Premium plugins for FREE? Whaaaaa?

Did you know that many premium WordPress plugins are available for download for FREE?  And there is no catch!  Well, almost, read on.

Sounds too good to be true?  Let’s see how it works.

WordPress is a free platform, licensed under the General Public License (GPL).  This license also extends to many (but not all) plugins and themes developed for WordPress.

The essence of this license is that the code behind plugins is not copyrighted and is therefore in free public distribution.  Anyone who has access to a plugin licensed under the GPL, can copy the code, modify it, distribute it, give it away for free or EVEN SELL IT, if they want!



I was pretty shocked to see plugins like WooCommerce Sensei and LearnDash in free distribution – two LMS plugins I was considering for my self-hosted school.

This means, for example, that as a proud owner of several premium plugins licensed under GPL, I have all the rights to put them on my website for anyone to download.  I can even re-sell the plugins, if I want.  I can remove the original logo, put my own and call it “Nata’s Magic Plugin for 7 Years of Good Luck”.

I have no intention of doing it, but many do.  There are various GPL distributors who do nothing but purchase premium plugins and resell them at a tiny fraction of the original price or even give them away entirely.

And no one can stop them, because what they do is LEGAL.

Whether or not it’s a good idea is debatable.  But this is the way it IS.

If you’re interested in seeing debates on this topic, check out these articles:

But is it ethical?

The original intention behind GPL was to avoid legal battles over code proprietary rights and to give developers freedom to use and build on whatever other developers have created.

On one hand, this boosts technical progress, as any developer can freely copy the code, improve it, create more interesting and advanced plugins.

But it can also be very discouraging to know that in many cases you cannot copyright your work (or at least, some portions of it) and control its distribution.  Hours, weeks, months of sweat and labour.  Only for someone to grab it, profit from it or simply give it away.

On the other hand, there are many famous cases when this was done.

Woocommerce wanted to buy Jigoshop, and when their offer was rejected, they simply took the code, slapped their own logo on it and eventually went on to become the most popular ecommerce solution on the internet.  Of course, they improved the plugin significantly over time, but they also hired JigoShop developers to help them do that.

As I’ve recently shared, OptimizePress used S2Member code for their membership functionality.  S2Member is a free plugin to begin with, but OptimizePress charge money.

So what exactly are you paying for when you buy a premium plugin?

When you purchase a plugin or theme licensed under GPL, you are really paying for automated updates and support.  Essentially, you’re paying for a service, not necessarily the plugin itself.

You also pay because you want to support the developers, make sure the plugin continues to live on, bugs get fixed and new features added.  If people and companies behind plugins don’t make enough money, the plugin dies, everyone suffers.

So it almost becomes a case of “I’ll pay you if I like you” Patreon-style.

But if you don’t need much support with installing and using plugins and you don’t mind downloading the occasional updates yourself, nothing stops you from simply downloading and using premium plugins without actually paying a penny.


The biggest issue (beyond ethics): Security.

There is no guarantee that people who distribute these free (or nearly free) copies of plugins haven’t messed with the code to insert some malware and viruses.

This is less likely for paid membership sites which store hundreds or even thousands of premium plugins and themes.  First, the sheer amount of hacking into the code to install some bugs on thousands of plugins and their constant updates is next to inhuman.  They’d have to have hundreds of hackers working for them.  But even more importantly, these sites rely on recurring payments, which will dry out very quickly if their members start suspecting that the plugins aren’t ‘clean’.

Sites that promise 100% free downloads with not even a membership account required are much more likely to be infected.

So, what should you do?

Whether or not you decide to use this opportunity is entirely up to you.  I must confess I downloaded a few plugins to test them out on my demo site, but I use them for testing purposes only, to see if I like the plugin enough to keep it and pay for it to its original creators.

I’ve done that because I hate dealing with refunds, and I don’t want to make a purchase if I know there is 99% chance I’ll ask for my money back.  When I was searching for a solution for my self-hosted online school, I ended up testing 40-50 different plugins and their combinations: LMS plugins, membership plugins, affiliate plugins, shopping cart plugins, various add-ons to the plugins.  It would have been incredibly impractical to purchase them all and then to ask for refunds on most of them.

Rightly or wrongly, this is what I did.  Once I settled on the right combination though, I purchased the plugins from the source.

List of GPL distributors known to me:

If you ever decide to download plugins from these sources, I urge you not to use them on your live site.  Ethics aside, it may simply be unsafe.



GPL Vault

GPL Guru

GPL Plugins

I’m not affiliated with any of these websites, even though some of them go as far as running their own affiliate programmes.

Q2U: Do you think downloading premium themes and plugins from GPL distributors is a good idea or a bad practice?  Unethical or a lifesaver for testing things?

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