The Dark Economy: A Look at the Shadier WordPress Products & Businesses

There is no doubting that WordPress is an amazing tool and has been used by millions of people in many good ways, there are also people who use it in more nefarious ways – a darker side to WordPress. There are people who seek to generate income and build profits at the expense of their morals and this is what today’s post is about – I’m going to lift the curtain and see what the shadier uses of WordPress are.

Selling Other People’s Products

Personally I have no problem with this but it’s included because some people consider it unethical.

When you release something under a GPL license you are specifically saying it is ok to use your code in anyway you see fit. Whether that is in personal projects, using parts of the code in your own themes or plugins or outright just giving away or selling someone else’s code – permission has been given, if you do not wish people to do this then do not release your code under the GPL – its really that simple.

Never-the-less, some people think this practice is unethical and there has been somewhat of a discussion over recent companies which have been created to specifically sell other people’s products. WooThemes in particular have been targeted with people selling their WooCommerce plugins which is ironic really considering WooCommerce itself was forked from Jigoshop, which again at the time there was much uproar over this, made worse by the fact that Woothemes also took the lead developers with them.


This brings us to; as WooCommerce shop owners we’ve often longed for an alternative solution to WooTheme’s offer, whilst the vanilla install of WooCommerce provides basic functionality to get up and running, once you’ve committed it becomes quite apparent additional functionality is required – and that comes with a hefty price tag.

WooThemes has consistently changed pricing structures, licensing length and support offerings, always in their favour. It can now cost around $1500 to get a fully functional WooCommerce store up and running and then $750 a year to keep it updated!

We felt this had to change…  No one came to help, so we started We hand pick plugins, themes and WooCommerce extensions and sell them all to you for only $25/month, including upgrades, cancel any time. Want to buy individual items? No problem, products start from just $5!


WooCommerce “ecosystem” is broken…
WordPress community certainly needs a strong and reliable ecommerce solution. There was a big uproar when WooThemes head hunted two core developers of JigoShop and forked it to create WooCommerce. Free and GPL has been the reason behind WordPress and WooCommerce’s success and it feels it’s now all about $$$$!!
WooCommerce is an excellent product – better than all the competition. But WooCommerce marketplace is currently broken.

Selling Unethical Products

There are numerous ways that WordPress is being abused by black hat SEOs and other people looking to use it to create a fast buck. Comment spammers have created tools to leave thousands of comments on vulnerable blogs at a time. There are content scrapers, RSS scrapers and any number of WordPress plugins for creating content designed to fool the search engines and generate cash for the site creator, mostly with little respect to the original content creators.

These types of WordPress plugins and software are sold via forums and the shadier affiliate networks such as Clickbank – you can usually see some of these products being sold off on Flippa, after an initial rush where they are announced on mailing lists and people buy it in their hundreds, the creators know these types of products aren’t sustainable so they sell the sales page and WordPress product and move on to creating the next product.


I class these products as “unethical” as they create a nuisance for site owners, search engines users and the WordPress community as a whole as we have to find time preventing these scraping, pinging and commenting techniques from working.

Selling Unethical Services

If you don’t fancy purchasing the software yourself, there is a whole cottage industry you can take advantage of to purchase blog comments to “help boost your SEO” efforts. From people placing comments manually to using automated software, you can now annoy whole swathes of WordPress webmasters for just a few dollars …


Selling blog comments – can you think of a more soul-destroying way to earn a living online ?

Hacking WordPress

Now we come to the real villains of the piece. There are hackers who are actively working to find vulnerabilities in WordPress which they can exploit for various reasons. Im sure most people running WordPress have probably been hacked at some point, I know I have. In my case, some malicious code was added to each of my posts which triggered a download of some software. This software could have been for anything – key logging, spyware installation and so on and because it was triggered from a trusted site, my visitors might have assume it was from me and installed it. There are many cases of links being added to sites which direct again, to spyware sites or other sites which the hacker is earning income from.

These types of hacking can have a devastating effect on your search traffic as it can be classed as a malware site and your rankings in Google and other search engines will disappear completely, leaving you with a fight to prove your site is clean again. You can help prevent this happening by using a monitoring service like Sucuri, and making sure you keep your version of WordPress up to date as soon as a new version is released.


If you do find your WordPress site has been compromised, we have a guide on how to investigate and remove malware from it.


These are just a few of the unethical methods that people are employing to make a living from WordPress, I’m sure there are many more ways undiscovered or unreported so far. What do you think ? Would you ever use one of these products or do you know of other shady methods ?



Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, An Internet Company based in Manchester, UK. I founded WPLift and ThemeFurnace, find out more on my Personal Blog. Thanks!

Related Articles


17 thoughts on “The Dark Economy: A Look at the Shadier WordPress Products & Businesses”

  1. Hi Oli,

    Nice post, very clinical, full of criticism, however it’s full of unbiased plain truth!!

    My take on this is the point of selling unethical plugins…People are seriously abusing wordpress and I have a fear that in the nearest future, wordpress built site may come under penalty from Google.

