A different take on the Banshee/Canonical conflict

The latest drama sweeping across the open-source world is Canonical’s decision to redirect affiliate profits from music bought in the Banshee music player from 100% GNOME to a 25%/75% split (with Canonical receiving the majority). Nearly everyone has come out against this, but I disagree with parts of their argument. Also, everything I’ve seen has involved verbal wrist-slapping instead of concrete action, so I’m going to propose some possibilities.

“Open source” doesn’t mean “open source until someone makes a change you don’t like.” The whole premise of open source is that anyone can make any changes they want, they have the freedom to fork, and nothing restricts their actions besides copyright. Do we have a right to be angry at people who take advantage of the freedoms we’ve offered them? I don’t think so, but I see where people could disagree.

But what options does that leave anyone who wants to change the situation? Here’s a couple:

  • Banshee has a trademark; enforce it. Make Ubuntu change the name of its music player to something else. This would involve talking to lawyers and definitely takes this confrontation to the next level. If Banshee doesn’t already have legal contacts, its developers might contact the GNOME Foundation and work through them, or get in touch with SFLC or another legal team of their choice. If you want your code used in Ubuntu, maybe the name change is enough. But you’ll obviously lose the name recognition.
  • Banshee developers could treat Ubuntu as an unsupported configuration and refuse to work with affected users. For this to have any chance of working well for Banshee, it must require its developers to consistently place the blame on Canonical every time problems get reported, to preserve Banshee’s reputation. However, if you don’t support Ubuntu or its users, remember that most bugs aren’t specific to Ubuntu so you’re also hurting yourself. Furthermore, this could provoke Canonical to drop Banshee altogether and switch to a different player. I’d expect Canonical’s decisions to be based on a combination of usability, access to upstream support, and revenue, so its choices will likely try to find a balance of those factors.
  • Banshee developers could use rational approaches to convince Canonical its existing terms are inconsistent with the broader software world. OpenSUSE community manager Jos Poortvliet made a great point:  “Even Apple doesn’t take more than a 30% cut from people who ship applications through their App Store.” However, this is the next level beyond that; Apple’s recent move to take a 30% cut of subscriptions, books, etc sold via App Store applications is far more equivalent. And this move, even by Apple, is seen as largely negative, but they’re staying the course much like Canonical. If I were Canonical, I’d ask myself how much my users love me compared to how much Apple users love Apple, and adjust my portion of the Banshee revenue accordingly.

I favor the third approach, but you should always keep in mind the best alternative to negotiation, so everyone on both sides of the conflict knows what will happen if negotiation fails.

11 thoughts on “A different take on the Banshee/Canonical conflict

  1. The behaviour of Canonical is ethically bad. They are maybe within the restrictions of the license, but they are leeching money from an upstream project. That is parasitic behaviour (they add no value, but reduce the resources of the “host”) and has no place in our community.
    Very unpleasant way to make many of us not happy, and all that for an amount that is in the range of “irrelevant” for Canonical. Must be the Nokia school of damagement …

    1. Why do you call this “not ethical?” Then RedHat is not ethical, they made money from open source softwares etc. People tried to make sure people since a long time that open source can be used to make money, but if someone does it, rumors will say: “that’s not ethical”. Btw would it be better if Canonical drops Banshee for some other player? Then no income at all. Even no need to add any value, open source evangelists talked so much about the freedom their scheme can provide for both of end-users and for people can be treated as re-distributors. In this scenario, google etc is not ethical: they use open source softwares to maintain an infrastructure they use to earn money. And they probably don’t pay for the original authors etc for it! Is it a problem? No. If they need to pay, they can buy Microsoft servers as well, instead of eg Linux …

      1. It’s not the “making money” part, it’s the “redirecting income from upstream” part that I find unethical.

        Canonical is large enough that the currently ~5k$ they could make from that are really not worth taking away from upstream, for which it is a seriously large amount.

        I don’t understand what pushes Canonical to burn so much goodwill. As far as Google etc. are concerned, they (Google) do give back quite a bit to the opensource community, they spend literally millions on non-profit items like Summer of Code – they are not the good guys, but at least they treat us with a minimal amount of respect.

  2. I’d be surprised if Banshee didn’t wind up making a lot more for Gnome with this deal, given that they’re moving front-and-center in Ubuntu.

    1. That might be true, but they’re very deliberately going against the wishes of the developers. Given the choice of disabling the Amazon plugin entirely vs giving Canonical a cut of the money, they elected to not give Canonical a cent. And Canonical then chose to ignore that.

      1. The Banshee developers choice was bad for users, bad for GNOME and bad for Canonical. Thankfully the licence the Banshee developers chose means Canonical have the moral right to make their own choice. Yay for Free Software.

        Of course, Canonical “offering” such a binary choice in the first place was a stupid course of action, but I think it’s worth separating discussion of the end result (which I think is reasonable and consistant with Free Software ideals) and how that result was arrived at (which was very messy).

        1. ————-
          Thankfully the licence the Banshee developers chose means Canonical have the moral right to make their own choice. Yay for Free Software.

          *legal*. Given a common set of moral principles, Canonical has the same moral rights regardless of whether they are supported legally or not,

  3. Apple are taking 30% of the price paid. Canonical are taking 75% of the ~5% affiliate revenue (much smaller).

    Also how many tens of thousands of pounds have canonical given to GNOME over the years?

  4. Canonical has no moral obligation to give the Banshee developers any money.

    It is one of the pillars of free software that you are encouraged to use/modify/distribute the code for any purpose, including making money with it as you see fit.

    The point with the trademark is a good one, although there is probably little brand recognition for “Banshee”, as opposed to Mozilla Firefox for example.

  5. I don’t think it wise to give Banshee any more staying power than they already have.

    Including Mono in Ubuntu is a bad idea from the start, allowing them to call shots in GNOME is a recepie for disaster.

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