Reasons to avoid ‘nulled’ or unlicensed WordPress plugins

WordPress is an amazing system with thousands of hours of development behind it, backed up with hundreds of free/commercial plugins to add features, make it easier to use and even turn it into a forum or ecommerce website. A common model is ‘freemium’ where you get a cut down version for free and can then upgrade to a paid version with extra features (and get nagged to death until you do so..). There are also countless ‘themes’ that change the visual appearance of your site.

These paid plugins and themes are usually available from places like ThemeForest, WooCommerce.com or the developers’ own websites. Due to a quirk in the GPL license that all WordPress code must use, it’s actually not illegal to use the premium plugins/themes – if you can get hold of a copy.

Some enterprising individuals have set up whole websites full of these premium WordPress themes and plugins, either for free, or a lower cost than direct from the developers. Other sites remove the copy protection from the code – often called ‘nulled’ software. So either by license grey area or shady coding, you can get WordPress themes and plugins for free.

However, here are three reasons to NOT do that.

1. Security

If you are obtaining plugins from unofficial sources, there is nothing stopping the person supplying it from inserting whatever code they want into that theme or plugin. Want advertising popups, someone skimming your checkout, links to porn sites or sending spam from your site? All these things are possible in that stolen code. Imagine the damage to your company reputation if some or all of those things happened. Not worth skimping on a £40pa theme/plugin license.

We used to have a client that decided to use a grey market payment plugin for WooCommerce, against our advice. Absolutely mind boggling that they would take that risk to save ~£70pa when they were taking £1000s a month through the website.

2. Supporting Developers

Developers need to make money off their products to keep them up to date, provide technical support and feed themselves. If they can’t make an income from coding, they often stop developing plugins and that can leave you stranded if your website depends on that code. WordPress gets updated or PHP gets an update and now your site doesn’t work so you have to rebuild some (or all) of it.

There’s also the ethical aspect – how would you feel if someone stole your work? Do you want to financially support people who hijack other peoples’ hard work?

3. (Easy) Updates and Tech Support

WordPress has a built in updater that can update core code, themes and plugins from official sources. It’s fairly straightforward to keep your site up to date from within the control panel. These sketchy themes and plugins don’t have auto update due to the licensing not being present, so updating will be a manual process. If you’ve got ten plugins on your site and update everything weekly, that’s a lot of work.

Developers often have their own licensing and update plugins for WordPress and the same applies – you won’t have access to that without a legit licence from the developer.

Also, if you hit any snags, you won’t have access to technical support which again can leave you high and dry if there’s a compatibility issue. If you’ve got a theme and a bunch of plugins and something breaks, that could mean your site offline with nobody to turn to. Is a small saving worth this hassle?

Testing plugins

Testing out a particular plugin is the one time I would recommend using these methods of obtaining software. There are often no demos available that allow enough access to properly test out a system, especially something like an events calendar or booking system. We’ve seen clients buy a plugin and it turn out to be unsuitable or so broken it’s not even fit for purpose. Developers sometimes also get very creative in their marketing, so it can be good to test it out to be sure it meets your needs. As long as you license the theme/plugins for the live site and make sure to delete the test site, the risk of testing things this way will be low.

Summary

There are grey market websites out there to get commercial WordPress themes and plugins for free, but there are some very solid reasons to not do so if you value your website and/or business reputation. They can be a good way of testing things out if there is no trial version however.

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