In this entry, I will talk about the GPL and all its rules and recommendations, not just the rules that might interest me, as many people who fly the GPL flag of freedom do. I’ve read too many times that selling software that you haven’t developed has nothing to do with ethics or values, that’s having an absolutely biased view of the GPL. You can sell and have values, and selling and having more face than back is simply the approach you take.
To begin with, I’ve lived the GPL for over 18 years, and I’ve said I live the GPL, not that I live the GPL because I do. I return to the tools I use in one form or another constantly. There are times when I will do it translating, others fixing bugs, others releasing free plugins that are in the repository, even the month that for premium plugins I have some hours left, I improve my free plugins, or even create new ones (that about never happens anymore, rather lack).
I have come to have a project that several tens of thousands of people used, very important sites around the world, including very high prestige universities worldwide, in which I invested in fixed spending on servers 800-900 euros/month (until I started to sponsor SiteGround servers, which I will always be grateful for), and that added to all the hours of development that I put in it, plus the hours of support and maintenance in itself during the 7 years that it was in operation, the “real” money invested + the hours spent that I did not spend to earn money doing other things, would be around half a million euros (yes, 500.000€). But if we only look at the money paid physically (because there are many people who think that one’s work has no value), we have 7 years, for 12 months, for 800 euros we have a cost only in servers of 67,200 euros. My intention was that the project would live on donations. Guess how much money was donated to the project in all that time? Well, direct donations from people, 100 euros, and after a collection, 2,000 more. I’m talking about WangGuard, maybe the best anti-splog at that time (or so said the hundreds of entries written about it in all countries of the world). In the end, I closed it for other reasons that have nothing to do with maintenance and it doesn’t matter now. Within the project, I used external libraries that helped me a lot. I set monthly payments to these pre-defined 25 Euros to their donation accounts during all the months I used it, more than 2,100 Euros in donations to GPL projects I used.
This whole introduction is for those who accuse me of not knowing what the GPL is and where I had gotten to, it’s you who have no idea how I act, what I’ve done, or what I do, and if you keep reading, you’ll surely realize that the GPL is not just a set of rules that you interpret to the letter like a bible with your arm up, it’s something much deeper, and they explain it themselves, but everyone pushes it away because “it doesn’t matter anymore.”
And now we go to the GPL, because that’s what it’s all about.
There are basically two ways of financing GPL projects, one is by direct financing, either through donations or by putting up human capital, and the other is by selling licenses. If neither exists, the project dies. The territory of the premium plugins is the second case, the sale of licenses that give rights to something, and this finances the evolution of this. If there are no sales, the project is abandoned.
I contribute in many ways to GPL projects either in a human way (development) or by putting money in (buying licenses or donating directly).
For example, the vast majority of companies that work with WordPress (and are responsible for it), such as hostings (like SiteGround), companies (like HumanMade or Automattic), prestigious plugin developers (like Yoast or Pippin Plugins) and all these are a small example, have employees working directly on the WordPress core, yes, they have contract employees, or freelancers who pay them only and exclusively to make WordPress bigger, which is what I do to a lesser extent, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the GPL, giving back to what helps you in some way part of what it gives you.
The forerunners and creators of the GPL were the “Hippies” of development. They couldn’t be bothered with anyone breaking the philosophy of the game. If you wanted to work with the GPL, you had to live the GPL. I mean, whatever you do, it never has to hurt the project, it’s to make it better. If what you do hurts or could hurt the project, you’re doing something wrong, even though the GPL says that the performance is correct, you probably haven’t grasped the essence of philosophy.
Some people have even told me that he takes X, adds it to a bigger project, and sells it for 300,000. Yes, that’s absolutely right. But to be fair to The GPL and to follow their philosophy, you should either put someone to work on that bookstore that’s indispensable to you to make that 300,000 euros or count that part of the project represents that bookstore and make a percentage profit donation. That would be the real GPL, giving back to the project part of what it gives you, not using what others have created and making a profit. Have you never seen the donate button? Have you ever pressed it? This is what people look away from, they just get the “freedom from”, which again was created by a “hippy” who couldn’t get his head around anyone not doing it, because they thought only other “hippies” were going to sign up for the GPL.
