The related Q

In this Question on WPSE/WA the author asks a question related to the "PRO" version of a commercial plugin.

The Problem

The Problem that I have with the Q is that the "PRO" version includes support and therefore should be available for the owner of a license. Now the author seems to have the product/software/plugin, but no support. During a discussion with @Rarst on the chat, he told me that the plugin could be GPL licensed and got into his hands legally1). He also told me to raise the question here.

It's not our task to question the license or if it inherits the license from wordpress, so we can just take "it's not GPL" as the base. So could we be held liable for helping to commit a criminal offence? For me it's close to:

"I didn't rob the bank or even knew about it. I just drove the car for some friends."

The Question

  • Should there be an option when flagging such a question?
  • Should we even care about it?

1) Afaik the "LITE" version is GPL licensed, but as far as i can tell from reading through the comments, the "PRO" version is not GPL licensed.

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Interesting question. From my very personal and non-expert point of view the crucial difference is that we are not helping anybody to obtain the product - we are only consulting its usage. I'm curious about other opinions. –  Michal Mau Jun 5 '11 at 17:21
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4 Answers 4

I do not think it's worth the effort to shake it out of user is-he-a-legit-customer-and-why-doesn't-he-use-offical-support. Simply put there are reasons behind it and it is stretch to assume we are entitled to know them.

It is ok to point towards official support, it is ok to ask about situation, but it is wrong to make policy to make people explain themselves so that they can ask a question.

Worst case scenarion - you helped a user of pirated code. So what? World didn't end, developers hadn't lost a customer and there is one more working answer on site that many legit users might find useful in future.

I highly doubt there is even remote chance of site and/or expert answering being criminally reliable for answering question online.

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But should we be concerned that we're potentially harming the developer's business model - I don't have a fixed opinion on this - I can see both sides - GPL is GPL, but also developers need to eat, and premium support is one of the common ways of allowing this. –  anu Jun 6 '11 at 8:36
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I agree with Rarst, and would like to quote another part of the chat conversation: "What if plugin is GPL or otherwise can be obtained in legit way without support obligations? What if plugin was inherited with site or otherwise passed without details? What if plugin's official support plain sucks?" –  Jan Fabry Jun 6 '11 at 9:51
    
@spartacus (1) user has paid developer for support (2) user is not eligible for support (see quote above) due to circumstances (3) use is maliciously unwilling to pay. I don't see how in either of these three scenarios answering question harms developer. If we are better support venue - then developer's support is not worth the money. If user is a pirate - he is not a pirate because of us. –  Rarst Jun 6 '11 at 11:15
    
@spartacus /anu - Could you add this as separate answer. It's more than just a comment and adds "range" to the Q. –  kaiser Jun 6 '11 at 12:21
    
"If user is a pirate - he is not a pirate because of us.". That's right. But he's able to make use out of the pirated software. And that's another (maybe illegal) step. –  kaiser Jun 6 '11 at 12:22
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Should we be concerned that we're potentially harming the developer's business model - I don't have a fixed opinion on this - I can see both sides - GPL is GPL, but also developers need to eat, and premium support is one of the common ways of allowing this.

By providing an alternative to a developer's own premium support offering, we may not be facilitating the piracy (a term I'm having problems with, as plugins are probably GPL'd) itself, but we're certainly providing a way for the user to avoid paying the developer.

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In this specific case I can see the issue. But in general, providing free support doesn't always hurt the developer. Some premium plugins are abandoned, or the dev's support just sucks. Yes, we devs need to eat, but if someone else can do something better than we can for less than we can, it's a challenge for us to improve. –  EAMann Jun 6 '11 at 16:45
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I would take the same approach here as I do with the WPORG support forums: as a matter of principle, I don't provide free support for Themes/Plugins for which the developer provides paid support options, because to do so would be to make me, essentially, an unpaid employee of the developer.

As for the license question: when answering support questions in the WPORG support forums, I adhere to the rules of the site regarding licensing of Plugins/Themes, because I am a guest of the WPORG site, and should adhere to the ground rules laid out by the site owner. However, WPORG's stance regarding Plugin/Theme inheritance of WordPress' GPL due to being inherently derivative is merely an opinion, and one that I believe has absolutely no basis in established copyright case law. Thus, when answering questions here on WPSE, I don't much care about the licensing question.

(Besides, most non-GPL Plugins/Themes generally have paid support options from the developer, in which case I wouldn't be offering support for them, anyway.)

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I want to note that Automattic provides paid support options. Some thousand dollars will get you core developer air-dropped to implement your personal WordPress nirvana. :) So while I perfectly understand your choice at personal level, I think it should be kept as strictly individual decisions and apart from any official or community-based policies of the site. –  Rarst Jun 6 '11 at 17:03
    
Hopefully my question was posed accordingly: this is my personal approach. :) –  Chip Bennett Jun 6 '11 at 17:16
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Here is another - minor, because it's slightly out of the focus of this Q - concern I got: There are lots of channels out in the wild, where you can obtain free copies of GPL licensed commercial software. And a lot of the people out there seem to make use of them (else they wouldn't exist). Point is that with supporting this, we also support the people who release these sidecopies, which are often malware.

Maybe it would make sense to ask the author of a Q in a standard procedure to tell us from where he got it to be on the save side. Reducing bad code is imho also part of the idea behind this side.

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How much should WPSE really be acting as an adjunct support channel for Plugins/Themes, anyway? It is one thing to ask about code implementation; but it is another thing altogether to ask about Plugin/Theme-specific support questions. I think a case can be made that all such questions should be routed first to the appropriate support channel - which for commercial Plugins/Themes will generally be the developer's site, and for free Plugins/Themes most likely will be the WPORG support forum dedicated to the specific Plugin/Theme. –  Chip Bennett Jun 6 '11 at 16:45
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@Chip Bennet as for me such routing would be against SE network goal - to be superior compilation of info on topic. Declining in-scope questions because of vague context is not helping that goal. –  Rarst Jun 6 '11 at 17:05
    
Where are these goals defined? I'd be interested in reading them, as I've not done so yet. Personally, my primary intent is to help people with WordPress-related problems and questions. IMHO, with respect to specific Themes/Plugins, the absolute best possible help will come directly from the developer, which is why I am generally inclined to ensure that users are connected with the developer. But you're right: it's a difficult scope differentiation to define clearly. –  Chip Bennett Jun 6 '11 at 17:20
    
@Chip Bennett I don't think I can come up with source which formulates that (maybe Jan can :) but it is often expressed by higher powers. –  Rarst Jun 6 '11 at 17:50
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@Chip: Though question! Good posts might be The Wikipedia of Long Tail Programming Questions and A new WordPress Stack Exchange. For the scope of this site: we as a community should define it. If we don't want answers on pro themes, that's fine. If we don't want questions about WordPress.com, that's fine. Just make sure the line is clear. –  Jan Fabry Jun 6 '11 at 19:31
    
@JanFabry +1 on beeing harsh (& strict) on rules :) –  kaiser Jun 7 '11 at 2:13
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