Open Source authors' struggle for compensation

I guess we all know the difference between free as in speech (freedom) and free as in lunch (gratis). All open source software confer certain freedoms of use, modification and redistribution. None of them are required to be made available to users at zero cost. Yet, I don't know of a single significant project that is open source and fully paid, i.e. no version available at zero cost. Reasons typically offered are:

  1. It is the freemium business model - Give away the basic software and charge for enhanced functionality or support.
  2. It is not enforceable - Users will simply build the software from the source code and there is no way you can get them to pay.

    #1 is okay for projects run by companies. It is often not feasible for projects run by individuals. This a big category of small useful pieces of software (think libaries, plugins, utilities). These people try (in vain?) to make some money via advertisements or by appealing for donations. It is a sad reality that they get no compensation from commercial software/organizations using their work. These people should relook at #2.

    I suspect payment is very enforcable against commercial enterprises. Just add a line to your EULA saying "It is illegal to use this software for commercial purposes without paying for it". Most companies would pay a small fee (say $50 for a full version but without support) for a useful piece of software. Either that or their lawyers would blacklist the software. At least you wouldn't have legions of freeloaders just using the software without contributing anything (money, bug reports/fixes, documentation) back. The argument that even freeloaders help spread the word to someone who might eventually buy something is a trifle bleak. Of course, all power to you if are doing this altruistically or if you are happy with the other rewards (fun, learning, reputation).

    Giving software away at zero cost means you have to depend on services for income. You either offer your services as an employee (day job) or as support (adding value to what is given away). Either way, it is a model of pricing input instead of output. Scales only with people. Or you have to fall into a category where you can be adopted by a big foundation like Eclipse or Apache or Mozilla.  Good luck with that.

    1 comment:

    KetanPadegaonkar said...

    On your comment about the category where an open source project will be adopted by Eclipse, Apache or Mozilla still falls into two categories:

    1. It's a big project that is (mostly) funded by a few companies.

    2. It's a big project that has wider participation from many companies and individuals in various capacities.

    3. The really small projects that give software for free and hope to get enough eyeballs and attention to be able to grow to a point where offering services and addon-products is possible.

    My experience is that getting from (3) to either (1) or (2) is a tough challenge and requires a lot of patience :)

    The variety of licenses available do go a long way in protecting the rights and interests of developers writing free software. A FOSS/Commercial license (most people choose GPL/Commercial) means that people wanting to use software for commercial use will pay license fees for using software.

    Giving away software under a more liberal license (BSD/Apache/MPL/EPL/MIT) would have other commercial implications :)

    -- Ketan

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