Ethics/legalities of forking a commercial plugin

Forking a premium WP plugin to the WP ecosystem - yes, unethical.
Forking free/premium WP pugin to the CP ecosystem, in the case developer refuses to fork/support it - it’s fine.

Update: the quote was from @1stepforward , but because I copied it from @Web242 post, it was picked incorrectly.


@LinasSimonis OK no worries. Thanx.


What’s ethical is subjective. What’s legal is not.

Can you legally fork GPL licensed plugin? Yes.

Plugin developer and some other folks will think it’s unethical, but they can’t take any legal action. Other people won’t see any issues with it since GPL license allows it.

There’s a story from 2014 when this was done, and some legal action due to the name of the plugin:


Just because.
Let’s talk about ethics.
Again, gpl disciplines that. So if I develop a CP plugin in gpl2 a wp dev can fork it to make it work with WP without me having issues for I already gave consent via gpl2.
Don’t you think in selecting my license I already considered people may earn money from forking?
On the “it’s not polite for they have families”, well so does everyone. But everyone has no issue with gpl2. Because, yes, people may take. But tell me… Is that really all our code? Or maybe thanks to gpl2 we were able to assemble something glorious?
And please, If/then statements are not polite. Informative yes. But they only serve the purpose of creating conflict.
There is no harm in proposing profitability for both parties. If they refuse to develop, we have to verify license. In case the license is the right one the polite thing is forking and giving credit. There is no need to always create WP/CP conflicts.


Yeah, I read about that sometimes back.

Jason Coleman said:

My guess is that it’s not really the content of the readme they are upset about. It’s just an excuse to have the plugin taken down. Having an easily available and free version of their pro plugin available has the potential to affect their sales.

Truth be told, anyone basing his/her premium work on GPL, should be fully ready for this kind of stuff. I feel sympathy for these guys, but its GPL anyways, enjoy the game and get ready to be forked too.

End of story!

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Oh, and… BTW
You ask for cooperation, they say no, you fork and give credit.
Don’t you think that with kindness shown they are going to be willing why these crazy ClassicPressers at talking about them so much?
So they come over. They discover the potential. Maybe they can understand it’s a profitable market.
Ethics doesn’t equals to kindness, and both have a role.
Sorry if I sound harsh this night.
You see
Month ago I asked THIS SANE QUESTION about the ethics of using code under gpl2 license found on the net. I, the newbie that I am, was very confused between ethics and kindness.
I have been told the right thing. It’s gpl2. They placed it under gpl2 specifically allowing that. Giving credit is a plus.
Now, the majority of the people I see here in this topic usually have no issue with that. The issue is the fear that a particular dev may take side with WP
So “we are obliged to fork and if you don’t like that you just support our ecosystem”
I know the fear this ecosystem may not yet be complete pushes everyone to have doubts and rely on WP devs. But, don’t you think we have brains here to find a constructive way without always calling war on WP?
Devs are just devs.
And if a particular plugin is not under gpl2, we can study how it works and write a better one. It takes effort. It takes time. But it’s worth.
Or, since it’s not ethic… Please go to your sites, and revert to WP
Because you know, WP warns their food on the CMS, and for every CP site one of their kids has no soup.
But nope. I bet we all use amenities like Classic SEO, or one other plugin specifically built for CP.
This all topic, and you messing over it like it’s never been discussed in the whole open source game…
I am just sad, and I feel I have been made fun of.
I know this wasn’t the intention, but really…

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Elisabetta has hit the nail on the head. There’s a difference between ethics and kindness, just as there is a difference between legality and ethics.

Those who choose to develop in a GPL software community, which WordPress and ClassicPress both are, know (or should know) that their GPL-tagged efforts can be forked at any time, with or without their blessing, and whether or not their releases cost money. Forking is both legal and ethical in this situation because the GPL explicitly makes provision for it. Fair warning and all that.

