Definition of open source

Alan Rihm alan at
Sat Nov 6 14:31:50 UTC 2004

Thanks for your response. My comments start with <alan>

-----Original Message-----
From: Arnoud Engelfriet [mailto:galactus at] 
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2004 8:31 AM
To: Alan Rihm
Cc: license-discuss at
Subject: Re: Definition of open source

Alan Rihm wrote:
> The other problem that I see, is that the "dual license" strategy 
> causes people to launch a project, and then essentially end-of-life 
> the project to encourage people to buy the paid/closed version. This 
> seems like a clear sign that the current definition needs to be 
> updated, so why not fix the problem instead of "working around" the 
> problem.

The usual fix in such a case is to fork the code and to start an open
alternative to the "closed" version. I don't see what this has to do
with distribution, though.

The assumption here is that forking is an acceptable solution. It may
not be. It causes more work, and ultimately does not completely protect
the originator from a company with deeper pockets and more resources
from out-pacing them in the market.

> After all, aren't we really
> trying to foster options to closed source solutions, and give the 
> end-users and developers freedom to make software work the way they 
> want it to work? It doesn't seem like the goal of open source was to 
> reduce a companies ability to make money by going open.

It seems to me a lot of companies are making money by opening certain
code. You can sell open source CD's, charge for configuring/porting open
source, deliver custom solutions based on open source and so on. The
only thing you cannot do is make money from someone else's
use/distribution of the code.

This is my point. If someone else distributes the originators code, why
should it be a requirement that the originator not get paid. For
instance, in this new world of "on-demand" software", or "software as a
service", the major obstacle for new entrants in open source is the
definition, and the current licenses. 

Example: Open source your software (assuming you don't want to manage a
new fork), then try to charge for the hosted version of the same. What
is to stop 100 other companies from doing the same. What happens if a
company with more money and resources starts to compete? The originator
just became a worthless entity. Their shareholders get no value in the
company launching the open source project. They risk revenue, and
shareholder value. This can't be the objective of open source.

> Why should someone be able to make money on someone else's code, 
> without any financial responsibility to the originator of that code? 
> If the originator charges too much, shame on them. Their project will 
> not gain much support. If they are reasonable, then "for profit" 
> businesses will consider partnering with the originator.

The whole idea behind open source is that the code is open; it's freely
available to all. There is no owner. Maybe there is a branch of code
that people call "official", but that's by consensus and not because the
maintainer of that branch has any legal rights.

You had me right up until you said "there is no owner". I agree that
there are reasons for certain projects to make a donation to the
community, but for-profit companies clearly struggle with this concept.
I've seen countless threaded discussions on this topic, many of which
were on this list. That indicates to me that the issue is not so cut and

If the "official" branch maintainer has control over distribution, he
can effectively kill the project at any time by denying further
distribution. I'm not sure that is a good idea.

Killing a project does not kill derivatives, nor does it kill
distribution rights already granted....does it? Thus the owner simply
gave up some code to the community.


Arnoud Engelfriet, Dutch patent attorney - Speaking only for myself
Patents, copyright and IPR explained for techies:

More information about the License-discuss mailing list