Should You Pay Up and Shut Up?

February 13th, 2010
WordPress Discussions

WordPress as a platform has invented numerous businesses, including both themes and plugins, however, I am neither a pro or against both of these, because, I use themes which I develop myself most of the times to run my site and run plugins to which I donate.

The question here arises, whether you should pay up and shut up so as to not include external links in the site. I certainly disagree with that philosophy. To give you an example, I am the author of WordPress Automatic Upgrade, which was used by numerous amounts of people, however, I did not charge anyone to use it.

If I wanted, I could have made tons of money with it, but I did in the spirit of open source, not just GPL or WordPress. Yes, I did win some monetary benefits here at WLTC in the plugin competition, however, I supported the software for free till WP came out with the internal upgrade. I am not saying that I am a big person to do that, but yes I did help several people for FREE, including support.

Going back a bit before, I don’t know how many of you remember Better Comments Manager? It was the first plugin I wrote one week after I started using WordPress? Why? Because, I searched high and dry and could not find any plugin which would allow me to reply from the comfort of the admin interface. I enhanced it and added AJAX support for it because users requested it.

In the end how many $ did I make out of BCM? $10 to be precise. To be frank I learned programming in WordPress and AJAX just for this plugin, so all this efforts and only $10. Isn’t that an injustice? Well, not exactly. Why? Because, I learnt two new things in the process, something that helped me do much more bigger things in future.

However, learning is not everything. WordPress has quickly grown from a blogging platform to develop for, to a profitable platform everyone wants to develop for. You have to pay for themes, plugins and everything, which is a fair model. No open source license curtails you from selling anything as long as you credit your source and include the license AND allow for FREE future distributions, without modifications in certain cases. It is a fundamental that is and will be a part of open source, however, you have to remember that open source is a free choice, and anyone can sell open source software to you, so don’t get fooled by the fact that you spent money to buy an open source software, it is a problem, which I will refrain from discussing here.

If you provide an open source theme or plugin which has built in restrictions about removing links or whatever you decide to include in them, please do not call it OPEN SOURCE. Ask us to pay up and shut up, but don’t abuse something which is FREE and provides freedom, and please don’t tell me that you are free to edit the code, tell that to 95% of the crowd who can’t edit code.

There are FREE lunches, but don’t add in the fine print. Open Source is Freedom. Selling themes and plugins and saying it is open source is perfectly alright. Saying that you would remove a link or do something which you force on us if we pay up, is telling us to pay up and shut up, and anti open source. There are business models around Open source software, revolve around them not against them.




  1. George Burley says:

    Hmm, this is one rambling blog post.

    While you mention you don’t have a problem with people selling plugins and themes… you also make this statement:

    “If I wanted, I could have made tons of money with it, but I did in the spirit of open source, not just GPL or WordPress.”

    I feel the need to clarify some things. A lot of people can’t seem to grasp these concepts:

    1) Open Source doesn’t mean you can’t sell it

    2) GPL doesn’t mean you can’t sell it

    2) Free in free software doesn’t mean you can’t sell it

    Free = Freedom… NOT price.

    Selling GPL or open source does NOT go against the “spirit” of open source or the GPL. The whole point is the user isn’t restricted and can do whatever they want with the code. Those freedoms have NOTHING to do with price, they have to do with what you can do with the software AFTER you have it.

    Anyone selling GPL or open source software is not “shady”, they aren’t going against the “spirit” and they aren’t doing anything underhanded.

    If you’d like to read more about what the GPL thinks about selling GPL software… they have an article just for you:

    Want the short version? The GPL encourages developers to sell GPL software. Don’t believe me? Read the article I link to above. They are the authority on the GPL.

    • Ronald Huereca (32 comments.) says:

      Your comment is probably the most intelligent explanation I’ve heard in a long time about selling open source software.

    • william duff (1 comments.) says:

      i agree with you george, how a webdeveloper can eat if all goes free, sometimes we make free version for those who don`t have money, but we also make commercial version for those who have money

  2. Frank Lucas says:

    I completely agree with you Mr. Dsouza when you say free means free.

    • George Burley says:

      You are 100% incorrect.

      The free in “free software” that licenses such as the GPL refer to has to do with FREEDOM… NOT PRICE.

      People need to quit propogating the myth that the GPL means everything should be given away an nobody should charge money for it. It’s just NOT true and people are misrepresenting th GPL by propogating this myth.

      • Yohan Perera (5 comments.) says:

        Yes, but we cannot forget, it is those Programmers who release their work free of charge only keeps the WordPress community going. One reason that WordPress became so popular is, because there are lot of free plugins to extend it’s power.