True, sometimes it might not feel very kind, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting kindness influence your actions (in fact we should all do it more!), but that’s a separate consideration from the ethical one.

This is of course just my personal two cents.


What’s clear is that you’ll never get all developers to agree on what’s ethical, unethical, kind, unkind or whatever you want to call it.

Each developer has to do what he/she feels comfortable with and only he/she can make that decision.

What is important though is that this is not seen as a ClassicPress issue, as previously pointed out by @ozfiddler.

I would refer you to Plugin support and site admin credentials which helps to clarify the position regarding the use of ClassicPress facilities (forums, Slack, GitHub) for plugin support.

I mention this in the context that should ClassicPress consider a plugin to be unethical, then it is unlikely that a) the plugin will be listed on the CP directory, and b) the developer will be permitted to use other CP facilities in relation to this plugin.


I think that ClassicPress as a whole should avoid taking a stance one way or the other. All developers AND users should decide what they’re comfortable with. As long as no laws are broken, let users vote with their use.

Now not talking from the stance of ClassicPress, but from a personal stance, I believe there are three valid reasons to fork a WP plugin to CP:

  1. The original plugin is (going to be) broken if nothing is done.
  2. The original developer has explicitly said to have no interest in supporting CP.
  3. You want to add special features or remove unneeded bloat for the CP version.

There are also valid reasons that should tell you not to fork a plugin. Like the author has clearly stated to support CP or the plugin has very little chance of breaking with CP.

Everything in between is a grey area that should be judged on a case by case basis.

Of course I do think it’s only common courtesy to inform someone you are going to fork their plugin and why, but I see nobody arguing against that.

  1. With the current development direction i.e. WP going with Gutenberg and CP without it those plugins that are/will continue to embrace the new editor will eventually break CP sites

  2. Choosing to develop for Gutenberg is a decision not to support CP (not explicitly but a decision none the less).

  3. This should probably be the main reason why you would fork a piece of software - porting it over as is would be unfair to the original developer. Removing what would/will break CP sites is a good enough reason to fork - improving and additional features is a bonus for the end user.

On a final note: The ethic issue only arise for commercial released software (read plugin) especially those not under the terms of the GPL. If they are GPL then direct communication seeking consent to fork, modify or just to study the code and functionality is the best approach.

All “Free” & “GPL” released software are fair game since that is what GPL is for!


Really I’m wondering what is the difference (in this conversation) between free and paid plugins.

I can get the money I use for living even if my plugin is absolutely free: my business can be in installing, configuring, customizing; I can earn money from ads on my plugin web page or youtube channel; I can get a job because I’m the great author of that wonderful piece of code…

All this assumes that every piece of php code that calls CP/WP functions must fall under GPL.

You could even go back to B2/cafelog and Jigoshop. :slight_smile:

Agree 100%.

I don’t know where this comes from Elisabetta. I respect what you say and I don’t see anyone making fun of you. Of course all of this has been discussed many times before. And it’ll be discussed again and again. And again. That’s why I say it’s a grey area where you will never reach a consensus.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone is entitled to express that opinion. And everyone is entitled to agree or disagree with an opinion. That’s all I see happening here.

I’m sorry you feel sad. :frowning_face:

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I personally think it needs to to some degree. Obviously I’m not suggesting that CP tries to police the web ecosystem but take, for example, the situation where a premium plugin has been forked legally but against the wishes of the original developer. This could potentially be considered unethical.

If ClassicPress were to list the forked plugin in its directory and also allow the developer to use CP facilities to promote and support said plugin, this could lead to CP being accused of endorsing unethical practices.

Anyway, I’ve said enough on this subject now. :zipper_mouth_face:

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This is exactly right.

You won’t find the word “ethics” in the GPL because it is irrelevant to the GPL. If you write code for a GPL platform, the code is automatically GPL (doesn’t mean you have to distribute it, but, it’s still GPL nonetheless) and subject to the terms of the license. Some folks muddy the waters in insisting that ethics is a part of the GPL and this is why some are led to feel there is a gray area on it. However, for anyone feeling there’s a gray area here, they should read the full text of the GPL themselves. It’s very clear.

