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The Dangers Of Using Pirated Plugins & Themes

Pirated plugins and themes are extremely common. While pirated software, music and film has always been an everyday aspect of the internet, pirated plugins and themes are now an everyday aspect for any WordPress site owner. But, you should be incredibly careful if you decide to use pirated plugins and themes.

 

Why It Happens

Pirated plugins and themes are extremely common because WordPress uses the GPL License, the GPL license effectively allows anyone to re-distribute the plugin or theme with modifications as long as the original copyright remains intact. Quite often the CSS of plugins/themes isn't covered by the GPL and comes with a split license, and you can't re-use images, or trademarked words. Which makes the matter that bit more complicated. Not that the pirates care anyway.

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You'll find perhaps people learning WordPress using pirated plugins and themes, either because they don't know any better or don't want to fork out in some cases hundreds of dollars on a chance that it may do what they need.

I've personally came across developers using pirated plugins and themes. Usually, they have been ones you'll find on freelancer or similar websites charging $5/hr or a $125 for a full website build.

Because they charge so low, they can't afford to buy the correct license which could end up costing them twice what they've charged. Instead, they download pirated code for free. The DIY'er, may not know they're using a pirated plugin or theme. Some sites that distribute such software look trustworthy with fancy logos, images, and well thought out text, giving that full sense of security that what you download is legit.

 

Is it acceptable to use pirated plugins and themes?

Want the short answer? No. No, it's not. It's never acceptable to use pirated plugins and themes. By using a pirated plugin or theme, you are literally taking food off the table of a hard working developer.

Many premium theme and plugin companies aren't big business. They're a one, maybe two person operation.

Plugin and theme developers put hour upon hour into a labor of love to create a plugin or theme they think is needed in the WordPress world. By using a pirated plugin or theme, you'll be deterring those exact developers that spend hundreds of hours on learning, developing and honing their skills. If you can't afford a premium plugin or theme there is usually a free alternative available on the official WordPress.org repository. If you can't find exactly what you need, contact the company of the plugin or theme you are interested in and be upfront and honest with them. You can't afford it, but would really like to try it out and see if they have a demo or something you can use. Some may even be willing to give a copy away to you if it stops you from using a pirated version. You shouldn't prey on companies and keep asking for handouts. Build some sites with free plugins or hone your skills and get some freelance work to buy the license to the plugin or theme you've always wanted.

GPL Clubs are effectively offering pirated themes and plugins. They say that they just redistribute under the GPL license.

It's difficult to verify this without running the code and comparing it to an original copy, which if you had you wouldn't have downloaded the pirated version anyway. The copy you have could have malware or all manner of nasty code just waiting to infect your WordPress powered website.

 

What Could Happen to my site if I use pirated plugins or themes?

You could end up with malware infecting your site and then infecting your visitor's computers. Run an e-commerce store, and you could be opening up a backdoor for a hacker to steal your customer's information landing you with a lawsuit for potentially thousands of dollars. Your site could end up at blacklisted on major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Your visitors and customers may lose confidence in your website and end up going to a competitor.

These are just some of the things that could happen to your website if you run a pirated theme or plugin that has had its codebase modified by an unscrupulous individual to infect your site.

Perhaps you install a pirated plugin or theme, and everything seems fine?

- Don't be fooled.

More sophisticated attacks may be time delayed or just open a backdoor on your server or website that can be accessed at a later date to comprise your site and steal important information. When you use a pirated plugin or theme you can never guarantee that it's an original untouched copy, but this is just the start of danger. Take a step back for a minute and say that it is an unmodified copy and everything works fine. Then you see in your WordPress dashboard a notification about an update, click it, and it doesn't work. Why? Because it's most probably a premium plugin or theme and you don't have a license key. After checking the changelog, you see it has an important security fix that isn't available as you have a pirated version and the place you downloaded it from hasn't updated the available version.

This leaves your site insecure and vulnerable to being attacked and compromised. Not only that but you also can't get support directly from the plugin/theme developer or their team. Leaving you in no man's land if you come across any issues or incompatibilities while using the plugin/theme.

 

Verdict

As you can see it isn't worth running the risk of installing and using a pirated WordPress plugin or theme. You'll be doing your site a disservice and your visitors. Have you every run a pirated plugin or theme on your website? Perhaps you've come across an issue that caused your site to be hacked because of the use of a pirated plugin or theme? Let us know in the comments below.

Jack Kitterhing is a WordPress developer from England. His love of WordPress began at age 11 when he set up his first blog. After a stint as WPMU DEV's Project and Quality Assurance Manager, he's now a Software Developer at Themeco.