        In the other hand, what if the programmers had to pay for WordPress before they could write plugins utilizing the platform.

        If WordPress was not free, there will be no such thing called plugin writers also…

      • Ken Thomson says:

        If they really meant it to be FREEDOM, why did they cut it short to FREE – some kind of shady idea to make the peeople perceive that it’s free. Lol

        • What Free Means (1 comments.) says:

          It means free as in “I am a free man!”, not as in “I have free beer!”

        • John Havlik (2 comments.) says:

          As far back as I’ve known about GNU’s GPL (that is back in the early 2000s) it has always been “Free as in free speech, not free as in free beer”.

        • George Burley says:

          Do you say “freedom speech” when referring to “free speech”?

          Of course not because it doesn’t sound right.

          It’s called “free software” because “freedom software” doesn’t sound right either.

          As John Havlik pointed out… “Free as in free speech, not free as in free beer”.

  3. chris says:

    people that give out free plugins and add a link without an option to remove i think is very shady, some leave a powered by link, but most give you the option to remove it.

    then these themes who add links to the footer encrypted are a different story, I cant stand those.

    • Yohan Perera (5 comments.) says:

      Well, I am not that uncomfortable without an option to remove the link. At the end of the day, I have greater needs to meet, rather than paying for a theme or a plugin. So if some one gives me a nice free theme or a plugin and says “You have to link back to my blog/website” I would certainly agree.

      That way I can still blog and be happy and my blog wont burn a whole in my pocket. A programmer who release free themes would request for a back link as it will inform more needy people about the resources he has to offer.

      We must not forget that hosting fee could be a big burden to some coders. Some might have a family to look after. Therefore if we can’t pay, we must be kind enough at least to allow a link or two.

      To summarize it all, I don’t mine about links as long as the links are genuine, if it is free and meet my needs.

    • Jason Vaar says:

      I see the free (as in free beer) plugins that ask you to keep a link as just the same as the supermarket that asks for your card to get a discount. In each case you’re trading something off for a benefit, and in each case you can pay more if you don’t like the trade.

  4. George Cardona (1 comments.) says:

    Hey: Keith

    Keith, I’m knew to all this. When I discovered WP I was tickled. I’ve used some plugins that I’ve donated too! It’s the wright thing to do. I’m not a programmer by no means. I’m more of a technical person. I’m putting together a site and I feel that even though the platform is free I would like to get compensated for my time. Nothing should be free, you programmers should get compensated for you efforts. The question is how much? I’m no cherry picker and if I need a product or service that’s going to help my business I look at it as a cost of doing business.

    George Cardona

  5. Hikari (14 comments.) says:

    People are mad about links lately, how important link juice became! o.O

    Well, I’m gonna add links by default and let option to remove them with a message asking for donation.

    If my plugins are deleted, well, I’ll still develop them and use them, I’ll still receive no money for them, and I’ll still get no visits for them. So I’ll lose nothing and have my own love :P

    When themes are forced to remove links from ALL pages, then come talk about plugins restrictions.

  6. Yohan Perera (5 comments.) says:

    Hi Keith,

    So… you are the genius behind and WordPress auto upgrade plugin.

    By the time I started using WordPress only manual upgrade was available which was used scare me a lot. However using WordPress became a sweat experience thanks to your plugin.

    Auto upgrade plugin saved my day even after WordPress was released with built in upgrade capability. Auto upgrade for my blog was used to fail complaining about a shortage of memory. I increased memory level which did not work. Finally I sought the help of your plugin once again and it worked. I didn’t have to do a manual update thanks to your plugin.

    It looks like the original problem is gone now. However I have to wait till the next WordPress upgrade to be sure about it. It the problem is not gone I will be using your plugin once again and be happy…!

    So to make a long story short, I can be a happy blogger because people like you have determined to respect the real concept of open source and make available plugins and themes free of charge.

  7. Miguel says:

    …So to make a long story short, I can be a happy blogger because people like you have determined to respect the real concept of open source and make available plugins and themes free of charge.

    As soon as this spirit changes wordpress will die to the average Joe.

    Next move in the wordpress community: charge money for each question posted on wordpress forums.

  8. Charlie Coppinger (4 comments.) says:

    As stated above, GPL means freedom to create whatever you like with no-bounds, it does not mean free creations such as plugins, themes etc. There are a lot of common misconceptions with the GPL license.

  9. jive (7 comments.) says:

    By making your plug-ins free, I believe you have gained more viewers to your blog and that means more ads viewed. So in the long run, I believe it helps you more to make things free. However, I can see why people make somethings require payment.

    • George Burley says:

      You make the false assumption that all plugin authors have a blog that they are monetizing with ads. Not everyone has a blog because WordPress is used for far more than just blogging.

