Basically…how shady is it to copy a theme or plugin?
I keep getting people commenting or message me if I knew that Kadence stole from Blocksy. Or this plugin stole from another. Or this service copied the UI from another service. And on and on and on.
Stealing and imitating ain’t new. The problem is how we judge those who do it.
Everyone has copied…
Indeed, Kadence has copied from other themes (including Blocksy, Neve, GeneratePress, etc). So too has Astra, ripping off its child theme design from GeneratePress. GeneratePress itself to me was a free-version ripoff of paid Genesis. And while Blocksy may not be a blatant ripoff of another existing theme, there’s no doubt that it borrows upon innovations made from previous themes.
But is copying bad? And how much of it should be allowed?
The GPL debate all over again
The nature of open-source protects innovation by allowing it to be freely copied at will (whether for personal or commercial use). The General Public License (GPL) is an open-source license and applies to WordPress core and any 3rd-party theme or plugin operating in the WordPress eco-system.
It’s because of this GPL license that we have so many free choices and rapid evolution. Without it…we have the ridiculous progress-hindering litigation scene in today’s technology capitalism.
- Why do life-saving drugs cost an arm and a leg? Because some company patented their drug so NOBODY can make it.
- Why is Apple the only phone with its certain qualities? Because anyone who dares to make something similar will be sued.
Sure, patents protect the inventors (and their profits) at the cost of innovation.
So anybody can copy anybody else?
Technically, yes. And it’s hard to point a finger at somebody copying if you haven’t yourself copied someone else. But what should the court of public opinion say? How do developers feel about their work being copied?
Some are quite open-minded about it. They see themselves as pieces of a bigger movement to help the world, and don’t mind seeing their work copied and improved upon. Others are quite vigilant. Angry to see someone else garnering more money and respect for their original work.
How do I personally feel about code-borrowers?
I feel really bad. I know if I worked my ass off, toiling away many hours of my life to create something…I wouldn’t want it to be stolen so freely and its “borrowers” revered as the hero for something I made.
But on the other hand…I’ve always had people copy me. In every business that I’ve run, I’ve had to deal with copycats. You have to deal with it when you’re among the best in your field. Get used to it. Let them copy your past while you’re busy building your future. If you truly are the more talented one…there comes a place where they can’t even copy you even if they tried.
True theme and plugin success isn’t only in the code but also the marketing, growth, and support. And you won’t be able to do those things as well if it isn’t truly your code in the first place. Your work becomes a Frankenstein of so much borrowed code that it doesn’t flow.
To me, the shadiness isn’t in the copying. It’s in the lack of respect. Whoever you borrow from, you must give credit to. And ideally, you need to be on good terms with the (dev) community.
Here’s the classy way to “steal” (if you insist)…
- Give credit – that should satisfy some egos.
- Hire the coder you want to borrow from, and pay him/her to build that part for you.
- Consult with them as your mentor. Show respect. The day will come when they’ll be so happy for your growth, they would be personally honored for you to “copy” their work.
- Ask for permission.
The wrong way to steal?
- Lurk in the back of groups, not making friends in the community. Hiding your name and face.
- And then magically appearing on the scene with someone else’s work in disguise as your “new” product.
It ultimately comes down to treating others as friends or enemies. If it’s your friend…you wouldn’t hit on the same girl he’s talking to, or wear the same outfits he wears, or tell his jokes at the party. While I don’t see the Kadence founding developer as a bad person, I did feel he was a little disrespectful of Blocksy’s work.
And thoughts on the header builder?
- I’m so torn on this one. That header-builder design is so freaken good and intuitive that it should be a WordPress core feature. Like WordPress core itself should steal it!
- Almost like I don’t blame Kadence for stealing it. If you’re trying to have the best theme, you almost can’t not have that. (So much for trying not to add to the controversy.)
Other GPL thoughts on the matter:
- WordPress GPL and Ethics – Kevin Muldoon
- WordPress and GPL – Everything You Need to Know – Kinsta
- Who owns WordPress? or How to Make Money in a GPL Universe. – mor10