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P08 Plugin Licensing

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George Morgan
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The following discussion confirms legally the following approach for selling our plugins:
Sell a “light” version of the plugin on wordpress.org that complies with the WordPress.org GPL
Make the “pro” version paid (not under GPL but only GPL compliant).
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Licensing Protection

We will need a copyright protection for our plugins. The basis could be Mailpoet that checks the license many times inside the code.

Which license to use for a paid plugin? (11 posts)

  1. Jonas_
    Posted 4 years ago #

    Hello people,

    i’m in need of help with the legal stuff about wordpress..

    I know wordpress is under the GPL, so that means that the source code can be shared for free.. but i have a paid plugin, which i would like to protect somehow..is this possible? and which license would i need to use,??

    Thanks in advance!

  2. TCBarrett
    Posted 4 years ago #


    Matt, Automattic and most people in the WordPress community believe themes and plugins to be derivatives of WordPress core, and thus break the law if they are not distributed under GPL themselves.

    In short, if you write a plugin or theme, and give or sell it to someone, they have a right to the source code.

  3. Jonas_
    Posted 4 years ago #

    Okay.. so i really can’t add something like.. you can not modify it or send it to other people for free?

  4. That is correct, you cannot restrict people from modifying, selling or giving it away.

    ETA: That’s true IF you release it GPL. I felt I should clarify 🙂

    You don’t have to, but … well. You won’t get much (any) help from folks here if you don’t.

  5. Rev. Voodoo
    Volunteer Moderator
    Posted 4 years ago #

    If you make a quality, useful plugin, people will pay for it if they need it.

    Releasing GPL is the right, and legal, way to do it.

    AFAIK, the WP community is honest peeps. I do not see a rash of redistributed paid plugins. It’s bad form, and unacceptable. People will pay for the goods, if it is worth it. Especially if you provide quality support to go with your plugin!

  6. premiumwp
    Posted 4 years ago #

    The above comments are correct – you really need to release the plugin under the GPL licence.

    I understand your concern about wanting to protect your work in some way, however there really is no need to fear about releasing your paid plugin under the GPL license.

    This GPL licensing issues caused a big stir in the premium theme marketplace a while ago with many concerned they wouldn’t be able to protect their work, would lose sale etc. However most have now adopted the GPL licence with no negative effects at all. In fact most are doing much better as a result.

    If you have a quality product, provide good support and keep updating and improving it – people will be happy to pay for it, and there will be no problems with releasing it under the GPL licence.

  7. PlugPress.com
    Posted 4 years ago #

    Well, I must say I do not totally agree…

    Rev Voodoo:

    Releasing GPL is the right, and legal, way to do it.

    It’s one option among others.


    …you really need to release the plugin under the GPL licence.

    I would say : “It is recommended” or “I recommend”. The fact is that it is not needed.

    You can distribute your plugin under the license you want. If you want to invent your own rules (or own license), you can. The GPL license given with WordPress allows you to do it.

    In short: No, you do not have or need to release your plugin under GPL. The fact is that the open source mentality wants you to do it that way and that’s what is recommended. But that is not an obligation.

  8. Legally, all themes and plugins MUST be GPL compatible, or they’re in violation of WordPress’s license.

    Read this: http://wordpress.org/news/2009/07/themes-are-gpl-too/

    They’re derivatives.

    CLARIFICATION: You DO NOT have to make your plugin GPL if you don’t release it. But if you do, it must be, or you run the risk of issues. And yes, WP has ‘won’ arguments of this type before.

  9. ClaytonJames
    Posted 4 years ago #


    “If you want to invent your own rules (or own license), you can. The GPL license given with WordPress allows you to do it.”

    You wouldn’t have a specific citation in mind, would you? Nothing long winded – I just wouldn’t mind taking a look at the interpretation for my own enlightenment. I only ask because your statement seems to be contextually ambiguous. I’m not clear if you are referring to some wording found in the GPL in general, or in specific relationship the the GPL and how it applies to the WordPress application – and more specifically “derivative works” – in this case, plugins.

    What are your thoughts on the “derivative works” issue and how it relates to the well known requirements that plugins hosted for download/community use on wordpress.org must comply with the GPL?

  10. PlugPress is right about how you CAN create your own license, it just has to be GPL compatible/compliant. That’s always been the case.


  11. PlugPress.com
    Posted 4 years ago #


    I was not aware of the document posted by @Ipstenu when I wrote my comment. That said, with images and CSS not needed to be in the mix, you could play with the license of these files to make your plugin LEGALLY hard to distribute. That said, there is a big difference between finding that someone violates your rights and being ready to spend big bucks to go to court.

    If you want to host your plugin on WordPress.org, you don’t have the choice : it must be GPL.

    If I were you (which I am not!), I would not worry about it. If your code is good, you update frequently, you support your “clients”, most people won’t use an unsupported copy made by someone who stole it.

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