  10. Vlad (Small Business Blog) (8 comments.) says:

    In one of the recent posts on this very web site people mentioned they use up to 20 different plug-ins. That’s about 20 extra links in addition to web site owner’s stuff. Add theme links, which recently tend to be around 2 or 3, since theme authors are people too and tend to capitalize on every single possibility they can.

    So overall we’re talking about 20 – 30 links just to be able to use all the functionality one needs. In addition to that a lot of plug-ins tend to include invisible links in the top of the page. Some plug-ins tend to include links after every post on a page. So you’re out of the juiciest 30% of 100 or so links per page (that is a ‘rule of thumb’ if you want decent position in Google – I leave that to you to find multiple sources for this information).

    If you ask me – that’s a bit a high price to pay. And if you transform this into donations (say, $5 per plug-in, which I think is a bare minimum), we’re talking about $100 – $150 dollars per single installation.

    Damn, that WordPress thingy is way too expensive! :)

  11. ed (2 comments.) says:

    Let’s face it as well – many plugins you wouldn’t pay for since they aren’t really complex enough to justify it.

    Many plug ins are worth 5,10, or even 500 dollars to use in the long run.

    Some themes are worth paying for, and of course most of us would also pony up money to use wordpress in general. Most of us don’t mind supporting the hard work that goes into maintaining/supporting something.

    The mix of “free” and low cost options for wordpress is a great example of why open source works. Folks who want to program plugins can do so and benefit from either “cash” or “links” (links usually turn into cash).

    Got to love folks who do it just to support open source projects. They are really the ones who move things forward.

  12. Hikari (14 comments.) says:

    Also, developing plugins is MUCH harder than designing themes.

    We have a ton of theme exemples to take as a base, we have Kubick that we can take to start of and work over. Themes only use a couple of WordPress functions, and there is a lot of documentation about XHTML, CSS, Semantic, Microformats, etc.

    Now plugins require deep WordPress core understanding, must know a lot of functions, actions and filters, must understand how content and resources are managed and stored.

    Build a theme, and you can easily build other 10 themes without much more effort. All themes are the same, they rarely differ. Now, each plugin is different, and developing 1 helps almost nothing when we will develop another. And also each available plugin has totally different features.

    We depend much more from plugins than from themes. One can develop his own theme, but it’s almost impossible to solve all one’s needs with only own plugins.

    Once finished, a theme rarely need updates or breaks. Plugins need constant maintenance and support.

    WordPress comes with a fair theme that can solve most ppl’ needs. But it’s rare to see somebody that don’t have at least 1 plugin that was downloaded.

    And even with that, people pay even $200 for 1 unique theme, that is fat and hard to custom and understand (designed so, so that he needs to pay even more for author to adapt it), but don’t wanna donate $10 to motivate a plugin to be maintained.

    Here we can see how poorly ppl see plugins and their authors. I for sure would BLOCK a plugin of mine from somebody that thinks it’s easy and fast to develop even 1 plugin. If it’s so easy, why don’t they develop them and give me so that I don’t have to take the time develop and debugging?

    It’s not because a software is openly offered that we can’t demand credit.

    Don’t expect quality and support if you don’t even respect the developer. We fore sure are satisfied with how our plugins serve us.

    • Ed (2 comments.) says:

      NOT all plugins are complex. I’ve made a few that took all of 10 minutes. We all use some plugins that only took a few minutes to make.

      The more complex ones SHOULD charge for it, get links, or charge for support or link removal.

      The ones that do it out of caring for the open source community deserve something – be it recognition, donations, or just free links from us talking about their plugins.

  13. bubazoo (213 comments.) says:

    Well… just like with six-apart, people will find another alternative, that is what will happen I bet. People wined and cried about moveable type when it first went paid, remember? even though there is STILL a FREE version available, people switched to WP because it was a free alternative. If any part of WP goes paid, even the plugins or themes, they’ll just find another alternative. thats the way it’ll always be, people will wine and cry about it until a free alternative to what they want is introduced, rather its from automatic or some other company, unfortunately thats just how it is.

  14. Chris (2 comments.) says:

    Personally, I don’t think adding a visible, obvious link on someones blog when the plugin is activated is shady at all. Sure, its poor design on the part of the developer, but at the end of the day its the developers choice.

    As an end user, you have 3 choices depending on your level of PHP/HTML knowledge – either a) Leave the link and live with it, b) Remove the link yourself (I’ve done this before), or c) Accept that the fact the plugin has put a link on your blog outweighs the usefulness of the plugin and disable it.

    Obviously this *only* applies to genuine, legitimate “credit” links back to the plugin authors website.

