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I recently purchased a 3rd party WP plugin (and started a site) with a view to starting a business. The plugin was first released only a few months ago.This particular plugin provides essential functionality, without which I cannot operate the site as needed.

The plugin has a few minor bugs, nothing serious. Unfortunately, the plugin developer is unresponsive.

Since I am planning to invest a significant amount in this new venture, obviously I need to be sure that the plugin can be maintained and updated when new versions of WP are released, or when another API version that it calls is released and the old versions retired. The plugin is reasonably complex and I have a license key.

Question 1: Since the plugin developer is completely unresponsive, is it possible (and legal) for me to upload the plugin to Github and hire a developer to update it and maintain it?

Question 2: I would also like to hire a developer to add features to the existing plugin. Is this ok (legal) and are there any pitfalls I may not be aware of?

Question 3: How do license keys for such plugins work? I am concerned that if the developer has lost interest in the plugin, he may at some point in the future pull the plug on licenses, etc., leaving me without a functioning (and essential) plugin a few years down the road.

Such dependency on one plugin is, of course far less than ideal for a business.

I did consider hiring a developer to build a similar plugin from scratch. However, I am slow to do so, due to the complexity and cost – especially since such a plugin already exists (and could conceivably be built upon).

Any advice appreciated.

  • What means "completely unresponsive"? How long are you already trying to get in contact? Maybe the developer is just on summer vacation? – Mario Werner Jul 8 '18 at 12:01
  • Besides that, it all depends on the License model the Plugin is using. You should read it up. If it is a commercial plugin, I would assume the author obfuscated the code. There are ways to deobfuscate it, but it is not 100% and would still be difficult to maintain it. Especially when the plugin consists of multiple PHP, JS and CSS files. – Mario Werner Jul 8 '18 at 14:18
  • Thanks for your post Mario. The license is GPL v.2 or higher. Which suggests that modification is ok (under certain conditions, at least): gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/… – Susan Summers Jul 10 '18 at 14:20
  • As to whether or not the code has been obfuscated, I don't see anything confusing from looking at the files - as far as I can tell. 'Completely unresponsive' means ~8 emails in 2 months unanswered. Pretty long holiday, if so! – Susan Summers Jul 10 '18 at 14:26
  • Ok. If it is GPL v2 and the code is not obfuscated, I think you are indeed fine to hire a developer and modify the code. It should also be possible to remove the dependency on a license key, if required. But this depends on if the plugin uses some sort of encryption or other shenanigans bound to the license key or the response from the license server. – Mario Werner Jul 10 '18 at 15:35

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