Should The WordPress Support Forum Only Support Themes From The Theme Repository?

While in a session at last night, I talked with a few members of the WordPress community regarding what constitutes theme piracy as well as the role the support forums should take regarding commercial theme support. While I’m still not 100% what is piracy and what is not, I know for sure that the theme repository should not provide support for any commercial theme. However, upon further discussion, it appeared to me that it seems to have reached the point where perhaps the best course of action for the support forums as they relate to themes is to only provide support for up and coming developers or only for themes that are hosted within the repository. Supporting only themes that are within the repository should limit the amount of threads popping up asking for help decoding themes. Also, the notion of whether a theme is pirated or not is thrown out the window because you’ve eliminated support for everything but these two items.

The catch 22 in all of this is that the support forums exist to help and educate users where need be. Enacting the provisions set forth above would shut out a lot of users from receiving support. The provisions would also not solve the underlying problem of encrypted themes being used by hundreds of WordPress users. However, with stricter guidelines for theme support, perhaps the educational benefits would finally sink in to those who fall victim to using one of these encrypted themes.

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22 responses to “Should The WordPress Support Forum Only Support Themes From The Theme Repository?”

  1. Most themes that aren’t featured on the repo, are usually ‘premium’ themes, and more often then not, they have their own support forums or support system. If they don’t, they really should. The restriction of having only themes featured in the repo be allowed in the official support forums is a great idea.

    I believe that any thread requesting for code to be decoded should be referred to an official statement in the codex (or a post on the forum) which states the danger of such code, and why users shouldn’t use themes that have it, etc…

    Ultimately, this would allow for a clean-up of the forums, and for users to concentrate on helping each other with supported WordPress things, not junk themes they found on a warez site or other…

  2. Well, theme support isn’t necessarily always “theme” support. Let me give you an example. Let’s suppose someone came to the WP support forums with this question:

    I want to change the feed link my theme is displaying in my header. How do I change this? I’m using the Premium Super Duper Does Everything Theme.

    Assuming the theme is coded correctly, this isn’t a theme question at all. It’s a plugin question. Or, an add-this-to-your-functions file question.

    Don’t be confused by my example though. There are probably hundreds or thousands of questions that might seem like theme support, but are actually handled by WordPress or should be handled by a plugin.

    So, I say that we don’t just make sweeping generalizations about theme support. Even if there’s a way to get commercial support for the theme from the theme author, it’s not necessarily important that this is done. Of course, if a question crops up that’s only relevant to that theme, it doesn’t really belong on the WP support forums if it’s not hosted at

    While I’m still not 100% what is piracy and what is not…

    Piracy is the unauthorized use or reproduction of someone’s copyrighted work. Since the majority of WordPress themes have a license that gives permission to both use and reproduce them, “piracy” shouldn’t be much of a question regarding themes.

  3. I would extend what Justin said above to say that most questions which some would deem as “theme questions” are in fact just generic questions about WordPress.

  4. All premium theme developers (including myself) are not actually selling the theme if they use GPL licensing, but they are selling support and upgrades. So, distributing pirated themes is affecting only users that use such themes (malicious code they usually contain and no support). With GPL you can’t really stop redistribution and you depend on the users honesty not to pass on what they payed for.

    If a premium developer sells a theme and then not provide support for the themes, than it would be a good thing to have some way to ‘report’ such developer and warn other users to stay away. WPTavern forum is a good place to start, and maybe you should add a section or thread fur such discussion. should be used for free themes that are available in repository, there should be a general area for questions about WP specific stuff that affects any theme (including premium) and that’s it. No help decoding the encoded/malware themes should be there, we need a way to warn users about danger of using such theme obtained from websites of the questionable legality. All WP developers should try and raise the awareness of this problem and help users to avoid such websites. Helping them using such themes and remove malicious code is bad, bad practice and should not be allowed. Premium themes are more and more used (I think even more than free themes), and if starts to go against premium developers even with such ‘small’ changes to forums, it will alienate premium developers.

  5. I have been referring users asking for support of premium themes back to the authors support forums. Unfortunately some premium theme authors don’t provide very good support.

    I like the idea of only providing support for repository themes. I always try to tag them if I don’t have time to answer and hopefully the themes author will see the question. In fact I just had the idea of proposing to the new theme review list to ask theme authors to make some sort of commitment to answer questions about their theme on the support forums.

    Example of a specific theme question;

    How To remove black hovering bg from the menu of 2010?

    Example of non specific theme question

    procedure question about modifying my theme

  6. @Milan Petrovic

    You wrote “If a premium developer sells a theme and then not provide support for the themes, than it would be a good thing to have some way to ‘report’ such developer and warn other users to stay away.”

