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)
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?