CopyForest - When design rip-off is encouraged


ThemeForest has always been a place where designs and features keep getting copied. But it has reached a new level of blatant copying now. What’s sad is that Envato seems to be encouraging this behavior.

The New ThemeForest: Copy Design + Features of a popular theme, Price it at $30, Profit

I will only share a single example here but I am sure if you have browsed around ThemeForest, you have seen more. Here’s the blatant rip-off. Notice the “blocks” on home-page, the slider, menus, and everything under features. Everything is copied. Under some blocks, the author shamelessly used same images and colors too. Even the header that supposedly looks different is copied from another theme (also on TF) (Original) (Copy)

To add insult to the injury, they mostly copied the landing page description too:

Why is this damaging

It may come off as a rant at first, but this whole issue is damaging for the whole WordPress theme business ecosystem.

- Copying is quick, easy, and cheap

The major time spent on a project is related to design/UI and feature decisions. If you can simply rip-off design elements and features - and then base all your code decisions using the opensource code, it becomes really easy. You can build a theme that would normally take 6 months, in a few weeks.

- The rip-offs actually work now - they have a strategy

Before Author-driven pricing at ThemeForest, the copied themes almost always lost due to lack of social proof (sales count). However, ever since ADP, the social proof can be easily bought now - just run a few sales and stay at $16 price for a few weeks at launch. Once that’s done, you can keep running sales here and there to stay in “Popular” section of ThemeForest.

- Cheap living costs, cheap devs = Cheap Item price

Continuing from above, these authors can afford to make decent income in the countries they live in, even at a price of $20-30. This is what makes it more damaging. All you have to do is to spend a little on a half-decent designer to replicate the UI and features of a successful product.

- Envato is encouraging this behavior

Envato knows very well that this have started with the ADP, but they refuse to acknowledge the problem. They will never take-down an item unless a DMCA is sent.

Coming back to the particular item, it stolen Theme Hybrid’s class and just renamed it - without giving any credit (that’s a GPL violation) and Envato refused to take action on that. The item in question also has code stolen from several other open-source projects with all comments/credits removed. But that’s not Envato’s problem.

Finally, Envato chose to highlight and show-off this blatant rip-off by featuring it in their Cyber Monday campaign (out of the 500 themes, they would rather showcase the ripoff):

- The DMCA problem at Envato

If an author sends a DMCA on Envato, the item is immediately removed. While that’s great, it also poses another problem. Authors are scared to send DMCAs. A lot of these copycats (speaking from experience) are corrupt and have no morals. They can DMCA your item - the exact item that they lifted - out of spite. That results in Envato taking down your item.

That would mean you win right? Wrong. It’s almost impossible to fight a legal battle cross-border especially with someone living in a country an Asian country where legal systems are slow and rife with corruption.

- The transparency on marketplaces leads to gaming

The social proof of sales counters and the popular page on ThemeForest itself lends to this problem. Potential authors clearly know what to copy. It wouldn’t happen as much if you had an item on your own theme shop. Basically, they wouldn’t know what to copy.

Envato really needs to step up. Any design reviewer can clearly distinguish between an inspired theme vs a blatant rip-off.

Being inspired by a few elements fine. It’s still fine even if you take the whole layout. Heck, you can go as far as implementing a few of the same features. But don’t go copying the landing page presentation, demo presentation, all the features, same layout etc.

Finally, just to clarify, GPL and open-source doesn’t encourage rip-offs. Sure using GPL code with credits is fine, but you cannot copy a product design and features just because it’s GPL.

I wouldn’t recommend releasing your product at Envato just because of the DMCA issue. You don’t want counter-DMCAs taking down your products. And you don’t want to be putting in all the efforts just to be shadowed by blatant ripoffs that are well-protected.

What would you suggest to authors suffering from this to pressure Envato to step-up?

(Danny Jones) #2

Im gobsmacked! (so much so I stopped being a lurker here and signed up to share just how astonished I am)

Im a TF author ($900 away from elite too!) and although im used to seeing many, many similar designs - this is a total and complete clone!! Its shocking! How the hell is this allowed? Do the original designers know? (Perhaps that you?)

Astonishingly bad - but I appreciate you letting everyone know, the rip-off devs need shutting down!

