The OSD and commercial use

David Johnson david at
Sat Nov 23 04:37:12 UTC 2002

On Friday 22 November 2002 04:55 am, maa at wrote:
> Dear list:
> The Open Source Definition seems to prevent a license from requiring
> commercial users to pay the authors of the software a fee (cf. clause 6,
> and perhaps 1, OSD version 1.9)
> Why?

The following is my opinion only, but it may help to explain the "why." 
Software is fundamentally a different class of product than a material 
product like a chair. Both copyright and the nature of software copying makes 
this so.

But the user still wants to be able to treat all products the same. It may be 
irrational, but that's the way it is. One of the attributes of Free and Open 
Source Software is that the user can ideed treat software like a chair, and 
not get sued for doing so.

Imagine if you went to a store and say a display of chairs. Imagine the price 
tag said "Non-commercial sitters: free; commercial sitters: $100". Imagine 
going to a movie theater and seeing a sign that said "Children: $4; Adults: 
$8; Company groups: $20 per employee".

If I buy a chair, then I should be able to use that chair at home or at work 
without the manufacturer having any say in the matter. Maybe I don't know at 
the time of purchase where I will use it. Will you then charge me an 
additional fee after the sale has concluded just because I take it into work?

> Consider a business model with this basis: the software is distributed
> freely, but if someone makes money using it, then the authors are entitled
> to a just compensation. Method: the software is distributed under a license
> that requires that if anyone uses the software in a business then they must
> pay the authors, thru their representative (the business), a negotiated
> fee.
> Is this model 'bad' in any way?

There is one fundamental way in which is it "bad". You are assuming that you 
are entitled to the the fruits of someone else's labor. The only thing you 
are entitled to is the fruits of your own labor, including your marketing and 
sales labor.

How's this example: I'll sell you a hammer for five dollars. If you use the 
hammer to build a house, I demand a cut of the closing fee. After all, if you 
use the hammer to make money, shouldn't the I be entitled to some of the 

Depending on the nature of your software, there are several other business 
models to use. Trolltech and Sleepycat use a model that works for development 
libraries, and works quite nicely. If your product is complex or hard to use, 
then selling service and support is a good option. There are others.

David Johnson
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