Ethics/legalities of forking a commercial plugin

Continuing the discussion from What paid extensions/plugins are you using with WooCommerce?:

What are the ethics/legalities of forking a commercial plugin?

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To me, it’s very straightforward: contact plugin developer and ask the question: “Do you support ClassicPress?” If “Yes” - please, show the action & commitment.

Answer “No” or failing to show action and commitment means it is ethical to fork.

With GPL it is legal to fork anytime, IMHO.


Sorry if I didn’t make that clear Linas. This is not about supporting ClassicPress. It’s about Classic Commerce (which at the moment is still in alpha).

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My approach is general to ClassicPress. ClassicCommerce case is the same, just with altered question “Do you support ClassicCommerce”.

Very clear for all future situations: or you support us, or community will fork. Your choice.


I was reading about this on Quora, and I founded a hidden comment, it goes like this:

I find the idea of forking a paid plugin into a free one to be pretty unethical. You’re essentially taking a product, that maybe is the only thing supporting his/her family, and reducing their sales. Instead of forking, why not just offer to work with the developer? Maybe you could sell the extra features you were planning to make in the fork as addons? This would help both of you make more money. This model works really well for EDD, Jigoshop, and WooCommerce among others.

I slightly agree with LinasSimonis, the better way is to first ask if the developer is willing to support CC, if yes, then good for the community.

If the dev is not willing to support CC, ask if you can fork, if yes, then fork, and if the developer doesn’t agree with forking, please don’t.

The idea that the community would fork even if the dev doesn’t support it is plainly wrong to me, a premium plugin is different from a free plugin, everyone is free to do what you feel is right but this is how we operate in our own World (my world).


A dev should receive payment for his/her work.
Many of the “paid” extensions and plugins I have used for WooCommerce and WordPress the payment has been for updates and support, rather than the plugin its self, possibly because all the code was not solely written by that particular developer.
If the code is released GPL it is free to use.
If rather than forking, the plugin was rewritten, would every line of code be unique, first time in existence, or would sections, particular functions, etc. be reused from else where. So the line between taking the work someone individual and reusing code that is “free” (no known owner) is very blurred.


So, you are against WordPress fork to ClassicPress, WooCom fork to CC, etc? No, there is no difference between free and paid plugins, most free plugins earn money, just a different business model.

If you don’t support CP, forking didn’t do any financial harm to you, because you chose not to sell to the CP community. Rewriting plugin is just an unnecessary, unproductive job. Chances are, that an original plugin author can be benefited from the forked plugin by adopting some ideas, code, etc.


I’ve always considered this a grey area and one I’ve always avoided. Forking a premium plugin seems unethical to me too. But as most are released under GPL, it’s tempting to think, “well, why shouldn’t I?”.

However, if I’d written a premium plugin which was my sole means of income, I wouldn’t be happy if someone forked it and started distributing it themselves. So, by the same token, it’s not something I would consider doing to other developers.

I think there are times when, even if something is legal, it may still be unethical and, in my view, is to be avoided, especially if it’s in any way associated with the CP community.


So, you are against WordPress fork to ClassicPress, WooCom fork to CC, etc?

Those aren’t premium plugin/cms (although gpl), and there are differences between free and pro versions of a plugin. Pro version of a plugin are designed to have more functionality and it’s more time consuming to write/support.

If you don’t support CP, forking didn’t do any financial harm to you, because you chose not to sell to the CP community.

While this is true, we should respect peoples decision, in fact, most of the time, the dev would give you the permission to do so but again, its gpl anyways, so, you decide.

Rewriting plugin is just an unnecessary, unproductive job.

Mike Monteiro once said, don’t be afraid to steal, just steal the right stuff.

Even if it comes to the worst situation where you need to fork the plugin, and the dev disagrees, then there are better ways to do it, look into the code and see what is doing who, then rewrite.

Edit: This is me, please don’t take it personal

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Forking is rewriting, just in smaller scale, so this is only the wording. If you didn’t want to be forked, just support CP, it’s so easy. I put ethics very high in my life, but didn’t see any issues here. Ethical issues are only when you fork without asking (I have seen a few quite popular plugins in WP repo, assembled this way). If you inform the plugin author that if he doesn’t provide a support to the CP, you will fork his plugin (free or paid, doesn’t matter), ethics is OK.

Oh, nothing personal, I like not so politically correct discussions and have pretty thick skin, so it is very hard to insult me. It’s normal, that some people have different opinions, I’m fine with that.

Can’t remember who said, but this is very true: “If 2 people agree always on everything, one is unnecessary.”


Sure it’s kind to ask for what is missing before forking.

  • the author already gave you the permission to fork when he bundled GPL
  • the author can grab your beautiful changes and put them in his original work

Just my quick opinion…


Just for the sake of discussion.
Gpl was invented to let people know what was legit and what wasn’t.
So its purpose is to address ethics.
OTOH i can understand why you consider forking “impolite”.
I think we should ask plugin devs if they will guarantee compatibility with CC.
In case not, telling them plainly “support CC or else” is really rude.
I’d just check licence, if it allows forking for commercial use I’d tell the dev I am going to fork.
If not, dev’s will is clear, but allows for studying what it does and develop a new one which may be similar but not the same.
Let’s not confuse legally ethic and rude/unkind however. I think if the dev stated something is legit under his own will, he pretty much gave consent already.
Pinging @timkaye because where legal matters are involved better have an expert opinion.

I think you guys are really going down a slippery ethical and legal road. It’s going to get you in trouble. On one hand I’m delighted to see Classic Commerce, but on the other hand how far are you going to go forking everything?

Id be pretty peed off if I developed a plugin and had another developer take it without permission. It’s just plain wrong. Honestly, if this the path CP goes down, I can’t condone that.

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Maybe “support CC or else” is slightly (very sightly by my measure, 'cause I like straight talk) rude, but “if you didn’t want to support CP, I am forced to fork” is very polite & straightforward at the same time.

One point to note: the fork is to CP, not WP, so it will not compete with the original. Different user base.


I personally agree with this. That’s why I initially wrote “ethics/legalities”. But I should also point out, re this:

This is not about CP doing anything. It would be a decision made by an individual developer. And I can’t see how CP (or CC) can start policing how individual developers achieve their goals.


@ozfiddler Alan, maybe I misread the topic, and no disrespect intended. But you are specifically discussing forking plugins. While CP or CC may not be directly responsible, if you ignore and/or allow it, then you are by nature condoning and supporting it.

This seems to be a recurring issue, and it could potentially be a pandora’s box. It really comes down to ethics and community vision.

I think CP needs a clear policy in place, both for its own protection, and as a community guideline for development. Maybe you already have a policy in place?

Also, you took one sentence out of my paragraph (context).

I think Tim @1stepforward summarizes it very well here:


Yes, I can see why this got a bit confused… sorry. My initial post was an attempt to sound out what people were using in the way of paid plugins for WooCommerce. And whether developers from this community might want to consider filling some of those for Classic Commerce as a way to generate an income. I hadn’t really thought about how they would do that.

Then, as an afterthought, I threw in a supplementary question that has become the main focus of discussion (so I asked Wade to split the topic). It does raise a lot of interesting questions.


Ah, my apolgies also @ozfiddler. Sorry if I hijacked your post. But I guess the issue is complex and interrelated.

Looks like this topic needs be branched again. :slight_smile:

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