Free Premium WordPress themes – illegal or legal?

When I first started working with WordPress last year I instantly wanted to explore some more interesting themes that stood out from the basic WordPress formula (white, plain and often a little boring). I instantly found thousands of themes on several different sites, both for free and those with a price tag in the top right corner.

When I found the site Themecrunch I was quite surprised to see several different professionally designed themes for free. I thought nothing of it and downloaded and tried them out to my heart’s content.  I guess I thought that someone was getting money anyway through links and banners and whatnot. All was good in the hood until…

“…the only difference was that this time there was a price associated with the theme.”

…I started stumbling on to the exact same themes on other sites, the creators sites and sites that sold the themes for them, the only difference was that this time there was a price associated with the theme. I paid up to Panda Themes (through Themeforest) and Elegant Themes for the items I had previously downloaded for free, something that set me back about 60USD.

I contacted the authors of the themes that I was using and of those who replied one stated that Themecrunch are distributing their themes illegally and that there is nothing much they can do about it. Another replied that they are looking in to the issues and thanked me for reporting it. Well, this article is me doing my part by letting you know what’s going on. That and me buying the themes ofcourse.

“The GPL license makes it possible for these sites to either offer the themes for free or sell them at a price that is way below the recommended price.”

I did contact many of the other designers aswell but very few replied. I did however get a nice extensive response from WooThemes enlightening me that the themes aren’t really distributed illegally, something that actually made me change the title of this article to a less judgemental one. According to them the GPL license makes it possible for these sites to either offer these themes for free or sell them at a price that is way below the recommended price.

Awesome? Well, maybe not. It is not the original author that is handling your business, meaning, you don’t know what you’re getting. Maybe the theme is outdated (happened to me), riddled with spam and code that you probably do not want on your site. To top it off you won’t get the support that you would if you paid for it. Allow me to quote WooThemes mail:

We don’t recommend downloading themes from such sites. The themes are usually out of date, lack any support from us, and are often riddled with spam links. That is usually enough of a deterrent for most professional web users.

We have recently registered a trademark for WooThemes and are now actively tracking down these sites with legal letters. We can stop them from using our details, or branding on their sites, and in their advertising.”


A few questions started to pop up in my head.

  • Are people assuming the themes to be free, perhaps due to WordPress being free (I guess the GPL does this)?
  • What’s the mentality we, the consumers, have?
  • Why don’t the designer do more about it? Are they doing enough?
  • It’s only a theme, not as important as software, movies or games? (Not that people don’t copy those, but still…).
  • Would you do what I did and actually pay for the theme, or am I in the minority?

The fact that the site mentioned above is hosted at Googles own Blogspot service also surprises me. The actual theme files however are stored on another server, so maybe Google don’t care? I guess they would have to care if violations of trademarks is involved.

Anyway, give me your opinions below, have I broken some secret code of conduct when writing about this?

And keep in mind, I don’t know much about General Public License, this issue was something that came up quite late when writing this article, so now I thought that maybe you could educate me!

[box type=”info”]One of the developers that didn’t reply was Panda Themes, whom I previously have given my money to. Maybe because I didn’t go through their support forum (didn’t want to ask in public) but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you can’t bother replying to customers questions then you shouldn’t bother trying to sell products and/or services. I have also contacted Themecrunch for a comment and they have yet to reply, something I don’t care as much about.[/box]

8 comments: On Free Premium WordPress themes – illegal or legal?

  • now i dont know if i should countinue to use the theme i downloaded from themecrunch. 🙁

  • For me it felt better to pay for the theme. It’s not like they are really expensive for what you get and I really dont like the overrepresented standard, bland, white and grey WordPress themes.

    As I said though it seems to be a grey area and some people are actually against “premium” themes which I never understood. To each his own to decide to charge for the theme and the work they put into it. According to me it adds to the website and it makes it easier to find something specific to your own needs since the free themes category is very watered out.

  • As long as I didn’t steal it from the source. Then it’s no crime for me to get free themes from whoever offers them free. I probably searched google for “free professional wordpress themes” and not “stolen wordpress themes”. If a premium theme happens to find it’s way to a list of themes offered by a website as free. Then I am sorry there is not much I can do but simply download and use. That is the law.

  • To me that argument sounds very similar to searching the web for free “Insert name of any program” and ending up on a site offering it for free and downloading it. Just because it is offered for free by someone doesn’t make it OK. When I see something offered for “free” I usually try to find out if it is really free and who the actual source is. That is what triggered this article.

    There´s alot more that you can do besides “download and use”, if you like the product, support the developer. Just because someone offers it for free, doesn’t mean that you need to download it?

    Also feel free to link me to more about the law that you mention Chris, so I can read up on it. Thanks for commenting!

  • well I suppose as long as you got your noddy badge, then everyone is happy 🙂

  • you really are a good little boy !!! – you should mind you own freakin business leave people be – yeah sure it is all all wrong – BUT you must have viewed the demos before you download them and you also saw before you downloaded on the demo that on some there were price tags – yet you downloaded them before you paid anyway – my guess is that you paid for the ones you wanted continued support for and you didnt pay for the ones you werent all that happy with. If there is something I cannot stand in life is some sanctimonious, holier than thou jerk!!!

    ppl who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones or maybe – you should fly away to the goodie goodie two shoes planet with those black angel wings you have!!

    • @KaylaDavidson Hey Kayla, thanks for commenting, but seriously, what’s with the attitude?

      If you read the article you would be a bit more informed. I don’t pass judgement, people can do whatever they want. The reason for posting this article was just to create a debate and perhaps get some more info on the subject and in turn inform others about it. At the time I could’t find anything about the themes being offered at themecrunch when searching for it, so I decided to do some investigating myself.

      As in the article, yeah I tried the themes from Themecrunch first. But as you say, no need to DL and install the themes since demos are available from the dev, which is more than enough for me, so I didn’t DL the themes from them after this.

      As it turns out there is no right or wrong, so how can anyone judge? I know I don’t, how about you?

      Telling me to leave people be? Quick reminder, check out the URL at the top of your browser, you’re in my world, so feel free to leave whenever you think I’m bothering you with my articles. 🙂

  • i think there are cases of developers not responding to buyers of the themes after they sell the theme. so stealing makes them not complain about the filthy bucks. But anyways wrong is always wrong. Hope sometime there would be a place without cheating, crime, fraud etc etc 🙂 

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