WordPress.org Experiments with Rejecting Plugin Submissions with the “WP” Prefix to Mitigate Potential Trademark Abuse

Many in the WordPress developer community were surprised to learn that WordPress.org is rejecting plugins with the “WP” prefix in the name after Joe Youngblood tweeted the rejection note he received. Although that restriction was put into place approximately seven months ago, there was no official communication on the change.

As the result of the controversy gaining attention on social media and other channels, WordPress Plugin Team member Mika Epstein posted an explanation on the original meta trac ticket, the reasoning for how and why “wp” is being blocked:

Using wp- at the beginning of plugin permalinks, yes. Due to how we built this out, the display name is what gets checked and flagged. You can use WPPluginName (no space) and Plugin Name for WP.

This stems from part of a longer conversation going on with the Foundation, regarding handling the actual misuse of ‘WordPress’ in plugin names (which, as we all know, is actually trademarked and as such should not be used in your plugin name at all).

Because using WP Blah Blah as a name tends to lead to people changing it after approval to “WordPress Blah Blah” we put a pause on it to try and get a handle on how bad is this, what’s the depth of the problem (vs the actual headache of WC -> WooCommerce in names) and so on.

There is also the reality that using ‘WP’ or ‘Plugin’ in a plugin permalink is unnecessary and can be harmful to SEO due to repetitive words.

No one is claiming WP is trademarked, we’re just trying to minimize confusion and prevent people from accidentally violating trademarks in the future because they change WP to WordPress later on.

Whether or not “wp” was trademarked became a particular point of confusion because the commit message on the change said: “Adding in some more things to block based on use and trademarks.”

The conversation with the WordPress Foundation that Epstein was referencing was a private discussion about how the team can mitigate trademark abuse.

“This came up in the midst of an ad hoc brainstorm about the ways that the loophole could be more effectively managed, and so there wasn’t a lengthy public discussion on it,” WordPress Executive Director Josepha Haden Chomphosy said.

“It was part of an experiment for handling that loophole more effectively and wasn’t meant to be permanent. The great thing about experiments in WordPress is that when we see that we’re throwing out the good along with the bad, we can make the necessary changes to do it better.”

Haden Chomphosy said that although the original discussion was private, the team plans to make it public via the new meta ticket that was opened yesterday for improving the checks on plugin submissions.

“All future discussions will be on the ticket, so as people work on it, then the conversations will be available there,” she said when asked how the trademark abuse mitigation experiment will be evaluated.

The WordPress Foundation does not have any employees, but Haden Chomphosy said the representatives who can help with the grey areas of trademark guidelines include herself, Andrea Middleton, and Cami Kaos. She also confirmed that “WP” is not a WordPress trademark and the Foundation is not pursuing trademarking the term.

Although each of these individuals referenced have a long track record of protective care for the WordPress community and have demonstrated a sincere desire to see the project grow, they are all employed by Automattic. The Foundation could use some outside representation if those running it are engaging in private decision making and giving directives to the WordPress.org Plugin Team that have significant ramifications for the ecosystem as a whole.

For years, the WordPress community has been encouraged to use WP instead of WordPress in plugin names, so the decision to reject plugins with WP in the name is a major, controversial change.

Those who oppose the current experiment have pointed out that it unfairly penalizes everyone for the few who change their plugin names after approval. It polices potential misuse instead of providing a solution that can flag actual trademark abuse.

Some plugin developers have noted that having WP in the plugin name is necessary to differentiate it from extensions for other platforms, since WordPress.org is not the only place where their products are distributed. Many successful businesses have been created on top of plugins with WP as a prefix in the name, such as WP Mail SMTP, WP Fastest Cache, WP Migrate DB, to name just a few.

Whether it is beneficial or detrimental to use WP in a brand’s name is immaterial to the discussion at hand. With the current trademark abuse mitigation experiment in place, all new plugin developers hoping to use the WP prefix will have their plugins rejected. Fortunately it isn’t retroactive, but if the team decides the experiment of banning WP in plugin names is a success, it may be up for discussion.

Springing experiments on the community without publicly communicating the intent is a misstep for the Foundation. If allowing WP in the name creates wrong expectations for plugin developers regarding their ability to change the name to use WordPress, then the problem needs to be fixed at the root. WordPress.org needs to find a better way to inform developers about which terms are actually trademarked and develop a technical solution to flag name changes that do not comply. This may be a difficult technical problem to solve regarding plugin submission and updates, but it’s worth investing in it to respect plugin authors’ freedoms.


9 responses to “WordPress.org Experiments with Rejecting Plugin Submissions with the “WP” Prefix to Mitigate Potential Trademark Abuse”

  1. One more example of brains getting in the way of technical issues.

    The foundation, or Automattic or someone in the convoluted WordPress infrustructure should have the ability to code a check system for verifying whether or not a name change (that occurs after initial approval) is in compliance with the standards somebody making up the rules has established.

    Personally, I think zelouts need to be a little more objective in their rationale.

    Shall we have a WP Police Force to purge the internet of each occurance of a non-trademarked “WP” used in a post or page, given the possibility that someone might change it to “WordPress” and not give the TM attribute after it? Oh, wait. I’ve never seen a post with WordPress in it that gives that attribution. What about that?

    I mean, why border on ridiculous when it could be so much fun going all the way?

  2. As someone potentially affected by this I can say it’s somewhat disheartening. Looking at it from a pragmatic standpoint I understand the desire to prevent “WP” from being mis-associated. In our particular case we’ve used WP at the beginning of many of our PlugIns to identify them as being available specifically to WordPress as opposed to some of our other projects that are not. With so many other PlugIns in the repository using “WP” as a prefix to their name and with no public information on it being grounds for rejection we put a lot (and I mean a lot) of effort into building our core PlugIns and add-ons around that naming convention. Thus far it hasn’t been stated as a reason for rejection, but we had to stall out after our initial submission because of a series of events. We’ll be resubmitting in the next week, maybe they won’t mention it.

  3. Two further thoughts on top of the questions raised in the article:
    1) On what basis is the plugin’s internal slug being considered trademark-relevant territory? As I understood it, trademarks are to do with assertions being made usually in an advertising context, or anything that would reasonably and naturally be understood as one. It’s far from clear that plugin “slugs” legally fall in this area.
    2) The making of a real distinction between “WP X” and “X for WP” also seems either completely arbitrary, or represents a linguistic assertion which is (at least) very debatable relating to the parsing of “WP X”. In ordinary English usage, “The chicken house” and “the house for the chickens” are the same thing. So at least, “WP X” can mean the same as “X for WP”, and the assertion that it is necessarily implies something else is at the least very dubious.
    As the article says, these determinations need to be made fully in the open via a standard processed, and discussed, if the goal of people having confidence in the processes involved is important.

  4. Since we’re on the topic of confusion in the WordPress realm, here’s my wishlist:

    Rebrand WordPress.com as Jetpack or other
    Form an independent foundation that ecosystem members can support
    Stop bundling Akismet with WordPress
    An ownership disclosure on WP Tavern articles when relevant

    If that’s too much to ask, then fair enough (may our Benevolent Dictator live forever), just put it all under of Automattic, Inc. and say so. Total consolidation under Automattic (too late for that, I’d say) or total separation would go a long way to make things clear for users, developers and the media.

    PS. Why not just detect “WordPress” in names post-push, temporarily disable and automate an email with remediation instructions?


Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: