The Fear Of Freeloaders Overblown In Both Proprietary And Open Arenas

from the stop-worrying dept

I remember reading a while ago how if you look at the extremists in diametrically opposed political parties, they tend to have a lot more similarities rather than differences. It seems that may be happening in the proprietary and open source worlds as well. We’ve discussed how silly it is for companies and individuals trying to understand “free” business models to worry about freeloaders. The fact is, yes, some people will get stuff for free and not contribute anything back. In fact, it may be a lot of people. But if the end result is that you are actually making more money overall from those who aren’t freeloaders, who really cares? In some cases all those “freeloaders” are actually giving back in other ways, such as by amplifying and promoting your message for you, and bringing in new potential customers that wouldn’t have known about you otherwise.

For the most part, I assumed this was an issue for those with “proprietary” content/software. But, suddenly it’s an issue that’s getting attention in the “open source” world, with supporters of open source complaining about “freeloaders” who use open source software, but don’t contribute back. This is silly. As Joel West points out, the whole point of open source software is that it can be used for any purpose. So, just as proprietary content creators shouldn’t worry about freeloaders and focus on those who actually do contribute, the same is true for open source developers. Sure, some will freeload, but don’t worry about them. Let them do what they want, and focus on providing more value for those who do contribute. In the end, the overall benefit will be much greater.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Fear Of Freeloaders Overblown In Both Proprietary And Open Arenas”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
36 Comments
RD says:

Right...

Um…isnt that rather the POINT of open source?? That you can get it, use it, do whatever you want with it INCLUDING contributing back? Since when did contributing back become a REQUIREMENT for open source?? Are people just going COMPLETELY stupid these days?

Oh right, forgot, its all about greed now…GET MINE! GET MINE! GET MINE!! And anything that stands in the way of that is considered STEALING or some other breaking of the “rules.”

F*cktards that exists today, I tell you…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Right...

Since when did contributing back become a REQUIREMENT for open source?? Are people just going COMPLETELY stupid these days?

It depends on the license. The GPL generally requires that changes you make and distribute be contributed back. Some companies (Cisco, I’m looking at you), have been trying to ignore that.

However, there are also people who distribute under other open source licenses that don’t have that requirement (e.g. BSD) and then seem to complain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Their point is the few do all the work while others use their work without giving anything back to the community.

This happens quite a bit in volunteer organizations. A small core group do the lions share of the work while others don’t bother. Guess what, sometimes that core group gets tired of doing all the work and stop doing it.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The real point is, there have been a few doing all the work for a very long time now, and there’s never been complaints about freeloaders until recently. I’ve never heard of Linus complaining about my freeloading on his Linux kernel…. Nobody will dispute that it happens a lot, or that sometimes the core group gets tired of doing it and stops. But what happens in the real world, is that when the group stops, there’s usually another group willing to step in and pick up where they left off (sometimes called ‘forking’ in the software world).

What I think is really happening, is that open source is becoming more popular. Popular to more than just those who understand that working for open source doesn’t necessarily translate into big pay days, and they’re starting to feel all “Woe is me, I’ve chosen to do this work but I’m not happy with the conditions, so I’ll cry about it instead of change my situation.”

JL (profile) says:

What timeframe do they use?

Its ridiculous to say that these people “never” give anything back to the community. If you let people use your software for free and they like it they’ll pass it on. They might even show up on your forums and help other “freeloaders.” Not everyone is a C programmer, but anyone who understands the business of software knows that source code is a very very small part of what makes up that business. Just because most people won’t contribute source code changes doesn’t mean they don’t make any contributions.

Jason says:

Re: What timeframe do they use?

Not to mention that most open source is still in the early stages of adoption by users. If you’re brand new to, say Linux, you’re obviously not likely to be contributing code a few weeks in.

I would venture a guess that right now most OSS users are new users and aren’t likely to contribute for some time, AND that as long as adoption is on an upward climb, that will continue to be the case for quite a while. This ought to be seen as a really good thing because over time the number of new contributors will probably continue to grow right along with user adoption. Just not quite as fast.

Anonymous Coward says:

From the small bit I read, it was a question of fairness; about people using open-source software, building upon it to make it better, but not sharing those improvements back. Where innovation and content improvement is constantly backed, I’m surprised that Mike’s post appears to be biased against the critisism of those not contributing towards open-source software when they clearly could.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

it was a question of fairness

I think you missed the whole point of Mike’s post. Both proprietary and open source software developers are taking the same attitude that what’s “fair” is more important that what is most beneficial for the developers and the software itself. In short, they’re cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“””From the small bit I read, it was a question of fairness; about people using open-source software, building upon it to make it better, but not sharing those improvements back.”””

I see two distinct views in the comments: non-coders who seem to be saying ‘WTF, I can’t help with that and I shouldn’t be expected to!’ I agree, and I’m pretty sure the open-source producers agree as well.

Then there are the coders who are (theoretically) forking products and making improvements but not sharing back to the community, or worse yet attempting to sell ‘their’ product which is against the terms of almost every open-source license. In this scenario I agree with the open-source producers, improvements should be forwarded to the community, and people should not be charged for what is essentially open-source software with some add-ons.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think your second group is actually two groups: those violating a license, and those not. I can take open source software and modify and do whatever I want with it (while keeping it to myself), and I don’t have to give anything back to anybody. That’s how the license is written, so that is what the developer wanted. It makes no sense to complain about somebody doing the thing you intended for them to do with the software you wrote.