    If you don’t like what a plugin does then there’s nothing stopping you from switching it off. And if you really want to take steps to rectify it, then politely email the author and suggest he makes the changes. If he doesn’t? Well then learn PHP and change it yourself. WordPress’ licensing makes it perfectly legal for you to do this.

    To bring up a related subject, most free WordPress themes link back to the designers site. Is this wrong? Or is it the case that the work of the designer is more important than the developer? Clearly not, but somehow they have managed to escape this debate completely.

    And why do both themes included with WordPress link back to And why does the admin dashboard link back to WordPress? Someone could easily make the argument that they downloaded the software to start a blog, not to be an advert for WP.

    I don’t actually believe they these links should be removed, but I think it raises an interesting point. If there are to be rules about backlinks, then lets consider whether they need to be applied to every aspect of WordPress and stop singling out plugin developers who, for the most part, have made WordPress what it is today.

    • George Burley says:

      Double standards are the norm in the WordPress community. Design is favored over functionality despite the fact advanced plugins are far more complex than any theme.

      Even Matt Mullenweg himself devalues plugins. He thinks everything should be free and given away. This from a guy that lives high on the hog off VC money.

      It’s easy to promote the thought that developers should give away their hard work when your pocket is lined with VC money that you made off of WordPress.

      Is WordPress free? Sure. BUT nobody… NOBODY… makes more money off WordPress than Automattic and Matt Mullenweg, yet they get a free pass when it comes to monetization criticism.

      • Johnny Walker says:

        The Internet was meant to be free, that is the spirit of it, it is that simple.

      • Matt (27 comments.) says:

        Your Gravatar scares me! But maybe that’s because I’m high off the hog.

        I don’t devalue plugins, but some of the best things in life are free.

        Just as people are free to make commercial and proprietary things, folks like me who care can make free and no-cost alternatives, which is how WordPress got started in the first place.

        I don’t think Automattic escapes criticism — I see a ton of it every day. But there are more people who have no idea how Automattic makes money which I love because it means it’s not being done in an in-your-face way. IF you generate more value for the world than you take in, I think you have a long-term business.

  15. Johnny Walker says:

    as long as there are free alternatives I will NEVER pay for any plug in nor Theme, it is that simple so good luck finding people who do.

  16. Alex says:

    Great post.

  17. Amit Sharma (2 comments.) says:

    Though I feel uncomfortable with no option to remove links from plugins and themes but then I think people who have developed those themes and plugins must get something in return. So, if a person doesn’t want links, then he should better pay and not complain.

  18. tutorial pdf says:

    @George Burley : Thanks for the explanation. You have rights to sell or to give for free what you do i.e. plugins/themes. I myself will choose sell if I think it’s a product ( I make my self from the scratch ) and give for free if it’s a development from the existing scripts. But at least a link, not money, would be enough in replace to our work.

  19. hartenjagen (2 comments.) says:

    I stumbled upon this post and whole convo by accident. Was looking for some WP plugins for my new gambling site. Anyway, I must say that I support both people who sell their plugins and I support especially people who give them as open source. I like when something is fully open source so I can use it as I please. Nevertheless, there are some nice plugins and templates that I would pay for as well. It all depends I guess…


  20. Luz Millan (1 comments.) says:

    Great Post! I’m still debating on wheather to leave the “credit” link at the bottom of a theme I’m currently working on. I believe on the notion of “Free as in free speech, not free as in free beer”.

  21. Dean McNamara (1 comments.) says:

    I am with you.

    If you are going to call it free then let it be free.
    If you want to charge for it then call it something else and be done with it.

    The beer is always free tomorrow and you have the freedom to complain that tomorrow never comes ;)

  22. Andrew@BloggingGuide (63 comments.) says:

    I can just think of this: The more you give, the more you receive. If your give things for free, there are things that come back to you that you may not even know about. I agree with hartenjagen, it all depends…

  23. Dan (1 comments.) says:

    As far as I am concerned, I never really understood why talented programmers like you would give away your work like you did with that automatic upgrade plugin. Yet, I am very grateful that people like you do give them away. I will admit that if it was me, I would not give any of this work away unless I saw it leading to some benefit for me down the road. Obviously, by giving things away, you tend to develop quite a few friends and that has its benefits in other ways.

    I agree with some of the other posters that WordPress became huge because everything was free. I also agree that if these things were to all become paid only, you would quickly see something spring up online to replace it.

    There are always going to be talented programmers who are willing to give away their intellectual property even though they could profit from it by selling it.

  24. Matthew (4 comments.) says:

    WordPress is Great, But the most annoying thing is having advertisments and limited space, that’s why i would rather host wordpress on my own website.

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