Akismet by the company “Automattic, Inc.” is packaged with the WordPress default download since it was first developed/released as a plugin. Back then it was a free plugin if I remember correctly.
However, for many years already, it’s a premium plugin which only has a somewhat “free” plan “For personal, non-commercial sites and blogs” as Automattic calls it. Still, you are encouraged to choose your own pricing for that “plan”. It’s possible to choose “0” (Null) here, so it would be technically free.
This in itself is totally fine. And I am personally totally fine with that! The problem begins where you define what is “personal” and even what is “non-commercial”? This really is different for a lot of users, use cases and especially for countries of our world.
In Germany, for example, it is defined by the law what is commercial and what not. So we have a legal restriction that says commercial is all, except for sites that are strictly used in a private context. This means sites that are not making money in any form (ads included!) and do not publish content (a.k.a. blog posts) on a regular basis. So for example the typical “cat content site” falls under “private” classification. In this rare case nowadays, even an imprint (legal info, called “Impressum” in German) is not required.
In many countries, not only in Germany, and/or European Union (EU), it is required to have some kind of imprint/ registration/ basic contact info if you are publishing a blog. “Blog” means by definition by a lot of governments a regular publication with press-like content, similar to a newspaper. It doesn’t matter how we as bloggers see that. We are put into certain “boxes” of definition(s) and have to carry those burdens. (Sadly!)
However, for all other non-cat-content sites an imprint IS required. And 99.9 percent of those sites fall under non-private use, therefore get the “commercial” label. So, in Germany it is quite not possible to use Akismet on a regular WordPress powered site WITHOUT having to pay the commercial fee to Automattic which starts at 5 US Dollars a month.
Again, I am not against paying for plugins or services. That’s fine! What I am against is, packaging a plugin to a default download ZIP file of a free CMS that CAN lead a lot of users around the world into some problems as time flows by. Just because the users didn’t know their site was put into the “commercial” category by someone else. And now they had to pay for their anti-spam solution – and suddenly maybe for some other services/ products (from other parties) as well.
I assume that most of the users are currently not aware of these issues. It’s not completely the user’s fault — but users should really be pro active about the laws in their countries regarding blogging/ sites — but it is, in my opinion, a bit of Automattic’s fault, and it’s totally WordPress.org’s fault!
The problem wouldn’t exist if Akismet wouldn’t be bundled with the WordPress.org ZIP file download! Then every user has to find out on himself or herself what spam protection solution is out there, what are the costs and what is allowed by law and what not. And users would get some assumption what type of site (commercial, not-commercial, whatever) they publish to the world.
WordPress core devs and Automattic should really start to think about these serious issues, even if they are not effected on their own or are not effected in the United States. But a lot of users around the world are potentially effected or could be in the (near) future.
Premium plugins of any kind (and by any developer/ company) should NOT be distributed BY DEFAULT within the WordPress.org ZIP package. I guess this is totally common sense by 99.9 percent of WordPress’ users out there. If the discussion would be now in 2014 to include it, it would never be included by default as users wouldn’t want to see such things happen. I am totally sure about that.
The current status quo is a relic of the past. What it needs now is a bold of move by Automattic plus the WordPress Core devs to finally remove it (the Akismet plugin from Core), make it fully optional for users. Otherwise I would see the confusion (plus maybe issues here and there) amongst users continuing to grow. But maybe also the pressure against those practices.
It should have happened long time ago, that Akismet is removed from the WordPress ZIP file download! So please, just do it now!
Chris Finke, Akismet stuff member, was kind enough to clarify on how the Akismet team uses “commercial” term for websites:
We only ask that sites that are “commercial” in the colloquial English sense pay for a subscription. Any site anywhere in the world that is used for personal expression or any non-business purpose is totally welcome to use Akismet for free.