FOSS Funding – Chapter 1 – Open source has a funding problem

December 14th, 2022

This is the first post of a series about funding free and open source software.

The fact that lots of open source software is largely underfunded is well documented. Many successful open source projects are successful because they stand on the shoulders of giants who absorb the cost of running it. A few reach world-wide success through adoption and find ways to sustain themselves via corporate/individual sponsorships.

Ok great; but what about you?

Say you have a project. It’s open-source. You’d really like to work on it full-time, add more features, fix bugs, manage the task tracker, answer the community forum, etc. but you also need money to live. So you concede that this is just a “fun project”, to do on weekends, as a hobby, in your spare time. You have a “real” job that pays your bills. Plus, you’ve heard that open-source is all about freely sharing, maybe one day Google will give you a job (spoiler: they won’t) and your efforts will pay off. Or maybe your project will become wildly successful and you will become famous.

The fact remains: if given a chance, “you’d really like to work on it full-time”. And by that, you mean “getting paid a respectable salary for your efforts”.

But you don’t work at a company that cares to support your open source project, and you don’t have a world-wide success software project that can fetch corporate sponsors easily.

You’d like your users to pay for your software. But the open source license allows anyone to freely distribute copies of it.

In the next chapter, “Binaries”, I write about how the software license (usually part of contract law) is separated from trademark law, and how this separation is a key concept that can reconcile software freedom with financial sustainability, even at small scales.

I will publish the next chapter once I receive at least 3 e-mails about this first one. Tell me about your FOSS project, whether you liked or disliked this first chapter, or anything.