Charity and open source

Summary:If we did not allow people like Bill Gates to make this choice, his example would not be nearly as powerful as it is. That is why I think we should wait until our other leeches are fat with the blood of their victims (uh, customers) before we try to put the bite on them.

leech humor
A friend who considers Bill Gates' Foundation work to be a great example to us all writes to complain. (The cartoon is from an ANZAC military history site. The text reads "Leeches? Don't worry mate. The little bit of blood they take won't hurt you.")

He writes, many newcomers to open source are "leeches" who are "looking to suck blood for suckers." How about something in the GPL requiring that profits go to charity?

Well, uh, no.

There are many types of open source. The GPL already imposes an obligation, to donate code improvements back to their source. Other open source contracts do not impose this restriction.

But let's return to my friend's main point. Look at all that money Gigadollar Bill is giving away. Shouldn't we be under the same obligation?

My answer again is no. The difference between Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and open source the business model is that the latter allows for blood-sucking leeches. In fact it welcomes them, encourages them, and (to an extent) empowers them.

Charity on the other hand is voluntary, and occurs after the money is made. Most open source leeches are still trying to turn a profit. After the profit is made conscience will dictate whether it goes into mega-yachts and mega-homes, gets passed down to the great-grandchildren or (in the case of Gates) goes back in the form of good works.

If we did not allow people like Bill Gates to make this choice, his example would not be nearly as powerful as it is. That is why I think we should wait until our other leeches are fat with the blood of their victims (uh, customers) before we try to put the bite on them.

We did with Bill, and he piled profit to the sky before letting it rain down.

So, patience. Give what you can, and don't feel an obligation to give more. Not until the ghost of Christmas Future looks you in the eye. Then we'll see what kind of leech you really are.

 

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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