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.