There are numerous GPL-sharing clubs/sites now. Most charge a fee, but there is a notable one (gpldl.com) that is free, driven by donations, and it already offers ACF5 pro and is keeping it updated. For people that want the code, without the updates and support it’s already available. Taking ACF pro out of a plugin that has included it, would probably be more effort and less reliable (more likely outdated, or edited) than using a reputable GPL sharing service that has some quality assurance to prevent sharing corrupted or edited files.
Anybody selling GPL code (including my firm) has to be aware of the possibility of the code being widely available, easily available, even fully updated. I would expect over time more and more choices in the market are going to surface, both GPL-sharing and also GPL-code plus support packages.
As for ACF, I respect Elliot’s right to “request a policy” which is all it is, a “request” that has no legal basis. One cannot blame him for wanting that, as it’s in his best interest to whatever extent it might improve sales. However, it would have been a lot more of a safeguard before the startup of GPL sharing sites, because again today those sites are much more convenient ways to get ACF5 Pro than having to take it from another plugin or theme.
I think it is important to think about the ethics of including a codebase when you know that the original developer would prefer you did not. While legally GPL doesn’t change based on what the original developer wants, ethically I think you have to think about it. I’ve thought about it, and my conclusion is there is more help than harm. Meaning lots of people who get a better plugin or theme with ACF5 Pro included are helped. Open source is hugely beneficial from a collective standpoint. Yet it’s also hugely beneficial to us as individual developers, or site owners. It really is win-win. Now as for the harmful effect on ACF or Elliot as a developer… first I’d say it’s a nominal effect, or even a non-issue because again anybody willing to download plugin A to get plugin B included in it, surely would be willing to join a GPL sharing site instead. They clearly don’t want to pay for the support or updates provided by the original author. The hypothetical that they would be forced to purchase if no other option existed, is purely hypothetical because that is never the case with popular paid plugins today. Only smaller less successful plugins that “fly under the radar” will not be in the massive inventories of GPL sharing sites. Even in that case, a person who really wanted the code could probably find it on a torrent site, or ask around on a dev forum and find somebody that has already bought a license. So the real impact of including ACF5 Pro, or any other premium plugin in a project, is $0 in my view. Whatever decline that might already be happening for some sellers (and I don’t think there is any decline currently) will happen because GPL sharing sites are getting bigger and better. Most today don’t offer automatic updates, but if they did… their service would in some ways be more convenient than buying from original developers.
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