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Discussion on: Open-Source Exploitation

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Bernd Wechner • Edited on

This is not an uncommon modern observation. But methinks it suffers a little from the myopic effect. Which is no crisis, most things do. There's real challenge to putting on a pair of good glasses and seeing the broader landscape.

In this smaller landscape though I think you are on the money (pun noted), that one way to lighten the issues observed is to make it much easier to contribute. A consistent and simple minimal hassle way of contributing to any package one uses regularly. I am a regular contributor for Wikipedia and PyDev and occasionaly other software but it always a combination of:

  • the utility I perceive I'm getting,
  • how much I'm earning with it (generally nix) and
  • how easy it is to pay.

Github is helping a little with Issue bounties but we can go further, and there should be convenient donation buttons almost everywhere FOSS can be had that supports every conceivable means of payment there is. There's a FOSS project in developing that framework - we have approximations but nothing quite there yet and certainly not so easy to implement (as easy as falling off a log) that I see it everywhere. I see a diverse mixed landscape of sparsely implemented options to contribute and sometimes I want to and don't because they don't accept PayPal which is basically all I'll use to pay online (and no I don't need any advice or preaching on what I can do or how I need to broaden my payment means - I don't shop Amazon for that reason and I'm good with it, no skin off my nose).

But back to glasses just donned, and landscape this all rests in. It rests in a broken world economy, one in which we simply don't know how to work with money and monetary policy is poorly managed almost everywhere under some pretense that it operates like a household budget. Alas I'm not sure how many IT geeks here (I use the term affectionately, I am one) are well enough versed in money theory to understand what monetary policy is (as distinct from fiscal policy).

The briefest of primers: Fiscal policy is about revenue and expenses and managing budgets and a little like a household budget indeed. Monetary policy is about the production and distribution of money. The only institutions with monetary policy in hand are national governments. Internal states and councils and other structures are all constrained to fiscal policy. Banks were given a much greater role in monetary policy over the past half century, but essentially it rests with those who control the definition of currency.

That may seem, a digression but it's not. The only reason you can see corporate abuse of FOSS is because of the haves and have notes in the landscape. The corporate haves and the FOSS developing have nots. The solution is blur that distinction.

My personal approach is simple enough but rests on good fortune and privilege as so many freedoms do. I simply have a part time job, not 40 hours a week, 25. And that is what I'm paid for. That affords me the opportunity to use the skills I have to further my own needs and on the periphery clubs that I support and in the process to develop a few things and contribute to other things etc. But that is just "a" solution, not "the" solution. it shares properties with "the" solution which is general and as stated to blur the boundaries between have and have not.

And it's not all bad. I mean one reason FOSS is doing so well must surely also be the failure of corporate efforts. That is, significant products(Mozilla?) are FOSS because they did not commercialise successfully and rather than being buried were released into the wild. And on the tail of that we saw bigger companies releasing non-core internal tech to the wild, Bootstrap, React etc. Not core, meaning they weren't selling it, had no desire to go into that market but needed internal tools which the figured might live longer and better if they went into more widespread use and had more contributors.

Anyhow, I may be awry in some of that and am always open to better historians piping up.

My point though remains that part of your call to more ethical use of FOSS by corporations rests in easier payment, and possibly also in licenses that are less liberal. Rat include terms that lay claim to %age of profit of any business that profits from its use say as tricky as it would be to enforce it could start by being requested - but create a problem also in who to pay, or how to distribute any income among developers ... the point being the whole landscape needs review and there aren't good guys and bad guys and exploiters and victims so much as there is need to contributes better rewarded monetarily so as to ensure they continue flowing as the phenomenon of FOSS maintainer burnout is part of what is driving these observations.