Don’t Pay an Open Source Ransom

Recently, I have spoken with a number of people about projects whose model is to build something useful and open the code when someone pays them to do so.

It seems to me that this is a terrible model for ‘open source’ and I hope it doesn’t proliferate. The problem being that this sets the wrong incentive for projects. It is in effect encouraging them to hold the code ransom. When the right bidder comes along, the code then gets set free. I think funders and investors should refuse to put money into these projects and instead agree only to fund projects that are open source from the beginning. Otherwise we are incentivizing this ransom model which is bad for open source because:

  1. start open : we don’t want new projects to decide to close the code, when they might otherwise start open, because there might be a chance they can ransom the code at a later date. We want projects to start open.
  2. stay open : let’s face it, if a project is ransoming their code, then their heart and soul (and business processes) are not in open source – it is not fundamental to what they do and how they think. So how do you know they will stay open? We want projects to stay open.
  3. be open : open source is not just a license. It is a way of committing to sharing and collaboration. Projects that start closed and ransom their code are not going to be good faith open source actors. They are likely to hold the code close, not share, and be awkward (at best) collaborators. We want projects to be open.

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