Canonical & Banshee Agree to Disagree

Canonical, makers of Ubuntu Linux, and the Banshee music player developers have reached a de facto agreement, and the Banshee programmers aren't happy.

Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, has spoken with the developers of Banshee, which is to be the default music player in next version of Ubuntu Linux, and announced a "compromise" on how to handle Banshee's revenue from its built-in Amazon Store connection. Banshee's programmers are not happy.

Banshee had been devoting all the funds it made from its Amazon Store connection to the GNOME Foundation. Canonical wanted Banshee to either disable the Amazon Store connection coming on by default, which competed with its own Ubuntu One music store, or take a 75% cut of any revenue from the Banshee/Amazon stream.

So, Canonical started to talk with Banshee about finding a more equitable solution. Well, Canonical did come up with another proposal, but it hasn't made the Banshee community very happy.

Here's what Canonical's of Online Services, Cristian Parrino, proposed,

As discussed, I wanted to follow up with the plan I outlined on the call - and reiterate my apologies and responsibility for a situation that has resulted in the worst outcome for everyone, including putting the Banshee team in an awkward position. As such:

Recognizing that it is important to not only bring choice to Ubuntu users, but to also generate revenue to continue our investment in Ubuntu, and to ensure we can contribute effectively to the GNOME Foundation--we believe this plan fairly addresses the interests of all parties.

Sources on the Banshee side feel that Canonical dictated these terms. As written 75% of Banshee's Amazon MP3 sales will still go to Canonical, and 25% of all music sales on Ubuntu, not just from Banshee, will go to GNOME.

This is not what the Banshee developer community wanted.

Aaron Bockover, Banshee's creator, wrote that, while he was "not speaking on behalf of the Banshee community," he did have a "vision of the execution of this revenue sharing from a technical and accounting perspective" and that

One thing that does concern me is that while this issue was discussed between Canonical and the Banshee maintainers many times, I am not aware of Canonical involving anyone in the actual Ubuntu community. I will be interested to see how we end up handling this matter technically, and what, if anything, Canonical does regarding packaging, patching, and involving the existing Ubuntu packagers and contributors.

Finally, I am excited about the new potential Banshee has in the near future to generate truly significant referral revenue for the GNOME Foundation as we near Banshee 2.0 and its availability on Windows and Mac OS X, where we will fully control its distribution as an upstream.

I think we can safely say that the Banshee community isn't happy. I can't blame them.

The stakes are small--Banshee's Amazon revenue to date is less than five-figures and it all went to another open-source project--but the principle isn't. Open-source companies and projects shouldn't dictate terms to one another, and that's what sounds to me is what happened.

I understand the potential is there for music purchasing on Ubuntu to become a sizable revenue stream, but Canonical handled this badly. I think it would better if Canonical were to offer a fairer share of the revenue to Banshee. As it is, sorry my Ubuntu buddies, this just doesn't look good.

To prevent this kind of thing happening in the future I suggest that open-source projects that include provisions that have the potential to self-generate revenue come to agreement before they're bundled together on how this revenue is to be handled. In some ways this is a classic case of what happens when people, groups, and companies makes deals without contracts: everyone starts with good intentions but then the details ends up causing an avoidable mess.

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