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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 and commercial plugins to add features, make it easier to use and even turn it into a forum or online shop. 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. There are also countless ‘themes’ that change the visual appearance of your site.

These paid plugins and themes are usually available from 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 quirk our dodgy coding, you can get software for free.

Here are three reasons to NOT do that.

1. 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 it pay, they often stop developing plugins and that can leave you high and dry if your website depends on that code. WordPress advances or PHP gets an update and now your site doesn’t work so you have to rebuild some or all of it. Also ethics – how would you feel if someone stole your work? Do you want to financially support people who hijack other peoples’ hard work?

2. Security

If you are obtaining plugins from unofficial sources, there is nothing stopping the supplier inserting whatever code they want into that theme or plugin. Want links to porn sites, advertising popups, someone skimming your checkout 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 £50 theme/plugin license.

3. Easy Updates and Tech Support

WordPress has a built in updater that gets code 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, so updating will be a manual process. If you’ve got ten plugins and update everything weekly, that’s a lot of work.

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 ten plugins and something breaks, that could mean your site offline with nobody to turn to.

But how do I know if PluginX is going to work?

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 fit for purpose. Developers sometimes also make claims that aren’t strictly true 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 will be low.

Summary

There are sketchy places to get commercial 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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