Post open source licences

There is an interview with Bruce Perens - described as an Open Source guru - on The Register (one of the few “mainstream” tech publications that covers alternative OS). In it he discusses a move towards a successor to open source licences. Firstly he discusses the problem with open source licences in providing free tools to large concerns who don’t pay back, and that the general public are not using open source tools.

Another straw burdening the Open Source camel, Perens writes, “is that Open Source has completely failed to serve the common person. For the most part, if they use us at all they do so through a proprietary software company’s systems, like Apple iOS or Google Android, both of which use Open Source for infrastructure but the apps are mostly proprietary. The common person doesn’t know about Open Source, they don’t know about the freedoms we promote which are increasingly in their interest. Indeed, Open Source is used today to surveil and even oppress them.”

What Bruce proposes is to replace “licence” with “contract” and would require commercial users to pay in a manner similar to public performance of copyright art. The money would go back to developers to create products to be user freindly.

Clearly Haiku is a user freindly product that is open source, and stands to benefit from royalties collected from open source products. The same would presumably apply to Firefox. What do we all think of a licence along these lines, and whilst Haiku is not a product used by the big IT outfits, perhaps we should adopt such a licence out of solidarity, should it become a thing?

It’s an interesting interview, and also covers the problem with large language models - sorry, “artificial intelligence” - and geopolitically motivated IT embargoes.


I am happy to provide my Haiku work for free. If people (or companies) think it is worth it, they can make donations. If a company would like to use Haiku for a product, they could hire me or someone else from the development team to work on whatever they need.

The idea of open source licenses is completely changing where the value is in software development: in open source projects, the software itself has no value, and can be shared for free. On the other hand, the developers have value, because they know how to maintain and upgrade the software. And so companies have to take care of their developers (properly pay them, etc) to retain them and not have them move to competing companies.

People advocating for “post open source” licenses want to change this back, and revert to a model where the software has value and can be sold, but the developers don’t have value, and can be replaced (by cheaper developers, or by AI lately). I prefer to continue the work to shift the value from the software to the developers.


I respectfully disagree with most of what you say in your recent post!

Firstly I think that describing an open source software (such as Haiku) as having no value is not only wrong but may even insult the work others who have put effort in yet don’t think the same way as you. Perhaps you meant to say the value embodied in free software is derived at no cost? Certainly your comment endorses the theory - employed by those opposed to free public services like healthcare - that public goods should have a price because by making it free people assume it has no value and thus abuse it.

I also see no contradiction between both the software having value and the developers working on it having value. Whether we look at businesses running Windows that employ a sysadmin to maintain their network and its users, where both the software and the staff to look after it is a business expense. Or a commercial software house that employs developers to produce their product: the cost of commercial software (in an ideal world) reflects the value of the developers’ time gone into creating and maintaining it.

I suggest that this is a complete distortion of what Perens is arguing for, and am not sure why you are trying to present it in this way. If you forgive me for saying as much, your tone reminds me of US conservative ultras, who couch their pro-big-business propaganda in terms of freedoms and right to choice, in the service of suppressing the ordinary person’s right to associate in trades unions and the like. I just don’t see how the availability of free (as in beer) software prevents the offshoring of software development or administration, or increases the value of tech staff, unless by admission that free software lacks quality and thus more labour intensive than if developers were properly remunerated. Firms don’t think “gosh, we saved ten million by not using commercial software, let’s distribute that money amongst our techs”.

Rather I think that Perens is suggesting their is a middle ground between commercial and free (like beer) software that is yet to be explored, where both developers and the embodied fruit of their labour (the software) is properly valued.

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There is a fundamental difference between software that is open source and software that is free (whether as in “free beer” or as in “free speech”). I think there is still generally some confusion about what is meant when various terms are used, unless a developer or community explicitly spells it out. The OSI trying to conflate the two or even supercede the latter seems entirely counterproductive…

Mr. Perens seems to be complaining that the outcome of the “Open Source” movement is unsatisfactory to him, but then he starts talking about he GPL (GNU Public License) comes out of the “Free Software” movement… I’m not sure he’s really presenting anything more than disparate complaints and scattered thoughts on several different matters, though.

It seems wrong-headed to try and fix all the world’s problems via software licensing…

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This! You can’t solve a social issue with technology (insofar as law is a technology). As I blogged over two years ago:

I don’t have any solutions. The Commons Clause, an add-on for liberal licenses, looks like it could help. And the Artistic License 2.0 is a statement I like. But ultimately we need to figure out better ways of working together, because neither law nor tech are enough by themselves.

But throwing out the baby with the bathwater is definitely a bad idea. We can and should build on the system that has become status quo, for better or worse. Revolutions are invariably destructive, and tend to be hijacked by people with ill intent.

It’s the “infrastructure” type software that happens to work well. User-facing software in the open source world is still more about moralizing than creating software that the average person can actually use. People who are technically minded can often brush away a lack of drivers for example, while the average person would instantly move somewhere else.

I don’t think open-source licensing is the issue at all though, and I don’t think it prevents funding. Just look at some of the big emulator projects like RPCS3. OS projects should probably focus on getting better at crowd-funding, so that they can actually hire a large team of developers.

That’s definitely part of the problem! But pay attention to who’s been doing the moralizing for the past four decades, even as the world changed radically several times, while some of us were busy trying to make things better.