Since this has been a thing that people don’t want to accept for a while now, just look at the fortune I made with WangGuard, many of us have thrown away for the path of premium plugins, i.e. “mandatory donations” to help in the maintenance and continuous development, which is not a sale to live better. Everything has gone well until there have appeared (and more and more) sites that give hundreds, even thousands of premium plugins for a subscription fee, or for a lower payment than what the developer sells.
And again, we’re using a partial standard. In the GPL it says exactly:
Does the GPL allow me to sell copies of the program?
Yes. The GPL allows anyone to do so. The right to sell copies is part of the definition of free software. Except in a particular situation, there is no limit to the price you can put on them. (That exception is the written offer to provide the source code, which must accompany the binaries when they are distributed without their source code).
Well, it’s clear that the GPL lets you sell, so what’s the problem? The problem is that no one follows the link in “right to sell copies”. If one follows it, even though it is already outside the literal “norm”, we can see that, among all the extensive explanation of the freedom to sell, this other one:
Free software is a community project, and anyone who depends on the project should look for ways to contribute to building the community. For a distributor, the way to do this is to donate part of the profit to the Free Software Foundation or some other free software development project. By funding development, you can improve the world of free software.
Distributing free software is an opportunity to get development funding. Don’t waste it!
To contribute money, you need to make money. If you set your price too low, you will have nothing left over to contribute to development.
So it seems that, while you let software developed by others be sold, it seems that the philosophy or background (though it doesn’t say so directly) is not that you make money, but that you make money in order to donate, either in whole or in part. As I said before, the purpose of all rules is to make the software bigger, not to destroy it. If the rule had been thought of so that some develop and others take all the money, it would be a destructive rule in itself.
Basically, there are a few rules in the GPL, but whenever you apply one of them you have to ask yourself, does it benefit the project in any way? Yes or no. If yes, go ahead, if no, you have a moral obligation to the GPL to look at how to get it back.
Any plugin sales business that other people develop. As much as it’s the GPL, it doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing if you’re doing it for your own unique benefit. It is another thing for a percentage (and I’m not talking about pocket money) to go back to the developers to continue development because if they don’t, they will be guilty of the project’s demise. The problem with some business models is how they return part of the profits to 1,500 plugins/developers if it’s a ridiculous subscription (but I’ll give you a solution, in the end, don’t despair if you already have Pepito Grillo behind your ear).
The GPL lives by giving and receiving, if you receive thanks to the GPL, you must give to the GPL (return). If you receive from the GPL and don’t give back to the GPL, you don’t use/believe in/build on the GPL, you take advantage of the GPL and its basic rules, not its spirit and essence, and therefore don’t make money by using the GPL rules as an excuse, because that’s not the case, you have manipulated them for your benefit and not for the benefit of the GPL.
And so this is the reason to buy the licenses from the developers, because in any other that you buy the plugin, you will not be contributing anything to the project, and if those sites sell them cheaper than the developer, what they cause is that the developer does not have money to develop that tool that you need so much, you like and that nobody else offers you. What you are doing is biting the hand of the one who feeds you, and in the end, there will be no hand left and you will be left without a tool. But I tell you a secret, there is the rule of sharing. What are you 5 friends or acquaintances that need a plugin of 80 ?? Well, you buy it together. Only one of the sites will be able to receive support maybe, but surely it won’t be a real big problem. Logically I said 5 friends, I didn’t say a buying club that buys a license, and uses it 100, 1.000, 100.000 sites. Is it allowed by the rules? Yes, but that’s destructive to the software so that 100,000 sites still get rid of that great tool in a year for lack of project funding. And yes, it is not ethical or moral, because it does not contravene the rule, but its spirit and it is what many do not want to say, to know, or to know.
