Carsten Agger on Tue, 30 Oct 2018 21:06:22 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Interview with Richard Stallman in New Left Review (September-October 2018)

On 10/30/18 3:14 PM, Florian Cramer wrote:

Define "most". What you describe is true for the Linux kernel and other pieces of software that make up a typical Linux distribution such as RedHat, but even those are not 100% developed by paid developers. On top of that, crucial components such as OpenSSH (developed by OpenBSD) and popular applications such The Gimp are developed by volunteers. Free Software as a whole is an ecology that is made up by volunteer and paid developer contributions.

And I would argue that all these developers are underpaid in the light of the IBM/RedHat transaction which they will not profit from. (Quite on the opposite, with IBM's management taking over and making it part of its 'cloud' division, the question is how many free software developers on the RedHat payroll will stay in their jobs.)

People who contribute with voluntary work for any kind of project (not just free software) do so for a variety of reasons. Because it's fun, because they personally think it's important, because they like being a part of building this, etc.

Publishing work under a free license, especially under a non-copyleft license such as the BSD license used by OpenBSD, normally means that you know people may try to make money off the program you made, independently of you, and you're okay with that. Part of that deal is that you, on the other hand, also benefit from other people's contributions (and Red Hat have, at any rate, contributed to a huge number of projects as part of their daily operations).

It's one thing to sell your labor as alienated labor to a company, knowing full well that you get exploited. It's another thing to contribute to free software as a volunteer and (at least partially) idealist cause and see others make $30 billions with it.

If you contribute to a free software project you know people have the right to use it for any purpose - there's no 'non-commercial' clause in any of the free software licenses, for good reasons.

The GIMP may be a good example. The GIMP has certainly featured in Red Hat's GNU/Linux distributions since time immemorial. But how big a contribution towards the $30 billion sale has it made? If IBM really is after the "cloud" software, they're more likely to have bought it for KVM - but then, the GIMP may have contributed to Red Hat's initial success. Something like the worth of the man-hours that went into creating the GIMP multiplied by Red Hat's fraction of "consumption"? At $50 an hour (say), how many hours went into creating the program as it is today? That means that Red Hat's "share" of the GIMP might amount to some tens of thousands of dollars; but then, the developers of the GIMP have presumably also benefited from Red Hat's contributions to the ecosystem.

But how would we change the financial workings of the free software ecosystem to reflect that properly? It's an interesting idea; but I doubt, on the other hand, that the notion that they've been "cheated" by IBM buying Red Hat will find any resonance among these developers themselves.   People who do contribute are normally perfectly aware that such a possibility exists, even if sometimes and for smaller projects it could seem quite remote.

But yes, in a constructive vein, what changes would you suggest to solve this?



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