Subject: Re: Ransom GPL Licensing: ethically and legally viable?
From: Douglas O'Flaherty <>
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 22:59:11 -0500

Brian Shire wrote:

>>   Yes my previous employer uses several of my open source software
>>   projects, in addition to many other companies, but they won't
>>   donate any money earned from the 'increased productivity' into the
>>   FS pot, what motivation do they have to do so?
>>If they paid for you to develop the FS that you developed there (and
>>got compensated by them to do so), then they *have* contributed to the
>>creation of FS.  If they are benefitting from the use of FS developed
>>at other companies, that explains their motivations, and we are on the
>>way to a world of FS.  So what's the problem here?
>No company has directly contributed to the developement of this software(using a specific
package here) besides myself (excluding ransom, and any code contributions in exchange
for free copies).  
>Your explanation above still doesn't allow for independent software firms.  How are
they compensated?

This is free software 101...
The principles of open/free software[1] don't provide direct monetary 
compensation to the developers from users of the software. Money is 
intended to flow as a consequence of other actions such as 
customization, support, training and other professional services.[2] 
 This economic structure places all contributors to the project on equal 
footing - no one is being compensated directly for their code, so 
everyone is encouraged to contribute to the project.

What you could get by releasing as free/open source software is 
community participation[3]. Not only as possible developers, but also as 
testers, adopters and advocates. It is a virtual team who helps improve 
your software project and speed its adoption. As the project moves into 
new implementations it may be used in applications you may not have 
anticipated, but are very useful to a lot of people. When successful, 
free/oss has proven to be a market force unlike any a VP of Marketing 
could have dreamed about.

Under open/free software you attempt to build a large pie and get a 
smaller slice of it. This is more money than having all of a small pie.

If you ransom the original development, you're unlikely to let the good 
things happen because you discourage your community from using, tweaking 
and evangelizing the software.

This is my opinion...
The ransom license is pure laziness. I was trying to ignore this thread, 
but I couldn't. You ask for money to get the latest release now[4] and 
compensate me by promising to release it under GPL later. This reduces 
the value of the software to me. The license restricts my access to 
other bright minds in the free/open community without any compensatory 
benefit. (If you ransom anything I consider a bug fix, I'll never use 
your software... At least I get patches free from MSFT when they fix 

Put forward something of value at a price you can afford to deliver it. 
Take the initiative, be bold. Sell support, priority bug fixes, 
installation, a printed copy of the manual, a shim to connect it to 
Exchange etc. for $200+/year. Make the effort to find the fifty 
customers it will take to support the development.[5] Make the contract 
annual and automatically renewing and simplify getting money from your 
customers. Sell what will add value to the software.

If no one buys it, accept the idea that it is a great piece of code, but 
no one needs it enough to pay for it. Use it as part of your portfolio 
to get a job where they allow you to also work on free/oss and retain 
rights to the code you contribute. Maybe when the market is larger you 
can get back to charging users for something.

Why are free/os software developers unwilling to place a price on their 
expertise? Stop trying to be overtly clever and work the system as it 
has evolved. People are willing to pay for something which they perceive 
to have value. You need customers to make money. You need to deliver 
something of value to have customers.

And yes, the GPL has value to me. But, when I support free/oss I give to 
FSF, Creative Commons, and write my congressman so that regulations 
allow unrestricted opportunity in the market. I champion free/oss when 
evaluating software to meet a business need. I hire free/oss developers 
and let them code. I pay support and custom development fees for 
free/oss when there is someone who provides it. I buy printed copies of 
Free books because they are easier to use. I don't buy votes. I don't 
pay money to someone just to join the club.

1. Slash for convenience... apologies to RSM

2. See for a list

3. You also get egoboo, but we're taking about cash here. Read Eric's 
works for more.

4. And, speaking as a corporate america kind of guy, I don't use a 1.0 
release of anything to support my business. I'm likely to wait until 
there is a track record of use before adopting something new.

5. based on the 2 releases at $5k ransom.


Douglas O'Flaherty
617.699.1486 (c)
443.328.0791 (f)