Recommended Reading: Stack Overflow on Funding

I really appreciated the clear writing in this piece. And the frank endorsement of noncommercial licensing.

There’s a legal gotcha in the idea of “MIT for non-commercial”. I’m hoping to zip out a quick blog post on that. But otherwise another good one for my collection.

My Notes
  • Would you work for free?

  • requires additional context

  • form of volunteering?
  • difficult to rely upon for the open source ecosystem at large

  • spare time v. funding to work during regular workday
  • donations rely on goodwill
  • only for really popular projects
  • Open source is not about free software, it is about freedom of software.

Potential Licensing Woes

  • There might not be anything as divisive…

  • “openly developed” rather than to a strict definition of open source

  • equally deserving of funding whether or not they are strictly open source

  • funding means people know of and use project
  • It is, however, in these more complex license configurations where open source developers often attempt to charge for their work. For example, having a dual licensing of MIT for non-commercial and a custom license for commercial purposes.

Source of Funding

  • other developers
    • using far more projects than they can reasonably fund

    • closed ecosystem where developers are paying other developers … no additional money … processing fees

  • capital investment

  • Commercial use, on the other hand, is a good potential source of new capital for the ecosystem.

  • commercial advantage
  • already paying for other software

The Value Proposition for Companies

  • Companies in general don’t gravitate towards the idea of “doing the right thing” for the sake of it.

  • get something desirable in return

  • security
  • peace of mind: project won’t disappear
  • higher-priority bug resolution
  • special features
  • Due to the long term nature of these reasons to fund a project, the type of funding most appropriate here is a recurring payment to help maintain the project. You wouldn’t want to have a one time payment and be on the hook for maintenance for the next 10+ years…

  • OpenSSL/Heartbleed
  • companies having their devs contribute code back
  • their goals and yours may not align

  • changing how you spend time on the project

  • …you may have to take your efforts a step beyond being an open source maintainer. You may need to create a company around your project.

Turning Projects to Products

  • open source usually narrow in scope
  • hard to market that
  • web services
  • GitLab
  • re:dash
  • putting a product spin on it

  • a big undertaking

The Human Side of Open Source

  • James South of ImageSharp:
    • experimenting previously with less permissive license models (with disastrous effects)

    • not attempting to fund my work with commercial support licenses

    • something must change

  • Dave Glick of Statiq and Discover.NET
    • accept that the status quo isn’t working

    • “what can I do that’s different?”

    • alternate licenses

    • Tidelift, Sdkbin

More Sustainable

  • These developers are not greedy or selfish for wanting funding for their projects. To the contrary, they want funding to keep the project alive.

  • changing the maintainer’s timeshare

  • no perfect solution


The grand assumption here is that the problem is one of funding. That is just not correct. Open Source is massively funded. Massively. There is a trivial problem with some contributors occupational narratives… maybe their personal pension won’t be what they need, maybe their net worth is in jeopardy… subjective wellbeing problems and so forth among generally well paid roles. Software engineering is generally well paid. This is not a problem with Open Source funding. There is no special problem with pay and conditions for software engineers either. There just isn’t. The problem is tech oligopoly and concentrations of wealth in the industry which means tech is skewed to short term business goals of a minority of corporations. The narrative that OS has a funding problem is totally bogus. It masks the structure of production of digital assets under Open Source, which is almost completely controlled by capital. Open Source has an image problem, it has to have two faces, one that is benign, welcoming, ideological and pure and another which is mercenary, tyrannical, and deeply monopolizing and monoculturalizing.

I did end up blogging about the “MIT for noncommercial” model mentioned in passing in this post: MIT for Noncommercial is Broken — /dev/lawyer

Come to think of it, I should reach out to the author and link them to my follow-on.