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The 1% open source license – a proposal

April 24, 2014 by max

The thing I found most surprising about the recent heartbleed bug in OpenSSL was the fact that “ In a typical year the OpenSSL project receives about US $2000 in donations”. This is maybe one of the most vital pices of open source software in use. Thousands of companies are dependent upon it working correctly and securely, yet none of them seem to have donated to it.

If it’s so important why not?

Here are some good guesses:

  • The programming team responsible for implementing software aren’t the ones controlling the money
  • Managers and accountants that do control the money may not be aware that they can or should donate money to the open source software they use.
  • If it’s open source you aren’t legally obliged to donate, so why should you?

Therefore I propose the 1% license.

The idea is fairly simple: It’s just like GPL (or whatever other open source license you may prefer) but with this line added:

If you use this software for a commercial product you are required to pay whichever one of these sums is the smallest:

  1. 1% of the additional profit your business has made due to this software. You are allowed to make an informed guess.
  2. $1000 

The payment is not due before you have actually had the additional profit. 

As long as you use software with the 1% license for personal projects, community projects, small ventures or startups that still aren’t making money it’s free. But if you are making money from the software you need to donate some of it back to the community that wrote it. If you are Google, use the open source Nginx server and have saved trillions of dollars you can get away with paying $1000.   I don’t think this is an unfair proposal.

Now the programmers in company X that use software under the 1% license can point their managers or legal department to this clause and remind them that they are legally obliged to pay a small portion of money for the software they use. Legal departments and project managers have a tendency to follow legally binding contracts, so there’s a fairly good chance they will comply.

There’s of course a lot of wiggle room. How much additional profit has a company attained by using some specific open source component? That will always be a judgement. There will also be companies that don’t pay. But that doesn’t matter much since the additional copy doesn’t cost more than a the bandwidth cost of the download.

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  1. Tompko says:

    > If you are Google…you can get away with paying $1000.

    That’s not what the license says, it says 1% of $1000, or $10.

  2. D says:

    In practice: this will amount to an open-source “tax”, as if all the open source groups were taken over by the Internet government. Not saying if that’s a bad thing or good.

    But in principle, I completely agree that there has to be some method to the madness that is open-source donations. This could be also be social – sort of naming and shaming of large corps who use all the GPL/MIT licensed tech for literally free. Furthermore, economically and financially: who decides how much work actually needs to be done on FOSS software? And if the donations amount to a large sum, should it not be considered as profit? More to the point, if payments become mandatory, what remains the difference between proprietary and open software?

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