WordPress was created to be an incredibly versatile platform, working equally well for the amateur blogger as it does for a serious business website. What makes the platform so great and ultimately versatile are the thousands upon thousands of available themes, extensions, and plugins. Some are free, some come with a fee, but then there’s the black-hat alternative – nulled WordPress themes and plugins.

These are the pirated versions of premium WordPress products, downloaded from an unofficial repository or website. Now, advocates will argue that the practice of hosting nulled pieces of software is not strictly illegal because WordPress is licensed under the GPL, but this is a largely misleading claim. Their widespread distribution and usage remains an unethical practice – and much more harmful than it seems at first glance. Here is why nulled WordPress products are not legitimate tools for usage and distribution and why you should avoid them at all costs.

They are hurting the WordPress ecosystem

First and foremost, by using pirated versions of paid products, you are a partner in crime to stealing the work of developers who have invested time, effort, and money to create them. Keep in mind, their businesses are run just like any other. Although it’s just a simple download for you, you’re directly undermining the developers who earn their money fairly.

And it’s not only a matter of ethics but also a matter of thinking ahead and helping to cultivate a thriving industry. The more common the practice of using nulled pieces of software, the less it pays off for developers to do their work, which doesn’t only include writing code but also creating documentation and providing support for the software. Consequently, the overall quality of WordPress themes and plugins will lower because there’s not enough incentive for its creators.

As such, the practice of piracy discourages innovation, damaging and corrupting the WordPress ecosystem from the core.

Using nulled pieces of software is slippery legal ground

It’s not only ethics and healthy industry growth that provide a counterargument to the claim that using nulled products is legitimate because they are licensed under GPL. For those unmoved by these motives, there’s yet another, more consequential factor to consider: using nulled products could actually bring serious legal issues.

More often than not, you’ll be using a piece of code without a license. Although the majority of these software pieces are open-source, we must keep in mind that many of them rely on combined licenses and are protected by copyright laws. That means that using a product without permission gives its copyright holders legal precedent to sue you. This rarely happens in practice now but we can expect more sophisticated copyright algorithms in the future to make it easier to determine and track nulled pieces of software in websites.

Lastly, even if a piece of software is distributed under a full GPL license which permits unlimited sharing, it’s important to note that this license is valid only under certain conditions. Obtaining a product through piracy, as is the case with nulled themes and plugins, does not fall under the conditions of the license, which instantly makes it invalid.

They cause privacy and security issues

Nulled software poses a serious threat to the security and integrity of your website. Since they are pirated products distributed through unofficial sources, they are fair ground for hackers to embed all kinds of malicious code into them. After all, when you consider downloading nulled products, you should question the motives of those distributing them.

The damage often won’t be visible on the surface at all because hackers will inject this malicious software into the products in a way that’s designed to be unobvious. Your website might be running perfectly well, while various harmful processes run in the background to infect your files and compromise website security. The most concerning issue is that nulled products make your site vulnerable to all kinds of data theft, which will make you lose customers at the speed of light. There are a couple of tweaks for securing your WordPress website against attacks, but the first point is to use only verified, original products.

They can cause negative SEO

The anonymous providers of pirated software are free to inject codes and scripts to run their ads and fill your site with spam links. That’s why a WordPress website with nulled pieces of software installed is often going to crash, display annoying pop-ups, and have performance issues which cause high bounce rates.

But once again, the problem can go entirely undetected as nulled software can modify the links on your website so that visitors are redirected to malicious sites without you even knowing it. Malicious links are embedded deeply into the structure of your website and disguised as regular links, but nevertheless, sophisticated search engine algorithms will easily identify the issue and consequently penalize your website – either by lowering your ranking or completely de-indexing it. The damage that nulled software does to your SEO efforts will take a really long time to clean up. If you’ve used a nulled theme or plugin previously, it’s best to look for professional digital agencies to perform an audit of your website and weed out the culprits from deep within.

They can’t be updated

As a platform, WordPress encourages constant updates. Creators regularly update their products in order to provide users with new features, bug fixes, and most importantly, security patches. You can’t have any of that with nulled software, unless pirates track every updated in order to provide a nulled version for each one (heads up, it’s not going to happen – and even if it did, you’d have to manually re-install each new version). What that means, essentially, is that if the version you’ve downloaded isn’t currently outdated, it will be very soon anyway.

Outdated versions of software are less secure and sooner or later bound to cause accessibility issues and various bugs. As the core WordPress platform gets updated regularly, plugins and themes need to be compatible with it and with each other in order for everything to function properly. So a nulled piece of software is going to cause numerous website issues as it becomes outdated and incompatible with the rest.

They don’t come with support and documentation

Without a valid license, you don’t have the privileges of paying customers, which include interactive tutorials, help with setting up and using the product, ongoing customer support, etc. Using a nulled theme or plugin leaves you completely on your own, with no valuable resources, guides, and support from the creators if something goes wrong. And something is bound to go wrong as the version grows outdated anyway. This is really the ultimate point where your actions backfire, and instead of saving money as you had initially intended to by downloading a premium product for free, you end up losing out on a lot more.

The key takeaway

By using nulled WordPress themes and plugins, you’re inexorably shooting yourself in the foot. In fact, having them on your website doesn’t do any good to any party – not your business, not the developers who have created the original products, and definitely not your website visitors, whose devices and personal data will be at risk from malicious software. Thankfully, there are countless free versions which will serve your website well, as well as premium options such as Uncode which present a valuable and sound investment. A secure, high-performing, and bug-free website doesn’t tolerate the back-alley version.