    Thanks Oli….I need to bookmark it!!

  2. Hi Oli,

    Nice post! But let’s not forget the “helpfull” plugins coders that develop plugins for amazon affiliates or adsense ads. They often add their own links and ads on your website without even mentioning this.

    Nice way to earn some extra cash for those guys …

  3. “When you release something under a GPL license you are specifically saying it is ok to use your code in anyway you see fit. ”

    There’s a difference between the code you release and the product you release though. The GPL protects the freedom of someone to use the code, but not the brand. Many WordPress plugin and theme authors own trademarks for their brands, and those legally can’t be used by other people if they resell the product.

    If someone were to take WPtouch Pro, rebrand it and sell it as something else, that’s totally protected by the GPL (since it was voluntarily released as 100% GPL, and not a split license which some people do). But since WPtouch is a registered trademark, other people can’t use that trademark to promote the product. It’s confusing to consumers, and it’s what trademarks are meant to protect. And in fact, a company has to legally defend all trademark violations or it often will lose that trademark.

    WordPress itself is a trademark, and even in previous podcasts they have asserted that open-source companies can and should use trademarks to protect their brands. That’s why many registrars don’t let a person register a domain name with wordpress in it – the WordPress foundation owns that trademark, and someone may think a domain with wordpress in it was an official site.

    Many other open-source GPL projects use trademarks as well – here is Joomla’s page describing their trademark. Mozilla and Red Hat both have similar pages description their trademarks and how they can’t be used with any modification of the software, even though it is open-source.

    • Yes, good point – Trademarks are a different story completely than the GPL.

      I assume WooThemes have trademarked WooCommerce and if so, will they be pursuing any of these companies for using the name in their marketing.

    • Just for curiosities sake I used the Madrid systems fee calculator and looked how much it costs to trademark minimum in all countries that are part of it: 20784 USD
      Thats for one item. So essentially the name WooThemes, If one applies with a bunch of names etc at the same time one gets a big discrount.
      Unless WooThemes have trademarked etc in the country that wp avengers, gplclub aare selling from I wonder how much protection it gives them. I know that some WP developers send DMCA notices to the hosting and/or payment providers with good effect though.

  4. Hi Oliver,

    Great article. Another aspect that I would consider part of the WordPress “dark side” is the pirate use of premium themes and plugins. The bad guys offer premium themes for free (sometimes known as Nulled). However the re-distributed themes will usually contain a bit of extra javascript or php code that is introducing malware, back doors or spam advertising – this is the money making element of the business for these guys.


  5. Hi Oli

    Great post . When you mentioned ” selling other people’s products ” I thought you might be referring to people who sell other developer’s work as their own or hosting them for free downloads on pages with ads. That is probably one other thing you could highlight with this post.

    I cringe each time I see a service like this … purchase blog comments to “help boost your SEO” efforts. They used to work ages ago and stuff like that actually hurt you these days ( especially since the initial penguin update ).

  6. WooThemes have a robust enough business model to withstand the attacks from the faceless cowards at play. Sustainable business is all about positioning and Woo have history, innovation and runs on the board.

    Let’s move on and stop giving these idiot imposters anymore air time than they deserve.

    Correction, Oli: Clickbank is not shady. It isn’t perfect but it has a really good affiliate management program that does a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Some of the products sold through Clickbank might be questionable but Clickbank itself is not shady.

    • I wouldnt say the companies selling Woo products are faceless cowards – WooThemes release their plugins under the GPL so they are giving permission for other people to sell them if they like.

      Also, If Clickbank are happy to have questionable products on their system, then I say they are questionable themselves – there is a reason all the crappy products seem to end up on there.

  7. I got a small question these sites:

    Are they “illegal” – and gonna cause my site to get hacked, or something like that – or are they just giving woocoomerce, something to think about?

    I must say the prices on those sites, are really great, compared to woocoomerce…

    I am just trying to find a reason why NOT to buy from those sites – and i cant find one so far…

    Thanks, for the great work on wplift!

    • They are legal, reselling someone else’s products which were released under the GPL license. You are paying for the product only without support – if you need support you are better off buying from WooThemes.

  8. Honestly I think it’s important to open up a dialogue on the GPL issue. People want items without support and there needs to be a way to offer such items at a cheaper price.

    • I noticed that as well, although the author never really said anything bad about them and is really just giving them publicity.

      That would make sense however as gplme is one of wplifts sponsors.. I also saw another 99 cent themeclub that most likely contains leeched content. See bottom of site.

      I just came across these sites myself and actually thought it was a scam, must say my initial thoughts are that free wAreZ are more ethical seeing as nulling fufills the repackaging aspect and they don’t make money off them.

      I do profess to having downloaded some scripts illegally to test but if I purchased it I most likely wouldnt Ever repurchase from the original author. Kinda like free hosting with the additional risk of blackcode

Comments are closed.


Create Your Own

Building beautiful WordPress websites has never been easier. Explore the visual drag & drop Theme Builder that does it all, and works on any theme. Coding skills needed: none.