Is your Shopify theme licensed?

As a store owner, you face many challenges on a day to day basis but one that you may not be aware of is paramount to your online presence.

When running a Shopify store the very design and code that creates the look and feel of your store is a theme. Shopify calls this a theme whereas other online platforms like Wordpress call it a template. This article, however, is aimed at Shopify only so the theme is what customers are greeted with when they visit your website. This website runs on Shopify and what you are looking at is all a part of its theme, within that are templates which make up the layout of the different pages or content types that you will see when navigating it.

Buying from the right source

When you have a Shopify store you have access to a wide range of resources from how to's, to freelance services, and some very good agencies. Shopify also offers a range of free and paid themes that have been built by strenuously approved designers and developers via the Shopify theme store. If you have visited this store and purchased a theme from here you will know exactly what I am referring to and of course by purchasing a theme from the Shopify Theme Store rest assured you are using a licensed and approved theme.

I have 2 stores do I need to buy it twice?

Yes, a theme is licensed for usage within 1 single Shopify store, under no circumstances are you allowed to use this in a second store while the original store that the theme was purchased for is still trading.

For a copy of Shopify's merchant terms regarding theme licensing please see section 10.1

I am building stores for clients, can I use the theme more than once?

Only if you or the specific merchant has paid for the usage of this theme within a specific store.
You may not under any circumstances install or distribute themes to more than 1 store per theme purchase. Doing so would be a direct violation of Shopify partner terms of service and the theme developers intellectual property which in itself would have severe legal implications.

For a copy of Shopify's partner terms regarding the sale and distribution of a theme please see Part B: section 8

When third parties offer you a theme

It all gets more difficult for you however once you approach a third-party to either install, modify, or redesign one of these paid themes, or to have them build you something completely bespoke from scratch. Any offer from a third-party to supply a paid theme needs to be greeted with extreme caution because it will be your store that is under scrutiny. The duty is on you as the shop owner to prove that you are using a bonafide, licensed theme. It is your store that will be the start point of any takedown or legal proceedings in the event of usage of an unlicensed theme.  It would be very unfortunate to have a highly profitable store only to be sued for illegal use of a theme, damages and a portion of your profits that have been gained from its usage all for a minor investment at the beginning.

We sadly encounter many merchants who have paid a service that included the theme only to find that they have to pay for the theme again as their supplier was distributing it illegally.

In so many cases we see merchants who approached a freelancer or design agency through very legitimate sources to set up a store, everything is fine until one day they receive contact from our licensing team threatening a DMCA takedown and proof of purchase cannot be provided. They then have to run around trying to figure out what to do.
If the theme was provided as a part of the service between you and the designer or agency, then you will need to show the invoice or correspondence proving that this is the case. We sadly encounter many merchants who have paid a service that included the theme only to find that they have to pay for the theme again as their designer or agency was distributing it illegally.

What if I downloaded it for free somewhere

If you downloaded the theme from a questionable source or some dodgy forum in hopes of skipping that cost ( yes we see the search hits and the traffic... nulled themes, Shopify themes free, free this theme, free that theme etc.. ) then, unfortunately, your time of enjoyment of that will come to an abrupt end. 
Theme developers now have an arsenal of new tools to spot an unlicensed theme without even looking at the code thanks to collaborative work between theme partners who are actively sharing information in an effort to combat the problem. They also have the support of Shopify along with a swift crackdown. Plain and simple this is theft.

But themes are so expensive?

The price you see in the Shopify theme store is the price for the theme these range from $140 - $180 depending on the developer. What you don't see however is that this is a one-off cost. The theme developer will keep this updated with Shopify's latest code requirements, will bring out new versions with new features and support your use of that theme answering any questions that you have about it all for that one-time cost. This means that in theory you could have an e-commerce business that over the next 5 years will get occasional design changes, updates, and free technical support all for that one-time cost.

If someone is offering the same theme cheaper, free or as a part of any other deal on Facebook, Fiverr, Freelancer, Shopify Experts or any other platform then you need to question its source and contact the original theme developer to verify it's authenticity before you make any payments as long-term saving a few dollars now could cost you your business. If it seems to good to be true, then it probably is.

A theme is and remains the intellectual property of its designer/developer and may not be used or distributed without prior authorization or purchase form the correct channels.