Pirated WordPress Themes: The Consequences

Pirate WordPress themes are premium themes made available by unscrupulous third-parties for free. For someone unfamiliar with how the WordPress ecosystem works, pirate themes can be tempting. But installing a pirate theme is almost certainly a bad move that will have negative security and SEO ramifications for your site and its visitors.

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WordPress is free in two ways. No one has to pay to use WordPress (free as in beer), and WordPress’s code can be modified and redistributed by anyone, provided they make those changes available to other people (free as in freedom). It’s important to understand the difference between these definitions of free because software that is “free as in freedom” may not be “free as in beer”.

Some WordPress users expect everything associated with WordPress to be available without payment, including themes and plugins. When they find that this isn’t the case, and that premium themes can be expensive, they’re tempted to use nulled or pirate versions of premium themes.

The legality of using a pirate theme can be debated. Because a premium theme’s code is almost certainly released under the same GPL license as WordPress itself, there’s nothing legally wrong with taking that code and making it available for free. However, there’s no guarantee that all the code in a premium theme is GPL-licensed. Many premium themes contain proprietary code and using that code without permission is a breach of the license and the developer’s copyright.

Furthermore, pirate themes do not receive regular updates. Updates are essential to ensuring that a theme remains compatible with future versions of WordPress and that any security vulnerabilities are fixed.

Why do people pirated WordPerss themes in the first place? It’s not because they want to do something nice for WordPress users. They often want to use the theme as a Trojan horse to get malicious code onto as many WordPress sites as possible. Many pirate premium themes contain malware, malicious code that might:

  • Inject links and other content into the site’s pages as part of a black hat SEO scheme that benefits the pirate and hurts the site’s SEO.
  • Inject popup advertising that generates revenue for the pirate while annoying users.
  • Steal sensitive data from site administrators and users.
  • Install malware on users’ machines via the Pirated WordPress themes.
  • Redirect users to malware or phishing sites.

If a publisher cares about the reputation of their site, installing a pirate plugin is a recipe for disaster. Unless the site owner goes through the code of a pirate theme line-by-line, they are trusting that the pirate is an honest and upstanding citizen of the web. But someone who is willing to benefit from the hard work of other developers while depriving them of payment is not to be trusted.

It takes hundreds of hours of developer time to build a premium WordPress theme. If everyone Pirated WordPress themes, the WordPress ecosystem would be impoverished. The cost of a premium theme is a small price to pay for peace of mind, for the security of the site and its users, and to support developers who have built the rich and vibrant ecosystem from which we all benefit.

If you can’t afford to pay for a premium theme, there are many excellent free plugins to choose from. It isn’t worth the risk to bother with Pirated WordPress themes, trust us!