‘Free’ Premium WordPress Themes/Plugins – A Good Deal?

3 minute read

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a Facebook advert that was offering access to a range of premium WordPress themes and plugins for $10-$20 per month. Out of curiosity I followed the link and had a browse around the website. The site features an extensive database of well-known premium themes/plugins that were all included as part of the subscription packages on offer.

When you bear in mind that a premium WordPress theme license can be around $70 per website, and premium plugins are anything between $10-$100 each, what’s being offered on this site sounds like a rather good deal. This is especially true for users who are building their own websites and can’t pass the costs on to clients. So, is it too good to be true? Unsurprisingly, the answer is almost definitely ‘yes’.

Are they legit?

I got in touch with one of the plugin developers whose software was listed and asked for their thoughts. They said:

They seem to selling a nulled version of [our plugin]. Unfortunately there are a lot of pirate websites out there that give away premium themes and plugins like ours. The GPL allows for this type of unethical behaviour to a certain extent.

Not an entirely surprising response. Of course you would expect developers to be unhappy with websites selling access to full versions of their premium WordPress plugins, especially when they’re seeing no revenue from the subscriptions being sold. That said, it was interesting that they pointed out the GPL allows for the sharing of software in this way.

If distributing premium WordPress themes and plugins is allowed under the GPL, what’s wrong with it?

A solid reason not to use ‘nulled’ versions of premium themes and plugins is that it’s fairly unethical. A lot of work and time goes into the development of premium WordPress themes and plugins. If the authors wanted to give their hard work away for free they would do so – on their own site! In fact, many premium plugin developers offer free versions of their software. Obviously these don’t contain all the features of the full versions, but it’s a fairly reasonable approach.

Not bothered about the ethics? How about malware?

Even if you’re not bothered about the ethics of using this software it’s still probably not a good idea. Lots of nulled versions of premium WordPress themes and plugins are altered to include malicious code. This allows the distributors complete access to your site, putting your site’s reputation at risk as well as customer data. When your site is displaying a whole load of popups you can’t control or redirecting your users elsewhere, it doesn’t look like such a great deal.

Ongoing vulnerabilities

A longer term issue is that the pirated versions of themes/plugins are often unsupported and won’t offer automatic updates. This can leave your website exposed to security vulnerabilities that would likely be patched quite quickly if the genuine version was acquired. This may not seem that important, but outdated versions of themes and plugins are one of the major causes of WordPress sites being hacked.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, if the authors of the nulled software aren’t being paid fairly for their work they will go out of business. Ultimately, this means ongoing development and support of the plugins/themes will stop – an outcome that even those who are freely distributing the software don’t want.

Worth the risk?

Paying for the licenses to use premium WordPress themes and plugins on your site isn’t just a matter of conscience. There could be serious reputational consequences for your site should it end up defaced, deleted or user’s data compromised due to skimping on the initial outlay to get the site up-and-running. The risks simply aren’t worth it for any serious business or professional.

If you’re looking to source legitimate premium WordPress themes and plugins, the Envato Market is a great place to start. For more advice, drop me a message and I’d be more than happy to help.