Unlike the title might suggest, this post is not about buying a plugin from a commercial author, or the viability of “freemium” plugins in the directory, or app stores, or anything of that sort.
This post is directed squarely at plugin authors.
Question: Who owns your plugin?
The answer is simple: You do. You wrote it. You hold the copyrights on it.
Now hold on a minute (one might say), everything in our directory is GPL or compatible. Isn’t that copyleft? Well, yes, and I’m not going to go into excessive amounts of legalese here (IANAL), but the GPL is built on top of copyright. It actually requires it. So yes, you do own the copyrights to your plugin, even when it’s available for free in the WordPress.org plugin directory.
And yes, that totally means you can sell those rights to somebody else. We won’t stop you. Heck, if you ask, we’ll even help you perform the transfer correctly.
Now, while we’ve talked about this before, it’s worth re-iterating because it has come up a lot recently: your name is on that plugin. If you sell it to some scummy spammer, then your name is likely to get dragged through the mud. Not by us, of course, we don’t name names. But other people do notice bad things happening, and they tell other people, and make posts in our forums, and leave bad reviews… and before you know it, you can get a bad rap for something you didn’t even do.
There have been a lot of reports of various unsolicited emails recently asking plugin authors if they would sell their plugins. Sometimes these are legitimate offers. Not often. Usually it’s from marketing agencies looking to add backlinks.
In a couple of notable cases, some of those plugin authors asked what the person was planning on doing to change the plugin. Surprisingly they responded and told them. Let’s just say that these plans are very much against our guidelines.
In at least one case, the plugin author told this prospective purchaser as much, and the person responded by asking how long it would be in the directory before we shut it down, and how many sites could he get the code to before getting this noticed and thus removed from the directory. He even asked whether it was a manual or automatic process (hint: it’s both).
Yes, this guy was actually that blunt about his plans.
While my evidence is slim, I believe this particular person is a Russian spammer or hacker looking to add malware into the plugins and get this code onto as many sites as possible before we put a stop to him.
What can I say? WordPress is a big target. Some are going to try to abuse the system. We’re used to that. Now you plugin authors will need to get used to it too, because you can be a target for this sort of thing as well.
People offering to buy your plugin are generally spammers. They’re probably using fake email accounts, and offering you false information as well. They may be able to pay you, but understand that what they’re looking for is to buy heaps of unrelated plugins, modify them all with SEO spam like backlinks or potentially even malware, and get our systems to push those things to as many sites as possible before we notice and shut them down hard.
Do you really want to sell your plugin to somebody like that? Do you want your hard work to be abused and to have your good name tarnished?
Think twice before selling your plugin. Know the person you’re selling it to very well. Ignore unsolicited emails from people you don’t know. If they are going to pay you based on the number of “Active Installs”, then just don’t even consider it.
Don’t worry about the plugin review team too much though. We can find and shut these things down very quickly, even in real-time. But it does help us quite a bit if you ignore these types of scammers too. 🙂
But if you do decide to give your plugin to somebody responsible and real and who actually cares about it, make sure they know about the Plugin Directory Guidelines. Because hosting a plugin in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory is a privilege, not a right. We can and will act to remove and stop plugins in our systems from doing bad things, no matter who “owns” them.