    That is very dangerous and against the freedom of software. Very counter-productive IMHO.

    There is nothing bad with selling a GPL compatible theme and NOT providing support. GPLed software comes AS-IS. You can take money for the service to pass over the GPLed sourcode, the GPL does not hinder that. The opposite is the case, it explicitly states that taking money for GPL software is an option.

    There is no need to “report” such developer or even to warn other users “to stay away”. That’s counter productive. If I sell a customer a GPL compatible theme I educate him about the rights he has (that’s part of the license BTW). And the good point of the GPL here is that that customer can actually get support in the forums, because he can pass on the themes code to any support personnel, not only the one of my company.

  7. The question should not be wether a theme is in a certain repository or not, but the question should be if support can be provided by third parties for a theme.

    For example if the theme prevents proper support by base64-encode the code, then I would not have any motivation to support such a crippled theme. It’s not supporter, nor developer, nor user friendly.

    If users do not understand about what they did wrong with installing a base64 crippled theme, they can be pointed to an FAQ entry so they can correct their mistake. I mean they are free to use viruses and such, but I as a supporter would protect myself to not be influenced by such mistakes.

    So the worpdress theme repository can be a valid subset (because it’s all GPL compatbile in there which includes the right to modify which most often is the case in support) but it can’t be the outer fence. That won’t work, because there are far more themes out there that are GPL compatible.

    If I imagine how many countless GPLed themes I’ve passed on to customers but not have published them in the repository over the years (just because of the work), it would be a pitty if the worpdress forums won’t support such a good practice of free software distribution for customers that are willing to pay for free software.

    Buy more free software. Support those who are doing so.

  8. @hakre

    Yes, I agree that you can sell theme without support, but I am talking about the most used practice today and practice of the biggest theme developers, because that proved to be the best solution in the GPL theme environment we have right now.

    Also, I agree that educating people about GPL and the ways they can get the theme (or plugin for that matter) that is not full with malicious code is the best solution, but unfortunately so far, is still not doing good job, and that website should be the main starting point in educating users. After all these years since the GPL themes debate started, there is still no real and valid judgment on the subject, and doesn’t provide anything on the subject that will be helpful IMHO.

    But, this is not the first thing where failed, and it’s about time that this website changes and be more informative and helpful for new or unexperienced users. I had several clients (new to WP, but with a lot of experience in the field of CMS and publishing) that had trouble finding anything useful there, and that tells a lot.

    In any case, if allows support for themes not in repository, there is not much anyone can do about that, and premium developers that will be potentially affected by that will have no way to influence that.

  9. I am sorry if I digressed from the point of the article, but since we are talking about forums, I thing that as a whole is part of the discussion, and I am happy to see that there are plans to finally change and improve this website (I think that in latest discussion on WP developers chat this is one of the main topics). We need strong, and forum is just one part of it.

  10. I think it would be a tragedy if the criteria for being able to post a question or start a discussion on the WordPress Support Forum — was whether you paid for your theme or not.

    The fact that WordPress was created and continues to be developed by a very passionate and active community is one of the strongest reasons for using it. The ‘support’ that everyone refers to in the WordPress Support Forum is just conversation, speech, and it is a central part of the very same community that makes WordPress great.

    Building a business around open source software is very difficult from a developers point of view, and equally so from a end-user’s point of view. While I’m somewhat new to building my business around the WordPress community (as an end-user), my day-job is entirely built upon and dependent on GPL licensed open source software – and it is important to me to see both paid and private, as well as free and public opportunities for development, support, and discussion. Specifically I’m talking about: Linux, Ubuntu, R, MySQL, InfiniDB, … If I knew that I couldn’t discuss software or code that I had paid for from one of the commercial offerings in these spaces, in one of the main channels for such discussion, I would have been very reluctant to engage that community in the first place. My use of these technologies is as an end-user; my evaluation process would perhaps be different if I was a developer.

    I agree with hakre that creating a community where you report and warn against developers who don’t provide support is very dangerous to the WordPress community.

    It seems to me that it would be counterintuitive and counter productive for to release code under GPL, which assures that it can be freely distributed, and then restrict the venues in which you can discuss that code and its derivative works.


  11. @Milan Petrovic

    “With GPL you can’t really stop redistribution and you depend on the users honesty not to pass on what they payed for.”

    This is what troubles me about GPL on themes. Either its open, and anyone can do anything with it including redistributing it as they see fit, for free or for sale, or its not GPL.

