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WordPress.org Experiments with Rejecting Plugin Submissions with the “WP” Prefix to Mitigate Potential Trademark Abuse

Many in the WordPress developer community were surprised to learn that WordPress.org is rejecting plugins with the “WP” prefix in the name after Joe Youngblood tweeted the rejection note he received. Although that restriction was put into place approximately seven months ago, there was no official communication on the change.

As the result of the controversy gaining attention on social media and other channels, WordPress Plugin Team member Mika Epstein posted an explanation on the original meta trac ticket, the reasoning for how and why “wp” is being blocked:

Using wp- at the beginning of plugin permalinks, yes. Due to how we built this out, the display name is what gets checked and flagged. You can use WPPluginName (no space) and Plugin Name for WP.

This stems from part of a longer conversation going on with the Foundation, regarding handling the actual misuse of ‘WordPress’ in plugin names (which, as we all know, is actually trademarked and as such should not be used in your plugin name at all).

Because using WP Blah Blah as a name tends to lead to people changing it after approval to “WordPress Blah Blah” we put a pause on it to try and get a handle on how bad is this, what’s the depth of the problem (vs the actual headache of WC -> WooCommerce in names) and so on.

There is also the reality that using ‘WP’ or ‘Plugin’ in a plugin permalink is unnecessary and can be harmful to SEO due to repetitive words.

No one is claiming WP is trademarked, we’re just trying to minimize confusion and prevent people from accidentally violating trademarks in the future because they change WP to WordPress later on.

Whether or not “wp” was trademarked became a particular point of confusion because the commit message on the change said: “Adding in some more things to block based on use and trademarks.”

The conversation with the WordPress Foundation that Epstein was referencing was a private discussion about how the team can mitigate trademark abuse.

“This came up in the midst of an ad hoc brainstorm about the ways that the loophole could be more effectively managed, and so there wasn’t a lengthy public discussion on it,” WordPress Executive Director Josepha Haden Chomphosy said.

“It was part of an experiment for handling that loophole more effectively and wasn’t meant to be permanent. The great thing about experiments in WordPress is that when we see that we’re throwing out the good along with the bad, we can make the necessary changes to do it better.”

Haden Chomphosy said that although the original discussion was private, the team plans to make it public via the new meta ticket that was opened yesterday for improving the checks on plugin submissions.

“All future discussions will be on the ticket, so as people work on it, then the conversations will be available there,” she said when asked how the trademark abuse mitigation experiment will be evaluated.

The WordPress Foundation does not have any employees, but Haden Chomphosy said the representatives who can help with the grey areas of trademark guidelines include herself, Andrea Middleton, and Cami Kaos. She also confirmed that “WP” is not a WordPress trademark and the Foundation is not pursuing trademarking the term.

Although each of these individuals referenced have a long track record of protective care for the WordPress community and have demonstrated a sincere desire to see the project grow, they are all employed by Automattic. The Foundation could use some outside representation if those running it are engaging in private decision making and giving directives to the WordPress.org Plugin Team that have significant ramifications for the ecosystem as a whole.

For years, the WordPress community has been encouraged to use WP instead of WordPress in plugin names, so the decision to reject plugins with WP in the name is a major, controversial change.

Those who oppose the current experiment have pointed out that it unfairly penalizes everyone for the few who change their plugin names after approval. It polices potential misuse instead of providing a solution that can flag actual trademark abuse.

Some plugin developers have noted that having WP in the plugin name is necessary to differentiate it from extensions for other platforms, since WordPress.org is not the only place where their products are distributed. Many successful businesses have been created on top of plugins with WP as a prefix in the name, such as WP Mail SMTP, WP Fastest Cache, WP Migrate DB, to name just a few.

Whether it is beneficial or detrimental to use WP in a brand’s name is immaterial to the discussion at hand. With the current trademark abuse mitigation experiment in place, all new plugin developers hoping to use the WP prefix will have their plugins rejected. Fortunately it isn’t retroactive, but if the team decides the experiment of banning WP in plugin names is a success, it may be up for discussion.

Springing experiments on the community without publicly communicating the intent is a misstep for the Foundation. If allowing WP in the name creates wrong expectations for plugin developers regarding their ability to change the name to use WordPress, then the problem needs to be fixed at the root. WordPress.org needs to find a better way to inform developers about which terms are actually trademarked and develop a technical solution to flag name changes that do not comply. This may be a difficult technical problem to solve regarding plugin submission and updates, but it’s worth investing in it to respect plugin authors’ freedoms.