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LeadPages are Douchebags for "Forking" Elegant Themes' Bloom

Discussion in 'WordPress News' started by Kevin Muldoon, Aug 27, 2015.

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  1. I heard today about the latest WordPress drama.

    You may remember four or five years ago when WooThemes tried to buy the popular eCommerce plugin Jigoshop. They offered them a stupidly low price. When it was turned down, WooThemes hired the two main Jigoshop developers and released "WooCommerce". Yes, it is a different plugin today, but when it was released it was essentially just Jigoshop with a WooThemes logo on it (you can read more about what happened here and here).

    Well, this has now happened to Elegant Themes. But it is worse in my opinion, much worse.

    LeadPages have released a free plugin called Rapidology. At the bottom of the page they say that:

    Rapidology is a fork of the Bloom Plugin by Elegant Themes released under GNU Public License version 2.0 The Rapidology Source Code is freely available on GitHub
    Technically, what they did is 100% legal and within their rights according to GPL. But this is without doubt an incredibly poor move and in my opinion unethical.

    This is not a fork, not in a traditional sense anyway.

    All they have done is copied Elegant Themes' email plugin Bloom and released it with their own logo. This is a company that is worth tens of millions of dollars and instead of developing their own WordPress plugin, they have simply taken a successful premium WordPress plugin and then offered it to their customers as a "Free Gift".

    I implore you all not to support LeadPages on this endeavour.

    As you know, I am a big supporter of the General Public License. However, this is not what the GPL was designed for. The general idea of forking is that if someone stops developing a theme or plugin, someone else can take on the project and continue developing it. Or if someone wants to use part of the code of another plugin and use it to develop something different, they can.

    That is not what they have done here. They have simply taken a premium plugin and offered it as a free bait in order to entice people into signing up for their monthly plan.

    That doesn't sit right with me.

    How do you think the WordPress developers of this forum would react if I simply took their WordPress themes and plugins and released them as my own? Could you blame them for being angry when they had spent years of their time and thousands of dollars developing it. That is exactly what is happening here.

    This really hurts the WordPress community. If large multimillion companies start doing this, then others will follow. The end result being that companies will no longer be able to invest the time and money into developing good plugins such as Bloom. Or perhaps more likely, companies will start saying "Stuff the GPL" and enforcing encryption keys into all of their products.

    I do appreciate I am perhaps raising awareness of LeadPages plugin through this post (well, technically, it isn't theirs, it belongs to Elegant Themes), but I think it is important for everyone to recognise what they are doing is not good for WordPress users as a whole.

    The General Public License is supposed to encourage growth. Simply releasing someone else's premium plugin does not do that.

    It is a shitty move and I hope the WordPress community can see it for what it is.

    Brian Jackson likes this.
  2. Every word of this!

    It's a vile incident (and made my comments here - https://medium.com/@rhyswynne/i-think-this-is-missing-a-point-here-706ea1b814d3) which screams of a Silicon Valley Superstar gracing the WordPress Community with his presence, and how we should all be grateful.

    Of course, taking a look at the code for the Leadpages plugin, removing the changes (which was simply adding a "Subscribe to Activate the plugin" lead capture form), is simply removing one line of code. Although two wrongs don't make a right (and whether the two things are "wrong" dependant on your position on the moral compass), I wonder if they are "Still believing in the GPL" if we do that.

    But yeah, I'd never use Leadpages after this.
    Brian Jackson likes this.
  3. There is GPL and then there is plain "integrity." I don't use Leadpages but after reading about this I never will and won't recommend them to anyone.
  4. @Rhys Wynne I saw your comments earlier after I started this thread. I agree with everything you said.

    A lot of people seem to think everything is ok because it's GPL, but if more people started doing this, the whole WordPress community would suffer because of it.

    I have to agree with both of you. I will be very reluctant to promote them after what they did.

    I am a little surprised that some people support LeadPages position. It appears that Pat Flynn gave them advice about the issue and on ManageWP, Oli seems to be of the opinion that you live by the sword and die by the sword.

    He said:

    "If you don't want people to fork your code / create competing products then don't release your product under the GPL as that is exactly what you are allowing people to do.

    Its fine to "just change a logo" and release the code as is, as long as all the correct requirements of the license are followed. It's fine to take a paid product and release it for free. It's not "unethical" or "immoral", by choosing the GPL you are saying it is fine for people to do just that.

    You can't gain all the benefits of the WordPress community and the GPL and then complain when someone exercises these rights. "
    I don't subscribe to this thought.

    Would Oli continue to have this stance if someone released all of his themes and plugins free of charge?

    I don't think that you can say that no one can complain about another company doing this. Elegant Themes and other WordPress companies have been pressured heavily by Matt and Automattic to be GPL.

    Hell, WordCamps exclude companies that are not GPL and Automattic spent a crap load of money on Thesis.com just to get back at Chris Pearson for not being GPL.

    So a WordPress company finally agrees to be GPL and then another company offers the premium product to the world free of charge and the response is "Tough. Those are the rules of GPL!".

    I don't buy into that.

