back to article Is it time to tip open source developers? Here's one way to do it

In 2016, the Ford Foundation published a report on the lack of financial support for public source code and there's still a massive funding gap, but a new scheme may sort that out. The report [PDF], titled, "Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure," begins, "Our modern society – everything from …

  1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

    Good luck with it, but

    I predict it will be a drop in the ocean. It might start off with some good intentions but will then fade away to a smaller trickle. The only realistic way for open source devs to get reasonable income for their work is if the big hardware and software companies that use open source reach into their pockets. When we buy a laptop with Windows already installed (yeah I know it's nasty), we don't give MS our money directly. The real question is why are companies that make billions in profits so tight fisted? Would it really hurt MS to lob somebody a few thousand? Even that would be better than the tips.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Good luck with it, but

      That sounds very similar to the tip proposal. Both of them require that somebody who uses the code decides to voluntarily pay well for it. I'm not sure how yours differs other than the fact that you're focusing on big companies whereas the tip proposal works for any size of company. Unless either is widely adopted, it's likely to produce some relatively small donations.

      It's also likely to limit which projects get support; the big tech companies already donate large (for us, not for them) amounts to open source projects, but not to every project that gets used somewhere in their company, since that's less tracked. That's why the Linux kernel gets a ton of donations from big tech companies, because it's a single, large project that they understand that they rely on a lot. The tip proposal appears to be focused on automatically following dependencies to distribute the funding to all of them, which will work better for the deep tree that is Node dependency hell and not bad for a structured package repository like Python has, but not so well for a bunch of libraries pulled in from GitHub or internal clones.

      1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        Re: Good luck with it, but

        Yeah, I suppose it is another version of tips. You're right that I intended this for big companies. Because the "thanks for the software, here's €£$5" isn't going to get very far.

        1. NoneSuch Silver badge

          Re: Good luck with it, but

          For Profit Companies that use Open Source to make cash should be obliged to pay the author a percentage. Good luck figuring out how that will work in the real world where someone contributes three liners of code to fix a bug in an otherwise massive package. Smarter folks than me will have to put their thinking caps on for that.

          I've tipped for code in the past. The most was $50 because it was a perfect solution saving me a LOT of time and hassle. It's usually just beer money. However, many times there is no stated way to tip an author. Payment schemes should be part of their REM header in their code.

        2. anehzat

          Re: Good luck with it, but

          It might not seem like much but maintainer love any reward or recognition for their hard work. The least big tech could do is to recognise them for their contributions.

        3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Good luck with it, but

          Yes, the only way software writers are going to get any money from software users is if the providers refuse to ptovide until the consumers hand over money. You can't live by giving stuff away for free and hoping people volunteer to pay for it, you have to force them to pay by refusing to give them the product until they do so.

    2. TheMeerkat

      Re: Good luck with it, but

      Why should the companies pay for what is available for free?

      1. davcefai

        Re: Good luck with it, but

        To ensure that it will remain available.

      2. anehzat

        MIT says software is free, but no one agreed that new feature requests & support should be free

        companies need to respect maintainers time, raising requests with maintainers isn't always contribution to open source projects. It's also at times a burden to the maintainers & if we want to continue promoting creative open source projects, we need to build a resilient community with recognition & reward.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good luck with it, but

      Or a variant of an open source license that requires companies over a certain size and profit to contribute a percentage of profits (shared equally across all open source projects used in the end product).

      This benefits everyone in many ways. Firstly it helps to keep the open source projects somewhat funded. Secondly it incentivises open source projects to rely less on tons of other open libraries which makes it easier to detect supply chain attacks and shrinks the attack surface because a project is incentivised to avoid diluting their pay out.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good luck with it, but

        I am not an expert, but here is a potential solution. It comes with big hurdles, but so does everything else.

        Companies over a certain size should be legaly obliged to maintain software that they supply for at least a defined period of time. 5 years?

        They should also be legaly responsible for the maintenance and correct functioning of the software that they sell/distribute including the 3rd party software that is incorporated in the product.

        This gives them the incentive to check what they include within their product, and if there are any problems either fix it themselves and contribute back to the comonent project or support the developer of the comonent developer.

        Of course the component developer may prioratise the work that they do so that more generous supporters may find that their needs for features and fixes rise up the prioritory list.

    4. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Good luck with it, but

      The problem is human nature. While some people will happily donate time or money to an open source project they use (I donate money to several projects, for instance, particularly where I've used the project commercially, a lot of people just look at it as being free software. They aren't required to pay, so why should they? A lot even try and avoid paying when they are required to.

      A lot think it's good financial sense to get things for free. It is, in the short term. In the long term, relying on something free is stupid, because there is a lower incentive for the developer to continue. Also, if you do pay for something, the law gives you certain protections that do not apply to free software. There is no guarantee, beyond what the developer provides, that the product is fit for the purpose it is intended for. The law doesn't directly guarantee that other, but it gives you some sort of recourse if it isn't..

  2. ChoHag Silver badge

    > Reilly, he said, "is getting 16 support requests from Microsoft, four from ByteDance, three from Mozilla, three from Atlassian, and the list goes on. Like every single one of these maintainers is getting slammed by these big enterprises, which have hundreds of engineers."

    Tell them to pay up or fuck off?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Perhaps what is necessary is a maintenance and support broker service….

      Open source developer signs up and receives a trouble ticket account which they use as their support contact.

