Proposal: Free Commercial Use for Poor People

Riffing on Proposal: Free Use for Kids, another proposal for a change to the terms of “the standard deal”:

Poor people should be allowed to use the software for free, even for business.

Greatly welcome any thoughts or feedback.

I am not sure how to define “poor”, or what word to use instead. Off the hip, I’d start with something like “so long as you experience significant food, housing, or medical-needs insecurity for lack of funds”. The idea would be to cover poor people wherever they live, and whatever the relative wealth or poverty of their local economy. I definitely want people who live in less wealthy countries to be able to offer software under the standard deal without just selling to people in more wealthy countries.


There is a project that has a license that includes “don’t pay for NN months and/or until you start making X dollars”.

aka (unfunded) startups get a free pass.

While the intent of “poor” or perhaps low purchasing power of the Global South is a good intent, I think something that is tied to revenue?

PolyForm did a license that’s free for small business:

Use of the software for the benefit of your company is use for a permitted purpose if your company has fewer than 100 total individuals working as employees and independent contractors, and less than 1,000,000 USD (2019) total revenue in the prior tax year. Adjust this revenue threshold for inflation according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index for all urban consumers, U.S. city average, for all items, not seasonally adjusted, with 1982–1984=100 reference base.

I don’t think this project actually wants to do that. Business should pay, large or small. I guess I’m thinking of this more in personal terms. If you’re essentially priced out of paying for a license, and feel as though you’re forced to “pirate” the software to try to dig yourself out of poverty or a personal financial crisis, I’d like to make clear you don’t have to do that. Dig yourself first, then, if you can, think back and square up with the devs when you have means.

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While many in the west have clear distinctions and a level playing field within say the context of America, with upper/middle/lower classes, from my travels and living overseas, it is intuitive for tourists to refer to local products say in Asia as so cheap! This is highly insulting to the locals, of which they consider it expensive or standard. I have been advised by locals in such cultures to say “affordable” instead of cheap, as it is respectful of their position in their own world.

The same applies for poor. Are the middle class Indians poor? Are the middle-class americans impoverished because they aren’t upper-class? What does that do to them?

To illustrate this further, when touring Asia, I was told off for offering money to a senior whose career was picking up plastic bottles for their income. I was told it was highly insulting as it robbed the person of dignity of honest work, and the senior was horrified and laughed at me. They explained that having a locally-equivalent-millionaire rock up and then offer you a months wage, is not conducive to a positive culture, it robs them of self-esteem, and it may turn productive work that empowers the local community to further sustainable riches, into unproductive work (begging) which steals their ability to produce the local value necessary to get themselves up by their bootstraps.

We need something that surpasses national/culture bounds.

Perhaps like free for the unaffordable.

This is incredibly important feedback. I’d like to think I already had some of this in mind, but I don’t think I could have put it nearly as powerfully as you did.

That is exactly the point. Since we’re doing single prices worldwide, if that price is way above reasonable, don’t worry about it. It could actually save the dev time to just say “yes” and not have to handle awkward requests for freebies one-off.

If a client is outsourcing to a contractor in a lower-income country, who in turn uses a tool for free to do the job, I’d almost always welcome that. Get that money! I’d only worry about cases where a rich client tries to use a developer in a poor country as an end-run around paying the tool developer.