    I would feel differently if they had developed the plugin for months and made it very different to Bloom. All they have did is rebrand it and force people who use it to sign up to an email list. That isn't what GPL should be about.
  5. As a Developer, I have no problem with what was done.

    GPL means do what you want for this code. This includes give it away for free. If your livelihood depends on developing "premium" GPL software, you're doing it wrong. Even with "premium" plugins, copy and paste code isn't what makes a website stand out - it's customization of the code (not just changing the color scheme) so your website is unique. Otherwise it's just another clone out there.

    One of my former jobs was in email marketing. My boss would go to various conferences as a speaker, tell people how to get better open rates, and this would lead to business for the company. Why? Because 1) Even being given the directions, most people are incompetent; and 2) He had built up name recognition from speaking at these events, and people would rather trust a known name than experiment themselves with their business.

    If/when my CMS is ever finalized, it will be released under the GPL. I won't charge for it, and yet I'm sure I'll make money off of it because I'm the one who built the software, I know it best, and therefore am more adept at customizing it for a specific website than someone who's selling it as their own (and will make more money than this type of person, as well).
  6. It's a different business model.

    When you release your CMS for free, you plan on making money through customisations. You would not be selling a commercial product. That is, you would not be developing themes and extensions for the CMS and selling them for a fee. If your business made money that way, you would lose out if people started offering those products free of charge. Alternatively, a large design company with 20+ employees and a great reputation for quality could come along and start offering customisations. You would certainly find it difficult to compete with that.

    Perhaps, in that respect, the business model for WordPress companies is wrong. However, right or wrong, this is the model that the vast majority of WordPress based companies have adopted.

    What is perhaps somewhat ironic is that many companies did not want to embrace GPL. I have always been a big supporter of GPL (despite me not agreeing with this kind of thing), however most developers have not been. They were quietly pushed by Matt Mullenweg and Automattic to adopt GPL. That is a polite way of saying that if they did not adopt GPL, they were shunned by the community. Even today, companies that do not adhere to GPL are not allowed to participate in WordCamps. And we all know how Automattic treated Chris Pearson for not adhering to the general public license.

    So I can understand the frustrations of any person or any company who has spent a year developing a premium product, only for it to be taken and offered to everyone free of charge as a "Free Gift".

    Yes, Elegant Themes do work under the GPL and should understand the risks, but it just doesn't sit right with me.

    WordPress is what it is today because of the premium market. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I used WordPress before you could even buy a premium theme or plugin and the difference from then to today is very very different. The premium market pushed WordPress forward with new innovations.

    One of the reasons that the premium market arose is because no one was making money through WordPress. The main way people made money was through customisations or through adding a donation button to their products. It won't surprise you to hear that very few of the people who actually used free plugins and themes actually donated any money to the developer.

    Here's the way I see it.

    Many people think this is all ok because it's GPL and it should actually encourage growth, but if more people/companies start "forking" premium plugins and offering them free of charge, then the premium WordPress market is going to collapse. That means that many talented WordPress developers are going to leave the WordPress community because they cannot profit from it anymore.

    And I am sure many people will say that developers could make money through support and updates, however a free marketplace could easily update their WordPress products on a regular basis so that they were always up to date. Likewise, many users would find support through discussion forums etc.

    In the long term, if this starts to become more common, WordPress companies will earn less money and subsequently not be in a position to hire the staff who help develop products like Bloom in the first place.

    OK, I'm not a psychic and I don't have a magic 8 ball that tells me what is going to happen in the future. However, I do feel that if this kind of thing becomes more common, it is going to do more harm to the WordPress community than good.

    What is stopping someone just launching a marketplace and offering all premium WordPress themes and plugins free of charge? Nothing. It's all within the rights of someone to do that. But if someone did start doing that, developers are going to be hit hard.

    I have already read many stories of developers of WooCommerce extensions pulling out of the game because there were websites offering their sole product free of charge (which sold for something like $99 or $199 ). This was the product that they spent all their time and energy developing and when other websites started offering their products free of charge, they lost a lot of money. This wasn't some big company with millions of dollars. This was individual developers whose lifestyle was seriously affected by others taking their product and offering it to others free of charge.

    I do understand your position Kevin. I do. Platforms such as WordPress wouldn't even exist today if it was not for GPL But people within the WordPress community need to look at how the WordPress market is today and how forking premium plugins can do more harm than good.
    Heather likes this.
  7. If one thing that is quite nice is that the Leadpages fork of Bloom is probably the most "respected" company to fork a premium plugin and release it for free, and they are getting their arse chewed over it. Their business has taken a bit of a battering in the WordPress community as the general consensus is that they've harmed a strong WordPress business in an underhand way.
    Kevin Muldoon likes this.
  8. The companies which did not embrace GPL were shunned for good reason. GPL is not copyright - it's copyleft. If you are using or adding onto anything that's copylefted, you can't put any restrictions on the code which didn't exist when you obtained the original, you can only remove restrictions. With regards to the business model, I would equate what's happening now to the music industry during the time of Napster, Kazaa, etc. You can either whine about how people won't pay for your work, or you can adjust so you can still make money with your skill set. The only difference here is the RIAA actually had a valid argument, legally speaking. Just as the music industry was forced to move into a streaming business model in order to continue, so must the WordPress community start moving towards more of a support and individual customization level.