    If you make it GPL and then are hoping someone doesn’t go and sell it on to someone else, then really you may have licensed it GPL but you don’t really want it to be GPL. Perhaps because you felt it was expected or required, but not because you believe in GPL or wanted to be GPL.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I am not singling you out or saying its wrong to go GPL or that there is anything wrong with GPL. I am just questioning this current trend in GPL themes and asking, honestly, what would you do if someone started selling your themes themselves (as GPL would legally allow them to do). Would you condemn them (you shouldn’t… it’s GPL). Would it bother you at all?(why should it, its GPL. That means you gave it away with very few restrictions on what could be done with it)

    My point is, I don’t think, given a choice, most theme authors selling premium themes would go GPL and most are only doing because they feel forced into it.

    Which is kind of against the spirit of GPL really isn’t it? GPL is all about freedom, but freedom at the point of the gun isn’t really freedom is it?

    I am not making a value judgment on GPL, just saying what I see (and maybe I don’t see so good?)

    Legally speaking if I wanted to start selling copies of wordpress with a preinstalled pack of GPL studiopress and GPL Woo themes, I could do so.

    Granted it wouldn’t make a lot of business sense to do it. But that’s not the point.

    If someone wanted to disrupt the theming industry built around wordpress all they would have to do is start giving away all the premium GPL themes on their site.

    Ethical or not (and since its within the law for GPL …) people would line up to download the themes for free.

    I am planning to launch a theme company myself soon. I am currently trying to decide what kind of business/liecensing model I would use. I am looking at the idea of GPL and just very concerned about the complete in-defensibility of a business built on GPL.

    I have always planned on releasing some of my work as GPL, but I don’t see how a sustainable, long term business, can be built on GPL.

    Can the proponents of GPL for wordpress themes demonstrate a successful theming business (with figures please) that has long term viability. wordpress or otherwise.

    From what I see right now its very much the experimental ‘lets see what happens if we do this’ kind of phase for this as a business model and I am not really keen on building a business I will use to feed my family on an experimental business model.

    I would really like to know someone has walked the path before and made real $$ sustainably. Woo themes at less than 3 years old proves short term viability but long term has yet to be proven.

    Nor have we had a test on the above mentioned weakness of GPL.

    I would prefer to go GPL with my themes as it suits me philosophically, but I also have this nagging need to pay the bills. I need to be certain I can do both before I can commit to GPL.

  12. @Ash – GPL is not a business model, it’s a software license. If you decide for yourself that GPL does not fit for your business, create your own blogging software under a license that pleases your needs more. I don’t want to say that GPL is not fitting for business as well, but if you think it’s too cheap, you need to go the expensive way.

  13. @hakre

    I don’t really have a problem with GPL, but from the previous discussion it’s seams that it’s OK to distribute and use ‘pirated’ (or better modified themes with malicious encoded code added). What is the line on what’s OK to do and what’s not? It’s one theme to distribute unchanged GPL theme, and completely another to add spyware and malware code to it.

    I meant that as a main WordPress website on the Inernet needs to do much better job on helping users understand the implications of using pirated themes, not helping them to use it, because they will be encouriging such practices.

    On so many levels is not doing a good job. It’s a great for developers experienced users, but I know for sure that many users are having problem getting around that website, and that’s one of the reason people running decided that is a good time to change and update and improve the website. And I hope that once that is done we will get a true WP starting point for all users. So many of the people tried to use and it’s forum were more confused than anything else, starting with WP system requriements (I have written on my website about it recently) to a great deal of confusion with plugins compatibility (it’s better now, but far from usable for most users). And even I as a developer, working daily with WordPress, I am avoiding as much as I can: WIKI documentation is just bad (I know it’s a community thing, but WP is not just some small platform that can rely on few good will developers to write documentation, it needs a rock solid documentation that is not full of wholes and missing functions and classes), forum with too many questions unanswered (I try to answer at least 90% of questions posted about my plugins there, but most developers don’t).

    Point is that pirated themes are bad thing, regardless of GPL. And that’s why for now needs to stick to themes in own repository. Once is changed for the better, things might be better.

  14. I would propose that we stop using the term “pirated” for any GPL-licensed theme.

    If the issue at hand is maliciously modified GPL themes, then I would propose that we refer to such themes as “malicious” themes or “adulterated” themes, or something – just not “pirated”.

    Use of the term “pirated” in this context introduces an unwanted and inappropriate value assessment of the distribution of the original themes. And since such distribution is explicitly authorized by the GPL, no value assessment should be made upon such distribution.

    In short: there is no such thing as a “pirated” GPL theme, and even if there were, the issue at hand is not the distribution, but rather the malicious adulteration, of such themes.

