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Should Encrypted Themes Be Supported In The WordPress Support Forums?

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Should Encrypted Themes Be Supported On WordPress.org?It is common for most free and commercial themes (GPL or otherwise) to include a credit link in the footer back to the person or website which designed the template. The majority of bloggers are happy to keep this credit link as a way of thanking the designer for releasing their template for free. Or, in the case of commercial themes, for being happy to spread the word about the theme they love because of the quality of support they received from the company was high.

However you can usually remove the credit link if you wish by simply removing the HTML code from your footer.php template. I say usually because there are many rogue theme developers out there who make things a little more difficult by encrypting their sponsor links with Base 64 encoding.

This is a really nasty thing to do as the theme will not work if the code is simply removed from the template (usually an error or something will appear telling the user to put the credit link code back). I don’t agree with this method of ‘guaranteeing’ that the user keeps the sponsor links intact. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if there was only one credit link however there is usually 3 or 4 and most of the links are related to sex and drug related products such as viagra i.e. links no one wants on their webpage!

Which is why there is a sticky thread in the WordPres.org Themes and Templates Forum Room which shows you exactly what you need to do to decrypt an encoded theme. There is also a sticky thread for decoding requests (i.e. for those who are unsure about the decoding process).

Last week Jeff Chandler gave his views on the issue of decoding encrypted themes on WordPress.org.

Jeff believes:

  • Support for decoding encrypted themes should not be allowed on WordPress.org as it promotes the use of ‘pirated themes’.
  • Support for commercial themes should not be allowed on the WordPress.org support forum.

It is an issue which is dividing opinions so I thought I would give my own opinion on this :)

Decoding Encrypting Themes

I really have no time for developers who encrypt credit and sponsor links in their themes so that users are forced to link back to them. And I don’t think that decoding themes should be allowed in the official WordPress forums. However, I believe the the real issue here is respecting the copyright requests of developers.

If someone spends days or weeks developing an original theme and wants to earn money for their efforts by selling encrypted sponsor links in their themes to advertisers then so be it; it’s their prerogative to do so. I don’t agree with it but it really is their decision and isn’t against the law. If a user doesn’t want sponsor links on their website then they shouldn’t use a theme with several encrypted links in the footer – it’s that simple.

Decoding encrypted links in the official WordPress forums is allowing people to break the copyright request of theme developers. This shouldn’t be allowed or encouraged. I stress once again that I am strongly against those who add encrypted links to their themes however I don’t think that it is fair to remove footer links if the theme developer has asked others not to do so.

‘Pirated Themes’ are a completely different issue though. Quite a large amount of the websites which add encrypted links to themes they release are ripping off other theme developers. Some are simply downloading original themes from others, changing a few things around and then adding their ‘sponsored’ links. Others don’t even go to this hassle and simply add their links to themes without changing a thing and passing the theme off as original to others.

Therefore I wouldn’t have a problem with people decoding ‘Pirated Themes’ in the official forums. However, if the theme has been pirated from an original theme, we shouldn’t be decoding it, we should be pointing the user to the theme it was copied from.

The major problem with this is that there are tens of thousands of WordPress themes available on the net so it is very difficult to determine if a theme is pirated unless you happened to come across it on the web recently.

Support for Commercial Themes

I have to agree with Jeff Chandler on the issue of supporting commercial themes on the official forums. Nearly all commercial theme stores offer premium support to users therefore there is a good chance that anyone who is asking for support for a commercial theme is doing so because they have downloaded an illegal version of the template.

However, I see no problem in someone getting support for a commercial theme in the official support forums if they did purchase the theme but are getting poor customer support from the original theme developer. Likewise, I believe they should get support if the theme developer can’t answers they have (e.g. a difficult modification question).

It’s not always black and white though. For one, it is impossible to confirm if someone did purchase the theme legally unless it is confirmed by the commercial theme store themselves i.e. what’s stopping someone saying that the commercial theme store won’t help them with their problem when in reality they downloaded the theme via a torrent website.

A lot of commercial theme stores only offer support for a set period of time too. Consider a WordPress theme store which sells a premium theme with 3 months premium support for $99 and a 3 month support extension for an additional $29. Could you blame the commercial store for not proving support to the user in the 4th month?

On the other side of the coin, can you blame the customer asking for help in the official WordPress support forums instead of paying for another 3 months of support from the theme store if they only needed help with a basic question?

Overview

It’s clear that a lot of people out there need to be educated about the problems with themes with encrypted links. Though I don’t believe that we should remove encrypted links from original themes. Users who want ‘Pirated Themes’ decoded should be pointed in the direction of the original theme rather than decoding their stolen template. Which is why decoding should be stopped in the official support forums.

Whether commercial themes should be supported in the official forums is a bit more difficult to answer. Many people are downloading premium themes illegally and asking for support at WordPress.org. However, there is bound to be many instances where genuine customers aren’t getting the support they deserve from commercial theme stores, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to ask for support in the official support forums?

The problem is that it’s impossible to tell who is genuine and who is not. Which kind of leads us back to square one with the commercial themes debate.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole issue so please leave a comment if you have time. Kudos to Jeff Chandler for bringing this issue to my attention :)

Kevin

* On a side note, if you ever find a theme which has been encrypted linked to within a WP Mods article, please let me know and I will make sure it is removed. I do my best to make sure themes which are listed here are of a high quality but it just isn’t possible to test every single theme when compiling a large list (though I can usually spot sites which release encrypted themes as they are littered with adsense advertisements).

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