Paying people to work on open source is good actually, by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, February 16, 2024

Jacobian made a post that prompted lots of discussion and feedback:

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So he wrote this post as the long form of what he meant, which is that however maintainers are being paid, being paid full time to work on open source is good for everyone, and that we do need to both celebrate any instance of this happening, and need to try more things to increase the number of full time paid maintainers.

Lower Case Open Source

I’ve been extremely annoyed by the OSI for actively refusing the label of open source / approved licenses for non-commercial and similar licenses. See OSI-approved Open Source for some of my rant.

For one, I think their (corporate friendly) stance has outlived its usefulness, and I don’t think one US-based organization can speak for all of open source.

Here’s Jacobian’s “lower case” open source definition, which I very much agree with:

in this piece, I’m going to use “open source” to mean anything on this spectrum from “totally unencumbered” to “unencumbered with some restrictions”, and I’m not going to articulate how much “some” would be too much for something to still be considered free. I’ll even use the terms “open source” and “free software” interchangeably just to hammer home how, in this context, the precise definitions of these terms don’t matter to me.

if my sloppy use of these terms bothers you in the context of talking about how people make their living, it implies that you care more about terminology and definitions than about the people, and I’d like you to sit in that discomfort for a while

The setup for this is an important background, but these core quotes align with my own thoughts.


When I talk about “sustainability”, though, I mean something very specific: “can maintainers live a decent-to-comfortable lifestyle writing free software?” If open source was “sustainable”, to me, it would mean that people could chose to make writing open source their job, and be assured that they have _at a minimum_their basic needs met – housing, food, healthcare, etc. Ideally, more than that; I’d love it if writing open source afforded people a comfortable or downright luxurious lifestyle.

I’ve written various things about people getting paid to have open source as a job.

Any time someone gets paid to write open source it’s a win Right now, here in the real world, sustainability in open source means paying maintainer — and we should be celebrating every time that happens! Every time a maintainer finds a way to get paid, it’s a win.

Many, many more people should be getting paid to write free software, but for that to happen we’re going to have to be okay accepting impure or imperfect mechanisms.

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