The open source licence debate: dead project walking & incentive models

Open source grew, it proliferated… and it became something that many previously proprietary-only software vendors embraced as a key means of development.

If you don’t accept the options offered by the community contribution model of development, then you risk becoming a Proprietary 2.0 behemoth… or so the T-shirt slogan might go.

But the issue of how open source software is licenced is still the stuff of some debate.

Chief operating officer (COO) for GitHub is Erica Brescia.

Brescia has pointed out that the industry is witnessing rising levels of tension between open source projects (and open source development shops) and those commercially motivated organizations that are building services on top of open source, such as cloud vendors with their database services

So how do we move forward with open source?

Dead project walking

Matthew Jacobs, director, legal counsel at Synopsys Software Integrity Group reinforces the suggestion that avoiding licence compliance issues and avoiding use of any software, open source included, that contains vulnerability risks is extremely important.

“However, many companies fail to consider the operational risks associated with the open source they are using. By this I mean the risk that a company will decide to leverage open source from a dead open source project or one that is failing to maintain a critical mass of contributors who are actively maintaining and improving that project. The viability of the project is only as good as the people behind it and those people need to support themselves,” said Jacobs.

He argues that providing avenues for developers to continue to do what they enjoy and for which we all benefit, but in a way that allows them to earn something along the way is important.

New incentive models, please

Shamik Mishra is Altran’s AVP of technology and innovation.

Mishra points out that in newer software development models, nobody really tries to reinvent the wheel and instead focuses on solving their own business problems – the ‘wheel’ comes from those pre-existing open source projects.

He says that many large open source projects survive because they enjoy a degree of investment from a supporting business entity to keep the community going as they hire experts and developers, but several brilliant projects have lost their momentum and have never come to fruition due to a lack of support.

“But, the industry badly needs incentive models. GitHub sponsor is a great example but still relies on the ‘donation’ mind-set. The other problem that organisations face is that they don’t exactly know which developer really contributed to that piece of brilliance that the organisation monetised, particularly within large projects. Collaborative models where developers can be compensated by interested organisations through smart contracts based on the level of contribution is perhaps the way forward,” said Mishra.

It seems clear that developers should also have a choice of providing licensed versions of open source and still have the ability to switch licences… but this subject is far from decisively closed as of 2020.

 

 

 

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