For customizing it a little bit, my Redsys plugin has been 7 years developing it, more or less, between development, refactorings, research, etc, the cost is already about 90.000 ?, I repeat, it is 7 years of non-stop development, with a new update every 2 weeks approx. The cost of sale is about $80 approx, of which, I take $48 approx, which, after the conversion, is 40? more or less. These are all-around numbers. If we apply this in hours, it means that at a development cost of $60, it doesn’t even reach one hour, and that’s because, even if the cost was $45, it still wouldn’t arrive. For me to develop one hour, I must sell at least 2. With that, I would have to develop one hour and a half.
I can assure you that every euro I earn with the plugin, I reinvest it in development hours (you only have to look at the changelog to see its continuous evolution), and I am saying hours of development, the hours I am giving support “as a gift”, logically the people who acquire the license is precisely for the support and updates, that’s why I put it in quotes because it’s not that they haven’t paid for it, it’s me who mentally doesn’t want to invest the money they pay in the support (giving it of course) and I invest every euro in development time. I simply do it because I like to develop, I have a restless mind that loves to create and give solutions, even to problems that people don’t even know they have. I go around the streets all day pointing out flashes of ideas that come to me and pointing them out to implement them (mini eureka moments). If the money was invested purely in support, I can assure you that very few updates would come out right now. There are ideas that I love, but I can’t implement them because of the time it would take.
What’s going on? Well, it’s very simple. In the last few years, plugin resale sites have become more popular with a lower price, or directly by subscription, and they logically don’t bring to the project the spirit of the GPL, but the rule that they can sell it by fire. Well, if this continues, I’ll have to spend more time on third party projects than on my own, so we’ll all lose (custom projects that won’t be worth 80 euros as a simple premium plugin, will be worth 30,000 euros because you’ll have to ask someone expressly). But not only me, all the developers who create free software.
Now, do you understand why it’s such a bad idea to think that it’s better to buy the plugin somewhere else that is cheaper?
After really reading everything I’ve put in, would you really dare to say that the GPL lets me sell other people’s developments at a lower price? The GPL recommends you to sell if you are going to donate it totally or partially to be able to contribute financially and if you don’t do it that way, you will end up with the project, and no, it’s not the GPL no matter how much you want to sell it that way.
Do you want to resell plugins and have a 100% developer-friendly GPL business? Well, it’s not that hard, it’s just that people always take the easy but destructive route.
Create a plugin buying club, buy a plugin, let’s put mine from Redsys. (70 euro), now sell it more expensive, for example, at 100 euro, so you have a difference of 30 euro, remember that I used to earn about 40 euro, so you would earn a little less than me and for doing nothing. But there is a difference, that you are going to sell it with packages for example 5 people, that is to say, each license that you buy, you resell it to 5 people. That means that the cost for each person will be
Don’t you think it’s an impressive business and at the same time sustainable? You don’t harm the developer, he will earn less, yes, but there are many numbers that globally sell more, you contribute part of your profits continuously by buying licenses that you will resell between 5 people and you assure the future of the projects that give you money. And this is a 100% GPL business, not like everything else out there that many strive to launder.
If you really want to maintain the free software ecosystem, you have to care about it and take care of it. If you see a site that sells plugins, ask them what the developer gets out of the sales they make, and you bet they’ll respond.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m very grateful. I’d be even more grateful if someone (friend, acquaintance, client or family member) tells you that it’s OK to sell the software that someone else has developed (keeping it all for themselves), or to buy it from that site that is cheaper or to download it from wherever it is allowed by the GPL, you refer to this entry, because I hope I was able to convey to you that it is a misrepresentation of the spirit of the GPL and is not at all sustainable, it is destructive in itself and unethical, even though some insist that ethics have nothing to do with it.
Thank you very much.