Subject: Re: Ransom GPL Licensing: ethically and legally viable?
From: Seth Gordon <>
Date: 19 Feb 2003 17:17:40 -0500

On Tue, 2003-02-18 at 15:35, Brian Shire wrote:
> If you want to understand the benefits [of the Ransom model]
> you have to look at this from a different perspective....
> Ransom's agenda is not to replace the FSF software model, but to
> provide a complementary model that can and will work for situations >
where the free software models are lacking.  
> EXAMPLE:  A programmer, works his <explitive> off on open source
> projects.  But because there is no model for him to market his
> software with he finds himself working other day jobs to pay the
> bills, while he spends his nights coding.  He can't provide a
> service because that's not what he's good at....

If you are a programmer in that situation, you have problems that a
software license is not going to solve.

The customers who eventually use your code are going to demand support
services related to that code.  If the code is released under a
traditional proprietary license, the non-availability of the source code
allows the software vendor to charge steep licensing fees and divert
some of that revenue to the support department, and to charge profitable
rates on separate support contracts.  If the code is released under an
open-source license, the vendor might not be able to demand such a high
margin for support, but can benefit from code contributed from outside
the company.

Either way, if you think customers would be willing to hand over bales
of loot in exchange for your brilliant software, you'll have to split
the swag with the support department -- and unless everyone in the
support department is a member of your immediate family, they will want
salaries and job security close to the market rate.

Are you sure that your program will be so popular that even after
splitting the take with the support department (not to mention the sales
department, the marketing department, the legal department, etc.),
you'll have enough left over to support yourself at the standard of
living you seek?  If so, set up a business to market your program under
a non-free license.

Are you *so totally* sure that your program will be popular that you can
*place an upper bound on your gross revenue from it*, and feel confident
that not only will you rake in this much money, but that the costs of
support et al. will not grow faster than you expected and eat up all
that gross revenue before you can come up with a new salable product? 
If so, market your program under a Ransom license.

Miss Manners once lamented that many people send her letters asking how
they can break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend without hurting the
other person's feelings.  People who want to know how they can make
money from the open-source code they write, without having to provide
any other services, seem to be suffering from a similar confusion.

"Perhaps those of us who care about quality programs have not spoken up
often enough--`for bad programs to triumph requires only that good
programmers remain silent.' I call this passivity the `Silence of the
Lambdas.'" --Henry Baker
// seth gordon // // //