WooCommerce, the popular eCommerce software for WordPress, secretly and without notice, raised the renewal price for extensions by 50 percent, or in other words, to the full original purchase price.
When you buy a WooCommerce extension from WooCommerce, you’re purchasing a one-year “subscription” that entitles you to a year of free updates and support. After one year, you don’t get any updates or support unless you subscribe for another year.
For example, the extension to add the First Data payment gateway to WooCommerce costs $79. If you subscribed, you paid $39.50 every year after the first year.
The WooCommerce pricing system always seemed shady to me. For $79, you get a copy of the First Data payment gateway extension, but you’re told you can only install it on one website. If you want to install it on more than one website, you must pay $99 for the right to install it on up to five websites. If you really want to go crazy, you can pay $199 to install it on up to 25 websites.
What about GPL?
My problem with this pricing scheme is WooCommerce and its extensions are licensed under the General Public License (GPL). One of the rights users have under the GPL is the right to copy and freely distribute any program licensed under GPL.
From the GPL:
You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program’s source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program. You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.
According to the license, I don’t even need to buy a single-site subscription From WooCommerce to use a WooCommerce extension. According to the license, I can get a copy from anyone. Once I have a copy, I can install it on as many sites as I want. I can even give a copy to anyone else. I can even charge people for the extension.
Personally, I would never charge someone for open source software, but that right is allowed under the license.
How then does WooCommerce get away with charging people over and over for the same open source software? Because most WordPress users don’t really understand open source software. They don’t understand the the GPL. They choose to treat WordPress software like they would Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Dreamweaver, or Microsoft Office.
WooCommerce gets away with gouging customers because they know most people won’t read the license. They know most people will just assume WordPress and WordPress extensions are similar to all the commercial software they use.
WooCommerce profits from consumer ignorance
It seems as though WooCommerce enjoys the best of both worlds; they enjoy the benefits of restricted licensed commercial software, but they also get to wrap themselves in the pretentious cloak of open source.
WooCommerce is owned by Automattic. Matt Mullenweg is the founder and CEO of Automattic. Matt Mullenweg co-created WordPress with Mike Little. You’ll probably find no bigger defender of open source and the GPL than Matt Mullenweg. The man is seriously hardcore about open source. Considering this fact, it’s kind of ironic that WooCommerce is making money selling the same GPL-licensed, open source software over and over and over to the same customers.
Don’t get me wrong, WooCommerce is within its right to increase its renewal fee. They can charge customers whatever they want. Customers are also free not to pay WooCommerce anything. Because of the GPL, they can legally, ethically, and morally obtain the software elsewhere. It says so in the licence.
WooCommerce has done nothing wrong here.