WordPress GPL License: How to Protect Your Plugin or Theme Business Against Trolls

WordPress GPL License: How to Protect Your Plugin or Theme Business Against Trolls


Hi everyone, I’m Ben from Freemius. If you’re a movie fanatic like me, you probably
know these two strangely similar franchises from the late 1970’s – Battlestar Galactica
and Star Wars. After discovering no less than 34 stolen ideas, including a friendly robot who aids the democratic forces, Twentieth Century Fox – Star Wars
producer – sued the creators of Battlestar Galactica for copyright infringement. This kind of plagiarism is not limited only
to showbiz. Our very own GPL-powered WordPress community
has been infected by unethical and greedy people who steal the name of successful premium
plugins and themes and sell them as their own products for a fraction of the price. These are WordPress trolls and Freemius is
here to help you fight them! In this video, I’ll share the actions you
can take to defend yourself against trolls even if your product is distributed under
GPL. Let’s plug-in! Before we get started, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel for future videos. If you’re watching this directly on YouTube, you can click the alert icon for notifications about new releases. I know what you’re thinking – there’s a
big difference between stealing movie ideas and using someone else’s code, and you’re right. The license that protects your WordPress related
code is called the General Public License, or GPL. Since WordPress core is open source and licensed
under GPL, all plugins and themes are inherently also licensed under GPL, which means that
their source code can be copied and distributed by anyone – for free. The GPL is part of the basic foundation of
the WordPress community. The reason for that is that some of the founding
values of WordPress are knowledge sharing and easy accessible learning for everyone! But, like in every community, there are people
who exploit this way of sharing for their own benefit. We are here to show you that even if your
product is distributed under GPL – you still have enforceable rights to protect your brand
and products. First of all, let’s talk about the misconception
that WordPress plugin and theme businesses aren’t damaged by redistribution of products
under GPL – they certainly can be hurt very badly. Here’s a few ways how WordPress businesses
are hurt: First, when people redistribute your code
– you lose money! Customers are always looking for discounts
– especially WordPress newbies. People who are unfamiliar with your products
or brand will always look at the price first and many times will choose the cheapest solution
available to solve their immediate problems. If they are buying from someone who has redistributed your product, these dollars are not going into your pocket. Second, when people redistribute your code
– users may still expect support from you, the original developer! Even though they have purchased from someone
else you may end up getting all the complaints if something isn’t working properly. If I have problems with an iPhone I bought
on Amazon, I go to Apple – not Amazon. As a customer, I would feel pretty bad if
Apple told me – “it’s our phone, but you need to contact Amazon for technical support.” Saying something like that conveys the message
that you don’t stand behind your own products. Third, when people redistribute your code
– they can ruin your good reputation! Think of it this way: someone takes your product’s
code and modifies it. They don’t really care about your code or
your reputation. All they’re thinking about is making more
money. So, there is nothing that stops them from
injecting malicious code that will generate more revenue for them or open up other security
risks for users. When people discover those modifications – it
is YOUR reputation that gets ruined – not the trolls! Fourth and last on my list is that when people
redistribute your code – users who buy the product from the troll won’t get support or automatic updates, and can potentially be exposed to security threats. The bottom line is that you don’t want your
brand to be associated with that bad experience. We at Freemius love to dig deep into problems
in the WordPress ecosystem, but we also love to find good solutions for them. So, we decided to consult the expert intellectual
property lawyers – Ariel Reinitz and Matthew Hintz from Lowenstein Sandler LLP. After thorough research and conversation – we
have some good news and bad news. The bad news first. Under GPL, trolls have
a legal right to use and modify your code, including redistributing it. On the other hand, the good news is that the GPL does not extend to everything that surrounds the source code. That means that people who use your company
name, product name, logo and trademark are violating your Intellectual property rights,
and you can take legal action against them! Trolls can use and distribute your code, but
they can’t use any of your brand’s name or symbols – and that is an important distinction
to make. The whole idea of trademark protection is to prevent confusion between similar products and companies. This can make a big difference between the
original product purchasing experience for customers which includes support and automatic
updates – and the experience provided by a troll distributing your code under a slightly
different name. Think about it this way – what would you prefer
to drink – Coca-cola or Poca-cola? Many open-source companies like Apache, Red
Hat, Elasticsearch, and even WordPress still register, protect, and police their trademarks.
So why don’t WordPress plugin and theme developers? In addition to that, our esteemed lawyers
tell us that WordPress developers are entitled to copyright protection. That means that in addition to trademark protection,
your product’s materials beyond the source code, such as graphics, promotional material,
packaging and more, are also protected. Just to be clear – the code itself including
class names, function names, variables, and constants names are not protected. What is protected is your brand’s specific
name and logo – your trademark – including strings that are printed onto the page and
are visible to end-users. So, what can you do to protect your product
and brand from trolls? The first thing you can do is to register
your company name, product names, and other symbols that are unique to your business,
as trademarks with the US patent office. This process isn’t necessarily complex, but
it does take effort, time and a small fee. Keep in mind that the registration is territorial
– which means that it will only take effect in the US. If you want to have the greatest impact with
your registration, we recommend hiring a mid-level lawyer to handle it for you. It’ll save you time and ensure a better application. For more details – check out our blog post. What can you do when your copyright or trademark
is infringed? Before taking legal action, try to contact
the website owner directly via email, their contact page or Twitter. In many cases, the troll is no more interested
than you are in becoming involved in legal proceedings. If they don’t comply, the next thing to
do is to send a “Digital Millennium Copyright Act” or a DMCA takedown notice to them. This only applies to copyright issues, which
means you should NOT file this when someone uses your trademarked business name, but you
can file it when a troll uses your logo or design assets without your permission. The last thing to do when all other strategies
fail is to take legal action, but don’t try to do it by yourself – get advice from
a lawyer you can count on. To conclude – even though we work to foster
an open and free ecosystem governed by GPL, we as business owners can and should protect
our company’s brand and assets. Creating an original brand with its own
marks – like a unique logo – will help you better protect your plugin or theme business. If you want to get more tips and best practices
on how to sell your WordPress products – be sure to like this video and subscribe to our
YouTube channel and blog! See you next time!


One thought on “WordPress GPL License: How to Protect Your Plugin or Theme Business Against Trolls

  1. Interesting video, what did your experts say about the resemblance of your mascot and Eve from Disney Pixar's Wall-E movie?

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