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ZOMG! You Stole My Code!

Teach a user to upload, and you’ve saved your own vacation. Which you paid for by installing and teaching them to begin with.

While the GPL is pretty clear about this, and my personal moral code is as well, the topic today is not about the question of is it right to resell someone else’s work, but what do you do when someone’s reselling yours?

This happened to my friend not too long ago. Someone else took her theme and was reselling it and you either already know who it is or you don’t, it doesn’t matter for the sake of this story. Now, the issue was not if they could resell it, we all agreed they could. The issue was how they resold it. That is, they took her images, much of her ad copy, and resold it, presenting it as if it was their own code. And that was, we all agreed, wrong. That’s fraud, in my eyes. You’re taking someone else’s work and claiming ownership of it. But. That wasn’t my fight, it was my friend’s, and all I could offer was some moral support and connections.

But when this happens to you, what do you do?

First, don’t type angry. It’s okay to type while you’re mad, but if you’re like me, and your skin heats up when you’re angry and you get all green and violent (I type really loudly), it’s probably a good moment to step back and think about why you’re angry. After all, GPL says this is allowed, right? I get mad because of perceived ownership. It’s one of my things. You should never claim to be something you’re not and you shouldn’t sell something that isn’t yours.

And that’s the angle I’d use to approach the situation. I would find the person, ping them privately if possible (almost everyone has a contact page these days) and ask them if they could change the wording to make it clear that this isn’t their code, it’s mine, and they’re using and providing it without the support of the original author. That’s what my friend did, and that’s also what the other people whose themes were being resold did. They pointed out that the reselling was confusing to the customers, and the customers got an unlicensed product.

What if that fails? Well. Now it’s messy. Legally if they’re taking my content and putting it up on their site with verbiage that implies it’s theirs, I have a DMCA takedown right. My content is all under copyright (I have not, nor will I any time soon, chose to go copyless) and I use the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, so if you use my content, wholesale, without attribution, you’re stealing. But this isn’t about my content, it’s my code, and all my code is released GPLv2 (unless otherwise noted). That means in order for me to come up and tap your shoulder, you have to take my code and my content.

Dollar SignBoy this got complicated. But if I ping you and say “Hey, bro, not cool.” and you ignore me, or tell me to sod off, I’ll come back and ping your webhost. “Hi, this guy is stealing my content. I asked him nicely to stop. Here’s a copy of our conversation.” I should note, none of the times I’ve ever had to do this have gotten past this step. The hosts have always stepped in, poked the perpetrator, and that was that. The times I was the bad guy (reprinting news articles), the content owners have only ever had to ask me to take it down. It’s never gotten past me.

Well okay, so what happens if the host says “Tough luck” or “We agree, but we can’t do anything without a takedown notice.” Now you bring in the law and file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take down. DMCA is a U.S Copyright Law covering intellectual property. Your blog posts and ad-copy are your intellectual property. This went to a pretty dark place, didn’t it? I mean, I hate the DRM with a passion, and I freely give away my stuff, so let’s stop talking about the legal stuff. You can look it up on your own if you really want to know how to file all that.

Most of the ‘handling’ of someone who steals your stuff isn’t even the legal hassle, anyway. It’s just the pain of getting in touch with them, explaining the situation, and getting it sorted. And the headaches come from having to explain over and over that you’re not mad (though you probably are) and you just want them to stop making it look like they’re you, please and thank you.

Okay, so how might I justify selling someone else’s theme or plugin? I would sell a service. It’s really that simple. I would sell the downloading, installing, configuring, and tweaking of the product. I would charge them the raw cost of the product AND give them the license information (it’s their now). I may charge them for some ‘placeholder’ text to import via the WP importer, and to import it. Certainly I would charge for some training on how to do this going forward. But the thing I wouldn’t do is actually say “This is our plugin” or “This is my theme.” Because it’s not.

I’m just making sure you can have the theme better, faster, and easier. Plus now they can upgrade and I can go to Fiji!

2 replies on “ZOMG! You Stole My Code!”

The GPL is a license. It still requires that they preserve copyright attribution. If they remove it, they have violated your copyright. Don’t be afraid to enforce it.

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