribution of Gravity Forms, which is allowed by the GPL license, but instead, it’s the fact that they were giving out their license key (against the TOS) and they were using the Gravity Forms brand to promote sales of their theme. Update: Apparently, they weren’t giving out their Developer license API key. I assumed incorrectly due to the conversations I read on other sites.

Of course many people have diluted the issue and commented on support, updates, security, etc, which are all good points, but not really the crux of the issue at hand and I think many people in the community are being very heavy handed in their responses to the theme creators. I understand the frustration, as this isn’t the first time stuff like this has happened, but the conversation has been much more combative than I would like to see.

Back when I first started with WordPress, I wanted to create a theme that included more features. I thought it would help users as they wouldn’t have to wait for a bunch of plugins to update before they could, and instead would only have to wait for me to update the theme and its advanced functions.

Of course, this wasn’t always ideal, as people learn to pick and choose their favourite plugins for various features, and I couldn’t code for every eventuality, causing new and interesting issues. It also meant that each new theme release meant updating all my built-in plugins.

What these theme developers were doing on ThemeForest isn’t the same as what I did. They aren’t adding a bunch of features within their core theme, which can also be a mess, but they were including third party scripts. Again, this isn’t against the GPL license, but the community heavily frowns upon it.

ThemeForest acted quickly and hid the themes from their marketplace and the authors were asked to remove the third party scripts. Now, the theme author is receiving a great deal of flak.

It seems the average purchaser of the theme now feels entitled to have access to the third party scripts that were included. Many people in the discussion board for the themes are asking for older versions of the theme so that they can continue to access Gravity Forms and WooCommerce scripts that they had come to depend on. This confusion is the most important part of the issue, in my opinion.

I do agree with one comment I saw in the great debates happening all over the web right now that companies like rocketgenius should find a way to take advantage of this business interest.

Maybe, it would have been worth our while to have an upgrade only license (no support included), that was a few thousand dollars to be able to include Gravity Forms with a theme. I am not sure how this would work, or if it is even worthwhile, as this could create all kinds of interesting issues relating to licensing.

Again, while I work for rocketgenius, I don’t have any inside knowledge regarding business decisions.

For example if we included Gravity Forms as a partnership option for $2000, and a theme company sold a thousand copies of their theme, then Gravity Forms becomes worth two dollars a copy, and there has been more effort and energy put into Gravity Forms than that.

Of course, the same comment also says that we knew ahead of time that the user was going to use their developer license for their theme release, which isn’t true. We’ve had a few people ask previously if they could bundle Gravity Forms with their theme, and while you can include the code, we always discourage people from doing so, due to the other issues at hand: support, upgrades, and terms of service breaches.

Anyways, I am not sure why this issue has received so much attention, other than the fact that this is part of how WordPress polices the community: if you make a “mistake”, the community takes you to task as loudly as possible to discourage you and everyone else from making a similar mistake. I am commenting on this whole thing now because I am hoping that those that read this will find cooler heads and deal with this a different way in the future.

This issue shouldn’t have been handled so publicly. This issue shouldn’t have been so major. Instead, what should have happened is that someone should have contacted rocketgenius and let us know that someone was distributing our plugin.

We make ourselves easily available on Twitter, Facebook, our Forums, and our Contact Us form.

Carl should have contacted the theme author and explained our position regarding distribution of Gravity Forms. If the author didn’t remove the plugins or at least all branding and their license code, then Carl could have contacted Collis at ThemeForest and solved it that way.

The whole thing would have been dealt with behind the scenes, and the only people that would have been justified in making a big stink about the issue is rocketgenius and the purchasers of the theme that feel frustrated that “features” were removed.

At the end of the day, this whole mess didn’t feel very community focused, instead feeling more like a witch hunt. People make mistakes all the time and they shouldn’t be called “stupid” for them. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes. I hope that all parties involved learn from this ordeal and move forward with a more positive outlook in the future.

My Final Say

As for my final thoughts on the issue of distributing premium plugins, it is a horrible feeling, as a front line support person, to have to turn someone away, letting them know that they don’t own Gravity Forms and thus don’t qualify for support from us because they didn’t understand what they were purchasing on another website. So please always purchase themes and plugins from the creators of the themes or plugins. Only purchase Gravity Forms from our site.

2 responses to “Negativity Over Distributing Premium Plugins”

  1. I quite like your point of view on this, David. Thanks for sharing!

    To clarify one point of detail, the theme author wasn’t distributing their license key. Instead, they would release a new theme update each time a plugin was updated.

    I also feel like this whole situation could have been handled better, and can say that for my part in it, if it happens again I’ll aim to put that into practice.

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