Astra theme suspended by WordPress for violating affiliate links policy

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Astra, the popular WordPress theme with over a million downloads has been suspended by WordPress for violating their affiliate link policy for free themes. It was very unfortunate especially considering the fact that just 3 weeks ago Astra became the first-ever non-default WordPress theme to achieve the one million active installs

WordPress stipulates that “Themes are not allowed to have affiliate URLs or links.” The theme has been removed from the WordPress repository and suspended for five weeks. The announcement was made by TRT Messenger (Theme Review Team Bot) on August 07, 2020, and will be on effect till September 11, 2020.

Astra theme, a Brainstorm Force Project, is one of the fastest growing themes of all times. People loved the theme for its super-fast loading speed, light-weight, seamless WooCommerce integration, SEO friendliness, and for being open-source and translation friendly. More than 1 Million websites used this theme in just around 2 years since its launch.  

Astra is a free theme but offers premium add-ons that extend the customization possibilities appropriate for professionals. They have a pretty good affiliate program backed by a dedicated support team. Affiliate links allow people or organizations to profit from recommending products like Astra.

WordPress Standpoint

WordPress introduced the policy disallowing affiliate links for free themes nearly eighteen months ago. There were many discussions about the same in their official Slack channel and also in many WordPress blogs. WordPress also claims to have given many advanced warnings to Brainstorm Force to comply with their policy regarding affiliate links.

Their statement reads:

“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).”

Clarification from Brainstorm

Brainstorm Force has clarified that they do not add affiliate links to the theme itself but add “referral codes” via third party plugins. According to them, the theme is technically complying with the WordPress rules since there are no affiliate links in the theme itself. 

This is the explanation they have given on the subject:

“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.”

Current Situation

The theme has been removed from the WordPress repository signifying the suspension is in effect. Search for the Astra theme in the repository shows that the theme is not available from WordPress. Hence users will not be able to update their Astra theme via WordPress. But the theme can still be downloaded from Astra’s official site.

Meanwhile, Astra has released an update claiming that they have removed the affiliate referral codes and hence it complies with the WordPress regulations. It can be downloaded from their website or GitHub repository. Brainstorm Force has also requested to have the 5-week suspension lifted. It remains to be seen if WordPress will relent or stick with the original sentence.

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