(Jay Syder) #3

Doesn’t this happen everywhere though not just themeforest? Also I wonder if the new price changes is going alter this at all in my opinion I rate themes more on their support when you run into an issue more than anything. Which I think I usually notice a larger price tag on older themes that are regularly updated and better support. For example I would be interested to see how frequently the copy theme provides updates after core and large plugin updates that they use. But if they are supporting and updating frequently then they will slowly grow further away from the original and become their own maybe better maybe worse.

If they don’t keep up with updates and good support they will slowly get bad reviews. Your argument could then be that they moved on to copy another theme but then there is the case of that overtime if they are using a single author account the reviews for that author are going to be bad and smarter people will see the better authors.

Anyways just thought I would give my opinion on why I would focus on the original winning if the copy people don’t really put in long term effort. And if they do put in long term effort then I would say the copy is cheap and easy.

(Nate Wright) #4

Have you informed ThemeForest of this? They’re a pretty-big company and it seems reasonable that the person reviewing a theme, or selecting themes for a sale, wouldn’t necessarily notice a copy like this.

On the other hand, a quick look suggests it’s not as much of a straight-up copy as it might seem. The HTML code I looked at was completely different. And things like typography and colors, though they seem similar, are not exactly the same.

This may feel like a pretty shit copy, and it may be. But when I look at it I see what looks like enough variation to feel like it’s not so black-and-white. The main layout does look similar – but so do the majority of “magazine” themes. When you look at specific elements like header, navigation, footer, etc, there are pretty substantial differences.

I think it highlights a really interesting phenomenon with saturation in the theme marketplace. If you look at some of the “alternate demos” provided by either theme, you have to ask what does the “design” of those themes really entail? In the alternate demos, nearly every aesthetic signature of the primary demo is unrecognizable.


I agree. That’s true and that always was the case when item prices were similar. However, you will surprised how forgiving people are when they get something for cheaper than they’re used to. You can observe this by running a discount experiment. Further, I can tell from experience that most buyers rarely require support (~5% of the buyers). And they react similarly to $5 / hour tech support and $30 / hour tech support. All they usually need is simple steps or some Custom CSS and they’re happy with that.

P.S. Off-topic: Have you heard about Envato Elements or how Envato plans to add WordPress themes to Envato Elements in early 2017? The items at Envato Elements will be unsupported. Because of their vast experience of the market, they have learned not many agency buyers require support. So they have come up with the idea of selling them with a monthly subscription instead.

Envato’s solution to the problem is a DMCA as I mentioned earlier. But there’s no protection for cross or ill-intended DMCA from a country with no legal repercussions.

It’s not exactly the same in all parts. But if you’re a regular observer of magazine themes, and from a designer perspective, it is copied in most parts. Just changing an element here and there doesn’t justify copying a whole layout.

It’s fine to lift a few elements and the generic layout. Copying isolated elements is often called inspiration, but a copying 80% of the layout is plagiarism. It’s excessive copying when you go ahead and copy: slider, all the blocks (check under features), the unique block system, menus, single post styles, category styles, slider styles.

Other magazine themes copy a few things, but don’t implement all the same features on the same layout - this is the key difference. For example, many other themes will copy the block layouts, but they will do their own style - headings, meta, positioning, and won’t just lift the unique filtering system in the same way - using the same PHP/JS mix to implement the AJAX filters. Similarly, they don’t copy/paste the item page and demo implementations.

My point here is that the other magazine themes are often inspired but they do their own thing.

Ah, the demos. That’s another issue I wanted to avoid discussing. Although this author has mixed a few other themes in the demos, but let’s not open that can of worms. Since it’s becoming common at ThemeForest to copy popular themes as a “demo” but that’s overlooked as it usually is different enough due to the parent theme constraints (yes, most of these demos are almost child themes at Themeforest nowadays - also known as stacks).


Looking at the demos of either site I’d say inspired by, maybe, definitely not a rip-off code doesn’t even look remotely similar.

(Anton) #7

It happens everywhere, look at the Chinese Land Rover Evoque clone. It’s not even frowned upon by Land Rover themselves.

So there must be something to be had for the original creator in some way or another. PR maybe and not always monetary.