There are some things that may exist in a GPL project that you can’t just copy verbatim… someone’s trademarked logo or imagery, their copyrighted words (ie, their docs and marketing materials,) for examples…and you do have to maintain their original copyright notice.

This discussion is 20 years old and it’s always the same. That doesn’t change the meaning on the license, though, and even though it’s easy to muddy the waters, the license is very clear if you stand back and let the murk of “feelings” settle.


Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t.

ClassicPress could also be accused of going against GPL licensing in that case. I think as long as no laws are broken, ClassicPress should just allow this fork to exist in its directory. We can not police what’s ethical, all we can do is follow the law. If something is really unethical, then the laws around it should change.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is completely ethical behaviour, but morality and ethics are subjective and we can’t draw that hard line, so we should let something else draw that line, and the law seems the best place to start.


The GPL makes no distinction between a free and a paid piece of GPL code. GPL is GPL. The idea may feel wrong, but, the GPL doesn’t consider ethics.

This is true…and why you don’t just get the plugin when you pay for a plugin…you get updates and support (typically) which usually also means you have someone looking at (and responding to) security issues.

This isn’t necessarily true in all cases. For example, I took a couple small blocks of code from the f(x) Updater Plugin and rewrote everything else (which ultimately became the Update Manager plugin). In this case, it wasn’t a waste of time because the rewrite addressed the issues and shortcomings of the f(x) Updater plugin and brought a polished experience to our ClassicPress end users.

Ethics is not contemplated by the GPL in any way. In terms of the GPL, the only place ethics comes in is with the end user. For examples… Will you use a plugin that you feel someone took from someone else? Will you use the code of someone who you feel is unethical? Will you support such a developer or effort? Will that developer be learned enough to handle security issues, should they arise? Did they slip in a little something extra that’s going to turn your machine into a cryptomining bot? You see, if someone does something that the community feels is unethical, the community can do something about it… they can continue to use the original software to support the effort of the original developer and give not a cent/click/like/share to the other developer who they felt was unethical.


Exactly this. This is what I mean when I say ClassicPress itself should avoid taking a stance, and the users and developers need to vote with their use.


I am sad and feel made fun of because I had this very conversation. And what resulted from that is good teachings about what is legal, ethic and kind.
I felt that way when I saw a legit post hijacked to point out (again) the striking conflict WP/CP - nothing is going to convince me that an if not/then statement is kind. Even if it gets reworded with please and thankyous on top.
Nothing is going to convince me that the best way to gain contribs is putting them at the ropes.
And I am a commettee member to do good for the community. It seems people aren’t so interested in the fact that making a war with WP may harm the project even more than a slow and steady progress.
I just felt bitter. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Just me questioning myself, my reasons and my intentions for being around and rolling my sleeves up.
Just think about that: if WP should ever feel CP as a threat rest assured they have the money to hire the best lawyers in town, make a fuss on all social media, and influence people against us. This attitude in dealing with things brings us nowhere.
Gpl exists for a reason, also law exist. And netiquette has already been written and is recognized worldwide.
The original post was IMHO hijacked.
Who benefits from a WP/CP conflict? Why is it ok to always point out it’s us, it’s them?
On a side note, I can mybb, prestashop, some phpbb, vanilla forums and others. Many of them are CP competitors. Any issues with that? True i am just an user in those platforms, but who knows… Maybe being involved in CP means I have to hate them.

I think this thread has gone a little of the rails, and we probably should have shut it down a while ago.

I don’t think this thread was “hijacked”, I think it was more along the lines of a misunderstanding of what GPL actually permits, and some strong feelings on the ethics of that.

Regardless, I am closing this thread here. If you feel there is more to discuss please feel free to start a linked topic.