The greatest thing about WordPress and the quality to which it owes its success in the CMS realm is its versatility.
WordPress is going to work equally well for the hobbyist photographer with zero coding knowledge who’s looking to create their first blog as it will for a professional web designer hired to create a business website. The platform was built with this kind of versatility in mind, and this grand idea is made possible thanks to the thousands of extensions, themes, and plugins. Some of these products are free, while others need to be bought. And then, there’s the black-hat alternative: nulled WordPress products.
Nulled WordPress themes and plugins are simply pirated versions of premium products, and they can be downloaded from unofficial sites or repositories.
Here’s what you’ll see when you scratch beneath the surface, and why you should avoid them at all costs.
1. Yes, they’re still legally questionable
WordPress is available under the GPL license, which means that its code is open-source and available for use to everyone. WordPress products don’t have to be under the same license, but most of them are. This means that their code is often open-source as well, and this is the main argument that proponents of nulled software will stick to. However, that’s a dangerously misleading claim, both from an ethical and a legal standpoint.
We’ll consider the latter first. The most important fact to discern is that many of these open-source pieces of software are actually distributed under mixed licenses and protected by copyright laws. When you download a nulled product, you’ll most likely be doing it without legal permission.
The copyright holders have legal precedent to sue you. Although this rarely happens in practice now, we have yet to see how the story will unfold in the future, as more sophisticated copyright infringement detection systems develop.
2. They’re harmful to the entire WordPress ecosystem
Publishers charge for premium products because the work they put in doesn’t only entail writing code, but also creating the appropriate documentation and providing support for the software. Pirating these products is stealing their work by turning a blind eye to how it was meant to be distributed.
In other words: GPL or not, if the publishers, who earn their money through sales just like any other business, have set a price on the products, it’s clearly unethical to be distributing them for free.
Although it’s just a few simple clicks, the act of downloading nulled software is an act of undermining the developers who’re trying to earn their money fairly. And the more common this practice becomes, the higher the consequences to the entire industry in the long run. The work won’t pay off and without proper incentive for developers, the overall quality of WordPress themes and plugins will plummet.
Ultimately, piracy can discourage innovation and corrupt the WordPress ecosystem from its roots.
3. They can cause lasting harm to your website
When something is pirated and distributed for free, questioning the motives behind the people doing this could save you a lot of trouble down the line.
Themes and plugins are a great opportunity for hackers to embed all kinds of malicious code into them. Worst of all, you won’t know a thing, as they make sure that the damage won’t be visible on the surface. You might have what seems like a perfectly fine, smoothly-running company website and a blog section to boost SEO. Meanwhile, harmful processes are running in the background, infecting your files and making your site vulnerable to various kinds of data theft.
Your site can be hijacked or hackers can just decide to piggyback on it. The latter happens when the anonymous software providers inject codes and script to run their ads on your site, fill it with spam links, change affiliate links into ones controlled by them, and redirect visitors to their sites without you being able to detect any of it from your dashboard.
These links, embedded deeply into your site structure but disguised as regular links, won’t only distance you painfully far from your audience, but they’re also sure to bring on negative SEO. Search engine algorithms can easily identify these issues, and the consequence will be either lowering your site’s ranking or completely de-indexing it.
4. You won’t have support and documentation
Remember all that hard work on documentation and support that we’ve talked about in regards to developers?
That’s all for the paying customers, and when you’re using nulled pieces of software, you don’t have any of those privileges. You’re on your own – no resources, guides, and no help from the publisher if something goes wrong. If you’ve ever had to deal with a serious problem related to WordPress products, you’ll know how much you had to rely on the publisher’s help.
5. They can’t be updated
As a platform, WordPress is heavy on regular updates, and they’re an important part of website maintenance. Through product updates, creators provide users with bug fixes, new features, and most importantly – security patches. That all goes down the drain if you opt for nulled products.
What you download is what you get, and if it’s not outdated at the moment, you can be sure it will be, soon enough.
Firstly, outdated versions of software are more vulnerable to security issues. Secondly, they’ll cause issues as they become incompatible with other pieces of software, and with the core WordPress platform which gets updated regularly.
These five reasons should be compelling enough for you to realize: it’s simply not worth it. By using nulled pieces of software, you’ll lose out on a lot more than the money it would cost to get a premium product. If you’re really not keen on paying, you still have thousands of great free themes and plugins in official repositories. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by going for the back-alley version.