Business, Online business, Plugins, Terms of use
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The perils for plugin businesses with no or minimal terms of use

WordPress is a fantastic content management system. In the some 18 years that I’ve been using it, I’ve seen it go from a glorified blogging engine to a fully fledged content management system. I’ve seen the development and growth of theme and plugin businesses, and I’ve witnessed and contributed to the often arcane debates about the GPL. Through this site, I’ve also tried to help WordPress theme and plugin businesses with the various legal issues that can crop up in the use of WordPress and the running of their businesses.

I will soon be launching my own plugin business. The plugins that will be available for purchase all revolve around Gravity Forms (an awesome plugin that I’ve been using since 2010). If you’d like to be told when I launch, feel free to sign up here:

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In the past I whipped up an automated terms of use builder for theme and plugin businesses (you had to purchase the ‘business package’ of A Practical Guide to WordPress and the GPL to get access), and I’m using that as a starting point for the terms of use for my own forthcoming plugin business.

I thought I’d also take a look around to see what other plugin businesses are doing these days. Some have solid terms of use, as you’d expect, but what I wasn’t expecting to find was some stellar plugin businesses who have no terms of use at all (!) or only minimal terms. In some cases, there are no contractual terms of use on their website, and no ‘click to access terms’ process during the checkout process.

My hand-on-heart recommendation to these businesses is to get decent terms of use in place as soon as possible. Why? Because without them, you are not protecting yourself and you’re exposing your business to undue risk. For example, if you don’t have terms of use:

  • you may not be dealing properly (or at all) with copyright and licensing (not only of the plugins, but of other content on your site);
  • you will not be creating a right for yourself to discontinue a customer’s access to support and updates if that customer decides to make your products available on another website for others to download;
  • you will not be specifying the customer’s loss of a right to withdraw from the contract upon download or use of a plugin (relevant in some countries, such as EU member states, but not others);
  • you will not be putting any limits on the volume of support you may be asked to provide;
  • you won’t be putting contractual controls in place regarding access keys and access credentials;
  • you won’t be setting out clear contractual provisions relating to fees, renewals, refunds, price changes and the like;
  • you won’t be dealing with account termination if a customer uses your products unlawfully or for an unlawful purpose or if they are abusive to you or your staff;
  • you won’t be limiting your liability and warranties and you won’t be obtaining any indemnities from your customers for losses you may incur through their breaching your rights;
  • you won’t be dealing with termination of the arrangements in place with your customers;
  • you won’t be securing a right to unilaterally amend terms in place with your customers; and
  • you won’t be specifying governing law and the country or state whose courts will hear disputes.

You also run the risk of an implied contract coming into existence when people purchase your plugins, or the prospect of people making arguments about what you’re obliged to do based on what they say are implied contractual terms.

The difference between not having terms of use that address the matters listed above, and having proper terms of use, is a bit like the difference between finding yourself in rough seas in a flimsy boat and without a life jacket versus being in a navy vessel that’s armoured-up and prepared for whatever may come. Not having terms of use can also be unhelpful for your customers, as there are no clear contractual guide rails and they may be left wondering what they can and cannot do. All up, a pretty unsatisfactory situation and not one, I suggest, that plugin business owners should find themselves in.

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