When Commercial Themes Bundle Commercial Plugins, Users Lose

Coen Jacobs developer for WooThemes has used his personal site to vent about commercial themes bundling commercial plugins. There were at least two themes hosted on the ThemeForest marketplace that were bundling commercial WooThemes plugins along with a copy of GravityForms. Those themes have been temporarily hidden from view by ThemeForest until they comply with revised guidelines. This is a great article filled with a number of great points but the comments are just as good.

It’s Just A Bad Idea – Bundling plugins with themes is already a bad practice but when those plugins have a commercial nature to them and need API access keys to work properly, it becomes an incredibly bad idea.

Support Nightmare – I love the infinite loop for support described by Coen so much, I’m just going to paste it here as it clearly illustrates how bad it can be for users to get support.

  1. The author of the plugin is WooThemes. “They should help me, right?”
  2. Wrong, they can’t help you. You haven’t purchased the plugin from WooThemes, so they can’t support you. This is not just because you haven’t purchased it from them, but they also have no way of knowing what’s been done with the code. This makes it virtually impossible to support the code.
  3. The WooThemes support crew will probably tell you to ask the theme author.
  4. The theme author has no real ways of supporting the plugins they bundle with the theme, simply because they didn’t write the plugin.
  5. The initial response of the theme author is often to contact the author of the plugin. Resume these steps at #1, infinite loop!

GPL – People are still confused when they see a theme or plugin licensed under the GPL and then see licenses that specify the number of websites the plugin can be used on. Being licensed under the GPLv2 means the code is freely available and can be modified or redistributed. During the checkout process, if the word restrict is in the description it generates red flags. It’s important to note that most commercial GPL theme/plugin licenses deal strictly with how many sites will be supported by them based on which support license you buy. In some instances such as GravityForms, you’re not only purchasing a support license, but also an API access key that provides access to updates and other functionality. The API aspects of GravityForms have nothing to do with GPL. As Carl Hancock points out, look at Akismet, VaultPress, or WordPress.com as good examples of plugins that are GPL but the features they offer are through an API/service which is not accessible because it’s a software as a service model.

It’s important to note that redistributing any themes or plugins licensed under the GPL commercial or not for free or for a price is completely within the confines of the license as long as proper attribution is maintained and the copyright notice is left in tact. What the two themes on ThemeForest were doing was not illegal.

Abuse Of The Unlimited Sites License – This is an interesting one. Using GravityForms as an example, if you buy the unlimited sites option, you’ll have support for unlimited sites, support multi-site, have unlimited forms, unlimited entries, 1 year of updates, etc. According to Simone, team leader of Your Inspiration Themes, they had purchased a Developer License granting them the ability to install GravityForms on an unlimited amount of sites. They were bundling GravityForms with their themes but in order for customers to receive upgrades, they would push out a new theme update which included the newest version of GravityForms.

I have to give Simone credit for coming up with a somewhat creative way of being able to offer GForms updates without their theme customers needing to have an individual access key. However, because of how GravityForms works, they have the ability to turn off keys if they discover they  are used in such a way that violates their TOS.

Not Getting What You Paid For – According to Simone, by bundling plugins like GForms in their themes, they are offering value. In reality, the are offering headaches. The following paragraph in Simone’s response is important to take note of.

Keep in mind that we are not re-selling the plugins and above all we don’t provide key licenses to our customers. When an update of those plugins is released, we will as soon as possible release a new theme update with the new version of the plugin. We know how important is to keep updated the WordPress installation.

When customers buy their themes, they’re not actually buying the plugins that are bundled with them. If that’s the case, why bother bundling the plugins at all? The only conclusion I can come to is that they are ripping off GravityForms and others while providing so called value to their customers.


I hope YIT and ThemeForest have both learned their lesson in this ordeal. ThemeForest needs to tighten up its theme reviewing process. YIT needs to remove the commercial plugins until they can strike a unique reseller deal with both GForms and WooThemes. Since Simone claims their themes sold well without having any plugins, I hope they remove them because the overall practice of bundling plugins with themes is stupid.

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