Premium WordPress Plugins And The General Public License

in Blog

Two months ago I wrote about how many WordPress theme stores are violating the General Public License that WordPress operates under. One thing I wasn’t 100% sure about was how premium WordPress plugins were affected by the license as popular premium plugins such as Gravity Forms sell single and developer licenses to customers.

Jenny from Launch Effect App read my article and got in touch about the issue. They currently sell a single license for their plugin for $35 and an unlimited license for $65. Jenny advised that they were really keen to adhere to the GPL rules and change their licensing accordingly but were not 100% sure how the rule was applied to plugins as the issue is still unclear.

I noted that I seen many developers offer different levels of support for their plugins but allowed all users to use their plugins on an unlimited number of websites. I was still unsure as to whether what Gravity and other plugins were actually breaking any rules or adhering to the GPL so encouraged Jenny to get in touch with Mark Jaquith (as he had helped me with this in the past).

Mark advised that:

Gravity Forms is talking about SUPPORT licenses, not plugin
licenses. So when they say “single-site” they mean that you will only
get updates and support for one site. But as it is GPL they cannot
prevent you from running it on more than one site.

Many theme foundries take the same approach — while the theme is GPL,
the support license is purchased as a single-site or multi-site
license.

I think you can minimize backlash during a switch to GPL by
maintaining the single-site/multiple-sites distinction but
transferring it from a code license to a support license. Most of the
value of your current multiple-sites license is in the support. They
could just buy the single site license and then use it on multiple
sites without telling you. That they don’t suggests to me that they
are (a) honest and (b) value that they can get official support for
multiple sites when they buy the multiple sites license.

I believe offering a multi-tier support license is a good solution for most theme and plugin developers and ensures that they can offer a product to those who need limited support and those who need priority support. It’s not like it’s practical to track how many times a customer is using a plugin or theme anyways.

I do empathise with developers such as Launch Effect who are thinking of making a switch to a GPL friendly license as there are bound to be some existing customers who feel they have perhaps lost out in some way. Kudos to Jenny and the Launch Effect team for being proactive in the situation and trying to find a solution that adheres to the GPL, makes them money and keeps their clients happy :)

Kevin