  15. The WordPress forums are there to provide support to WordPress users. Just because someone pays for hosting with a private commercial company, doesn’t mean we just refer them to the support forum for their paid hosting. Instead, if we can answer the question, we do. We share the knowledge we have. We try to help out.

    I can think of several legitimate reasons why a user wouldn’t have support package with the provider it was purchased from- and that doesn’t mean they should be locked out from asking a question:

    1) Someone is building their own new theme from scratch
    2) It was a custom theme made by developer who is no longer available
    3) It is a child theme of something hosted in the repo
    4) It was a commercial theme and their support license ran out
    5) The theme was given to them (completely legal under GPL)

    Why would we want to limit the freedom of people to share with and help each other? That’s what I love about WordPress.

    (Also, if anyone got to see Richard Stallman’s talk at WordCamp SF, you know his views on piracy) Basically, he thinks it should only be used to describe “attacking ships on the high seas, kidnapping and murdering the people on them”.)

  16. @Ash

    If someone wanted to disrupt the theming industry built around wordpress all they would have to do is start giving away all the premium GPL themes on their site.

    Ethical or not (and since its within the law for GPL …) people would line up to download the themes for free.

    Currently there are dozens of sites doing this very same thing. The are also adulterating the original theme by adding encrypted spammy footer links. The unsuspecting users are turning to to find out how to remove the spammy links.

    Regarding providing support for premium GPL themes, I don’t really think there even needs to be a policy on this. Most volunteers like myself simply won’t answer the questions. Why should they? What is the motivation for doing the work when they know someone else is making the profit?

  17. @Chris Olbekson

    This is very good point. Not only that you will be doing work for someone else profit, but this will also be exposure and maybe back links to the premium developer website. Even if this is allowed (and it is right now as I see it), there will be not many answers for problems with premium themes because of the profit reason.

  18. I mean the solution is very simple here, right? Every supporter can decide on his or her own to what to provide support for.

    Maybe there is someone who wants to learn and decides to do that practically in the support forums by trying to help other users. A project should just offer the possibilities, but it should not limit them. If you start to make a limit here and there you end up throwing tons of resources on limiting.

    And in the end you can never solve communication problems with a technical implementation. Humans are more clever then the computer. Ask google.

  19. Thank you all for chiming in with your responses, obviously this post has touched a nerve :). After discussion here and within the forum thread in the Tavern forum, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as piracy with GPL licensed themes.

    As for the support of commercial themes. My initial thinking was that by providing a little more regulation, there would be 0 support offered at the WordPress support forums for commercial themes and instead, support for commercial themes would be given in the proper location (normally where they purchased the theme). But after these discussions, I’ve learned that more regulation would do more harm than good. Most of the people within the WordPress community will take the high road when volunteering support and mention that perhaps their query would be better handled at (commercial theme support area) rather than on the forum but if they could, would provide support where possible. It’s better to give someone the benefit of the doubt then assume everyone with a commercial theme asking for support on the forums is circumventing the paywall for support.

    As for the decoding of themes, I think that entire process should be discontinued. Instead, there should be a well written blanket statement that can be given to these people that explains why having an encrypted theme is bad business. The support forum already has the article in place that mentions why it’s bad but the process of decoding themes is still allowed.

    This whole conversation now has me wondering about something else. If regulation such as what i proposed would have been more harmful than good, I wonder under which circumstances more regulation within an open source project is good. What needs regulation and what doesn’t? Perhaps fodder for another post.

  20. @Jeffro Your comment about how well intentioned regulation can help or harm a community makes me think of a similar situation but entirely different example. Certain bicycle studies have shown that requiring cyclists to wear helmets actually makes the overall community less safe. You would think that a simple straight forward law to make people wear helmets would be beneficial, but it actually can have the opposite effect: . I see a weird parallel here. Regulation, no matter how well intentioned, can effects far beyond what you intended.

  21. Yes and no.

    If there is an active forum/ support by the theme developer, then I think people should contact the theme author first. If only for the reason that the author can keep track of common questions/ problems. On the other hand I’ve seen cases where the poster states they can’t reach the author. So what do you do then?

    Also a good idea might be to have a similar approach with themes on as plugins. Namely that you can post a forum topic connected to the theme page.

    Quite a few times I see questions in the theme forum, where I’m thinking to myself ‘o.k. you should really learn CSS and HTML first or hire someone’. Some questions you know it would take awhile to do it properly and test everything. On the other hand if it’s a simple question, and it helps someone, we have all been there. I do tend to help other designers more often, rather than somebody that wants a change in a theme for free. Depends on the project though. Somebody providing shelter for the homeless or something like that, I am more likely apt to help. I won’t knowingly help someone violate a copyright though.


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