    Again, see my comparison to the RIAA. The only difference is when Napster came around, the technology was still new, so it's somewhat understandable that they were caught with their pants down on the matter.

    If someone wants to give away a premium product just to screw over the competition, ultimately it is a dick move. With that said, developers need to look at the risks involved in any business venture they get involved with. I would strongly suggest developers move to the customization market - you obviously won't get entry-level businesses as you are looking at $5k+/job instead of $99 (or cheaper) downloads, however if your skill set is truly worth it you won't have any problems finding those clients - and when you do a good job they are more than likely to recommend you to their friends in other businesses.
  9. Perhaps you are right Kevin. Perhaps the WordPress community needs to start moving towards more of a support and individual customisation model.

    The question is: How do we move towards that model and is it sustainable?

    Will companies have an incentive to spend months developing complex WordPress themes and plugins if customers can ultimately download it free of charge and get support and customisations elsewhere?

    In a weird way, a support and customisation model would work out well for Rise Forums as more people would come here for support. However, I still do not believe this is how the market will go and if it did, I believe the WordPress community could lose a lot of great products and solutions.

    I'm not suggesting the way the WordPress marketplace is just now is perfect, but we do need to accept the fact that the vast majority of WordPress companies out there have adopted the business model of producing products and selling them to the masses.

    I imagine that companies do not want to move to the customisation market due to the time involved with making money. Support and customisations require a lot of staff and a lot of time. Companies would not be able to make the kind of money they currently are if the bulk of their money came from customising products for individual clients.
  10. If a developer is spending months developing complex themes and plugins, they can include that as part of their pitch to potential customers ($50/month gives you unlimited support PLUS first access to our all new plugins and themes!). The other option is to develop a highly customized plugin/theme for a customer - for example, a photo plugin for a band - and only release it to that customer for (however much their time is worth). When they get a very different client come around who wants a "photo" plugin of their own - for instance, a photographer who wants to sell their prints - they can make the necessary adjustments to the code they'll have in their private repo and sell some more.

    You're right - premium support communities really don't work large scale. Customers want to be your sole focus of attention, and when they see there are 2000 members each paying $20/month for Kevin Muldoon's expert advice and support, they'll feel gipped, as who knows if I'm your favorite customer or #1793. With that said, as you have plenty of experience building businesses based around forums in general (with money coming in from other sources such as advertising), you know there's a way to make money off of almost any type of support system.

    So, all that it takes is for the market to realize that $50-199 for some software is a rip, as few updates outside security are made (and even then, security holes will always be present). Have a look at the rise in popularity of Ubuntu, Open Office, etc. It definitely takes time for a shift in attitudes to work - however by being one of the first you can set yourself up to make a killing when individual customizations become popular.
  11. I believe the market for customisations today is significantly less than the market for those who just want an out of the box solution.

    I remember when the WordPress premium market was just starting and there was a large (but vocal) group of WordPress users who refused to purchase a theme or plugin. They would only download something if it was available free of charge.

    Likewise, most WordPress users today are used to paying around $20 to $30 for a plugin and up to $60 for a WordPress theme (give or take). These people are unlikely going to spend hundreds of dollars to get customisations. I can't put a number on it, but it wouldn't surprise me if the percentage of people who are unlikely to pay for customisations is over 90%. Perhaps even closer to 99%. (Though I am just guestimating here)

    Agreed. Particularly as so many people go to WordPress.org for support and so many of those support threads go unanswered.

    I do agree with that. There are a lot of plugin developers who charge a yearly fee to use their plugin and do nothing more than one or two updates per year to ensure the plugin works with the latest version of WordPress. They aren't adding many features to justify the renewal fee.
  12. I don't think saying plugin developers can earn their money from charging for support is realistic.

    Instead of paying each plugin developer for access to support for all the plugins being used, the end user could sign up with WP Curve for $70 a month and get them to carry out support for all the plugins we've downloaded for free.
  13. Would that be wise though?

    I mean, would you rather go back to the manufacturer on a piece of kit or to a third party?

    The third party may be cheaper, and may fix the problem, but they may struggle and it may not be the best way to fix it....
  14. I'll just say one thing,
    it's not about what you can and can't do with product released under GPL, it's about fu****g honour.

    In my opinion, it's okay to FORK and improve, use part of code, deeply modify, but it's lame to rebrand.
    It's just no respect to people who created original version.
    Why nowadays money is so much more important than honour and respect?

    It's just sad.

    Shame on you leadpages.
    Kevin Muldoon likes this.
  15. Agreed Kris. Big companies do not seem to care about the damage they are doing to the other party when they simply rebrand something as their own. They are simply looking for a shortcut and do not care who they trample on to save themselves a little money. It just does not sit well with me.
  16. karma is a bitch
    Kevin Muldoon likes this.
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