Banshee vs. Ubuntu Linux on Revenue sharing

It's not often that open-source projects find themselves at loggerheads over revenue sharing but that's what happened with Ubuntu Linux and the Banshee music player. Fortunately, it looks like an equitable solution is in the works.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When Banshee, the popular Mono-based open-source media player was first included by default in the next version of Ubuntu Linux , Banshee's developers thought this was great news. But, then Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company decided that they wanted 75% of any revenue from Banshee's built-in connection to the Amazon music store-revenue that Banshee was already donating all of to the GNOME Foundation.

Now, this isn't a lot of money--As of February 1, 2011 Banshee had raised $3,077 for GNOME--but it was the principle of the thing. So when Canonical, "concerned with how our [Banshee] Amazon store would affect their Ubuntu One store." and proposed two options: "Canonical disables the Amazon store by default (you could enable it in a few easy steps) but leaves the affiliate code alone (100% still to GNOME), or Canonical leaves the Amazon store enabled, but changes the affiliate code and takes a 75% cut."

The Banshee developers "unanimously to decline Canonical's revenue sharing proposal, so that our users who choose the Amazon store will continue supporting GNOME to the fullest extent" As my buddy Joe Brockmeier explained in his column on the Banshee/Ubuntu conflict, "Canonical were worried that their music service wasn't competitive enough with Amazon MP3." They had reason. Brockmeier continued, after all, "It isn't. Amazon has aggressive pricing and (from what I've seen) a better selection. Amazon is also aggressive with promotions and offering free music, which makes it a fairly attractive service to people looking for new music as well as trying to fill out their music collection with music they already are aware of."

Besides, as Brockmeier pointed out, and this is the important issue, "While I have no problem with Canonical trying to make money on Ubuntu One, I think this sets a lousy precedent. If every vendor either takes a grab at affiliate fees for projects or overrides defaults, upstream projects have no good way to raise funds."

I agree. This kind of conflict is not what open-source needs. Fortunately, it's a conflict that may be on its way to an equitable resolution.

Cristian Parrino, Canonical's VP of Online Services, told me "We are still talking with Banshee on their position so it's not possible to be definitive on this but there are a couple of points we can address. The first is that there is no intention of creating any walled garden around Ubuntu One for the provision of content to Ubuntu users. Quite the opposite. The fact is that we want choice for users and to that we want an Amazon MP3 store as part of that choice. We are very happy that Ubuntu One stands up as a competitive choice for users and they can decide between options."

Parrino continued, "Furthermore we want the Banshee project and GNOME to be part of that provision in this case. We are dealing with an evolving situation. There was no Amazon MP3 default option when we started the decision to switch media player. Now that there is we are now working hard to accommodate that in a way that fairly reflects the contribution of each party. We can't say more except that we hope to have a solution soon that is best for the Ubuntu, GNOME, and Banshee communities and best serves the millions of Ubuntu users."

Well, here's hoping they're successful. Banshee, Ubuntu, and GNOME are three of my favorite open-source projects and I don't want to see them fight with each other. In the long run, this kind of disagreement can only hurt all the parties.

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