Then there are those who violate the license, for example by distributing altered open source software without making their changes available. That is a problem, and one that gets dealt with. Obviously this all depends on the exact license in question, but generally, if someone is following the license terms, then everybody should shut up about it – they’re in the right, and if the developer wanted something different they should have used a different license.

NullOp says:

Freeloaders

Contribute back to the open source world? Admittedly I’ve never tried but have recently heard stories of what a nightmare it can be. Imagine jumping into the middle of a huge project that may or may not be well guided? Those already there, also, may not particularly want your help. And how many programmers out there really have the time to make serious contributions to open source for zero dollars? If you’re of the caliber that can make really first class contributions to say, OpenOffice, you should be out there consulting and charging for whats its really worth. As it is the business world is getting a free ride as far as software is concerned. Lets say Excel costs $400 for the sake of argument. An accountant uses it while accounting for millions, maybe billions, of dollars. Its doing a great job, all parties up and down the line are pleased and comfortable with its performance and it cost the company $400 for the performance and peace of mind! A different example, the company develops an in-house package for 1 million. Over the course of its lifetime it invoices several billion dollars and saves the company dollars on errors over the last system they were using. Once again, software is free…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“In the end, the overall benefit will be much greater.”

How would Mike know that? I don’t have to go any further. Unless he has time traveled into the future to see what is going to happen, there is no way to know.

perhaps open source will collapse on itself at some point, with the collection of egomaniacs and unsocial people who write the stuff, you never know when everyone is one dose of lithium away from losing their software.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“In the end, the overall benefit will be much greater.”
How would Mike know that? I don’t have to go any further.

It’s a good thing you didn’t have to go any further, because that was the last line in the post.

Unless he has time traveled into the future to see what is going to happen, there is no way to know.

Since you seem to be unaware of this phenomenon, sometimes people will make a statement of belief and back it up with a supporting argument. This is what Mike has done. In most cases, these statements do not include lengthy disclaimers about the nature of opinion and the philosophical question of whether anything is really knowable. Does that help?

The Cenobyte (profile) says:

How do you freeload on something that is free?

I mean am I freeloader because I don’t create or improve the air we all breath. All those plants work long and hard to put enough O2 into the air to let me live and here I am just beathing it in…

I am not a programmer but use free software all the time. I guess I should stop cause I can’t help it get better.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know what should be encouraged in the open source community is a system where people can donate money with a comment. In that comment they can put what they like and dislike about the product (and they can also contribute suggestions) so that open source developers have a better idea of what contributors are looking for. Of course this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to get new contributors (ie: new people who might contribute to try open source software).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

PCLinuxOS grants special access to brand new releases on their Pass server for those who donate a small fixed sum via Paypal.

Texstar, the main maintainer for PCLinuxOS, says, “I am aware of the GPL requirements and make all of my source code available via DVD and it can be downloaded from a free server.”

Nick (profile) says:

How many jobs has open source software created? Hundreds of thousands? More? How many will it create in the future? A lot. Yes, let’s get over the fact that people don’t always re-contribute. It is a gift economy. And yes, not the entire economy, only part of it.

This argument is almost as ridiculous as someone coming out and saying “these poor open source developers, their work is being stolen! They have the right to be paid for their work!”

Joe Sack (profile) says:

Open Source is Different

What I usually hear open source programmers complaining about is entirely different from their proprietary counterparts. Proprietary vendors are complaining about people using their software (an infinite resource) without paying for it. Open source programmers are complaining because people are building new software based on open source code without releasing the source. Open source software can usually be re-used and modified for free, with the caveat that the resulting code must also be open source. It’s more like a plagiarism issue than a licensing issue. If you’re getting a well-developed, tested, and maintained codebase for free, it seems like a small concession that you can’t use it to create proprietary software.

Anonymous Coward says:

“So, just as proprietary content creators shouldn’t worry about freeloaders and focus on those who actually do contribute, the same is true for open source developers. Sure, some will freeload, but don’t worry about them. Let them do what they want, and focus on providing more value for those who do contribute. In the end, the overall benefit will be much greater.”

This is likely to have the undesired consequence of reinforcing an all-too-common attitude among open source developers: that nontechnical users can be rudely dismissed when they report problems or request assistance, and should learn how to program or buzz off.

Open source cannot take off as mainstream software for ordinary desktop users if that is the reception that ordinary desktop users can expect when they run into problems. Since ordinary desktop users are “freeloaders”, the suggestion that developers focus on providing value for those “who do contribute” will be taken as promoting that particular status quo, which ultimately harms open source innovation by maintaining a barrier to more widespread adoption, that created by the social divide on open source support forums between the coders and the “clueless n00bs” (or similar epithets) that just want to install it, have it work, and be productive with it.

Senshikaze (profile) says:

Re: AC 6-15-09 @ 6:55

“this is likely to have the undesired consequence of reinforcing an all-too-common attitude among open source developers: that nontechnical users can be rudely dismissed when they report problems or request assistance, and should learn how to program or buzz off.”
I am not sure which open source projects you are following, but I have never had this problem or witnessed it. Most programmers I know working on FLOSS will take the time out of their day to help if you have a real problem. Maybe you just need to lighten and remember that not everyone who can program is out to spite you.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...