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Written by Editorial Team on August 9, 2020

What Happened To Astra WordPress Theme?

It has been two days since the WordPress community was divided. Astra WordPress theme that powers over 1 million WordPress blogs in the world, is being shut down (penalized) for 5 weeks for illegally injecting affiliate links in their free themes and plugins — without clearly displaying the disclaimer or terms. According to the WordPress auditing theme, they had been reaching out to Brainstorm Force (the parent company behind Astra WP) numerous times about the issue but received little or no reply/action to rectify the issue.

When the penalty took place, it hit the world by storm — some of us not knowing what happened while others started criticizing the company for the unethical move. Putting affiliate links without publicly declaring can lead to numerous problems with the law in some countries.

We are publishing this WordPress news as a hope to share the real news that happened, and ultimately, giving you some lights to the whole drama.

Astra WP, Popular WordPress Theme

Astra WP is a popular, freemium WordPress theme that powers over 1 million WordPress blog. It offers simplicity, clean codes and above all, low learning curve that is beginner friendly.

What happened to Astra WP?

On the 7th August 2020, there was a huge debate going on in the WordPress space, discussing about Astra and TRT Messenger (Theme Review Team Bot). Soon after, the TRT Messenger published an update on the Astra WP penalization and removal from WordPress repository.

The requirement disallowing affiliate links was put in place a year and a half ago. WordPress had discussions on their official Slack channel as well as on their blog for many weeks.

According to WordPress, Brainstorm Force had advanced warnings.

Official WordPress statement:

“18 months ago you started adding affiliate links in your theme.

…We have this requirement against this:

Themes are not allowed to have affiliate URLs or links.

We added this requirement more than 18 months ago, specifically for this kind of issue.

We also asked other theme authors to remove such links from their themes and discussed this topic, on Slack & the blog, for many weeks.

We don’t understand how you can miss something like this, and it’s also not the first time we have to come and tell you something is wrong with your theme.

Because of this, your theme will be suspended for the next 5 weeks (until September 11th, 2020).”

TRT Messenger (Theme Review Team Bot)

Brainstorm Force Astra Theme Response

Brainstorm Force, the publishers of the Astra theme, responded that they do not add affiliate links to the theme itself.

Thus, because there are no affiliate links in the theme itself, they asserted that the theme is technically complying with the WordPress rules.

Brainstorm Force did concede that the Astra theme used third party plugins to pass a referral code.

This is how they explained it:

“We however admit that we used filters available in third party plugins where we only pass our referral code.

But at the same time, we do NOT add any affiliate links or whatsoever as per the requirement.

We’re not sure if using the referral filter is against the requirement. But if it is, we’re happy to remove it immediately and submit the new version.”

Brainstorm Force team

Brainstorm Force was clear that they do not add affiliate code. They said that they only added “referral codes” via third party plugins.

In their announcement, WordPress linked to code within the Astra Theme that appears to show links from the popular LinkShare/Rakuten affiliate network.

Take a look at these screenshots:

Astra Theme Suspension is Live

The theme suspension is live. The theme is no longer available from the WordPress theme repository for download.

That means that over 1 million Astra theme users will not be able to update their theme via WordPress for five weeks.

Astra announced that it has released an update that removes the affiliate referral codes. They say that this new version complies with WordPress rules.

But the update has to be downloaded directly from Astra or from their GitHub repository.

WordPress has officially suspended the popular Astra theme. Brainstorm Force has requested to have the suspension lifted. Given how WordPress already tried to resolve the issue prior to the suspension, it doesn’t appear likely that Astra will be restored until the five week suspension is over.

Question: Did Astra WP team did a mistake?

They did a fair share of mistakes that led to this temporary suspension. Here's what we think.

  • Added affiliate links into products which is against the rules
  • Failing to express and declare the affiliate links
  • Astra compliance team probably didn't go through the fine prints
  • They probably though this could be debated out since every law has its own loop hole
  • Confusing public annoucements by the top management
  • Denying (literally speaking) that they did wrong

Question: Was Astra WP team did ethical?

Here's the thing. Astra WP theme is a free theme (with Astra Pro being a paid version). Being "free" means that money needed from somewhere to keep the production running.

And we know for the fact that there are many people who are willing to go for "free" than paid, even if the paid version is much better.

In this case, we believe there are fine lines in the law and what Astra WP team was not ethical. They should have followed the rules — strictly no affiliate links.

With over 18 months of discussions, we see no reason how they could have this oversight.

Question: Was Astra WP team legally right to insert affiliate links?

If they are selling/promoting the theme on their own sites (out of the WordPress repository), then yes, they have all the rights to do so.

But since they are having the theme within the WordPress repository, they have to follow the rules, one way or another.

Question: How to update Astra WP manually?

GitHub

Head over to GitHub repository and download the latest Astra WP theme. Here's the link.
Step 1

Upload to WordPress

Head over to your WP-Admin and head to Themes » Appearances » Add Theme. Upload the Astra theme .zip file here.
Step 2

Activate

Lastly, click Activate once the theme had been uploaded. Now, you have the latest version of Astra!
Step 3
Article written by Editorial Team

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