      The broker offers a costed support service to business and handles the negotiations with business.

      joke/ Given their success in getting money out of businesses I suggest a good candidate for this task is Oracle…only downside I suspect most of the monies will go to supporting a yacht… /joke

      1. anehzat

        Change happens by creating awareness

        I guess the key point is to create awareness. While MIT says software is free as is, we need to create awareness about the fact that “support & maintenance” is not.

  3. werdsmith Silver badge

    A model something like PRS which supports music creators might have some merit. If I knew where to pay money then I would be happy to pay.

    I’ve lately spoken to a developer who put 100s of hours into a developing a library for no reward and has since had to purchase software that was developed using his own library.

    Can’t keep expecting people to work hard for nothing whilst others parasite off their efforts to get rich.

    Imagine a farmer growing a crop of corn and a giant corporate bakery taking the harvest and turning it into doughnuts for sale.

    1. Ideasource

      Are you forgetting to enumerate personal satisfaction/alleviation of personal stress through action as a reward?

      I find it impossible to believe that he was capable of continuing the work if the brain'ss reward mechanism was not being met

      Motivation would cease to manifest if there was no reward.

      He did the work, so he must have found some way to maintain reward.

      All reward eventually resolves to psychological States, elsefail to qualify as an effective reward.

      Alleviation of stress through actions that generate a perception of relevance is a reward as well.

      It matters not whether the reward comes from others or as a situational component.

      These are basic understandings of motivation.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Unfortunately, not being able to pay bills can sometimes lead to elevated stress and a feeling of satisfaction is not normally accepted as payment by upstream service providers.

        Pursuit of satisfaction of the brain’s reward mechanism sounds like addictive behaviour.

        1. Ideasource

          Everything you've ever done, thought or believed is powered by that low-level simple mechanism , paralleled and fed back into , abstracted over and over again all the way up the chain to be fuzzed into the perception of feelings, thoughts and actions and reactions, as well as all the artifacts produced.

          That's what it is to have a brain.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's free...

    ...but so is Linux, yet RedHat is worth billions for selling support.

    Seems that these free and open source devs need to charge for their support, right? If I'm a free and open source developer, I can't expect to make money from my efforts "just because". Because, the stuff is, er, free.

  5. steve11235

    Nice thought, but

    The money won't get to the developers.

    Perhaps the big companies ought to set aside some of their developer budgets to provide sabbaticals of perhaps six months to senior developers who would then work directly on the projects. They would work within the existing process, with no special treatment. Companies win by getting features they want and by keeping developers happy, the developers win by having an opportunity to improve and utilize their skills, and the OSS projects win by getting additional--hopefully--high-quality code.

  6. Grogan Bronze badge

    Yeah, front facing projects might get some donations, but ubiquitous projects, like equally important back end library dependencies won't get much fanfare. Most people wouldn't even be aware of them.

    1. anehzat

      That’s why we find the dependencies

      That’s why we ask people to share their package file when donating so that everyone gets their fair share.

  7. 7teven 4ect


    Get people who attract donations to their project, eg linuxmint, to redirect a percentage of their receipts to this scheme, and advertise it to forum readership too

    1. anehzat

      Re: Influencers

      that's a great point, today popular projects are collecting payments by using github sponsors & open collective but they aren't funding their dependency tree. That's why we think the model is better in terms of fairness as people are rewarded based on usage & utilisation. It also helps to send money to active projects instead of dormant projects if you model based on utilisation.

  8. Ideasource

    Monetization attracts bad actors

    In a successful movement powered by sacrifice and community, to to introduce monetization is to poison the well.

  9. John70

    AI Generated Code

    Who would gets paid if the open source code contained AI generate code?

    The owner of the project?

    The owner of the AI?

    The owner of the code the AI modelled it's response on?

  10. b.trafficlight

    The formula which gives larger shares to the top of the tree and less to the leaves doesn't make sense. It would skew to higher level libraries or frameworks and their popularity and undervalue some foundational components everyone depends on.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      The theory is that if everyone relies on the leaf component, then they get lots of small donations from anyone that uses something that upstreams. They kind of have to do it that way, because otherwise the incentive is to make something small but a bit useful then add it to as many other things as I can in the hope that people will use them and I'll get a cut of their donations. That could always happen on a plan like this, but if the payments are small for things that aren't used directly, it's less worth it to attempt to attach a small do-nothing library than to build something more useful.

  11. Tubz Bronze badge

    and don't forget the revenue services will want their slice of earned income.

    1. saxicola

      To which they are welcome, if I ever earn enough.

  12. Andy 73 Silver badge

    The problem here is...

    ..the assumption that if it is not supported, software will "go away".

    Firstly, people tend not to mourn the absence of something they never had. We put up with what is available and hope someone else will solve the missing problem. Very occasionally, a company will use that missing piece to gain a competitive advantage. Usually though, we just work around what isn't there..

    Secondly, experience shows that enough developers write software to solve a personal itch before figuring out how to support it, that we can collectively rely on that software being built, and rebuilt, and evolved and extended long after the original developer has long given up on any idea of reward. No-one is in a position to withhold software to force corporates to pay up, because almost immediately someone else will come a long to solve the problem.

    That means there is virtually no bargaining power for open source developers, and corporates feel virtually no debt to them, since "the software would be developed anyway". Systems for rewarding open source developers need to address that issue first - some sense of value in "free" software - before worrying about mechanisms for payment.

    Arguably this goes beyond corporations using open source to general value applied to software - we expect apps and online services to be free, and resent paying. Payment is usually hidden behind a layer of obfuscation - whether it's ad supported services or premium subscriptions.

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