free doesn’t have to mean free

open-source  adjective  COMPUTING

denoting software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

A lot of people seem to think that this means that you can’t charge money in an open source world.  Making the source code freely-available doesn’t mean that you can’t charge for the compiled program itself.

You might be surprised to read this GNU page on “free software”.

Actually, we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If a license does not permit users to make copies and sell them, it is a nonfree license. If this seems surprising to you, please read on.

The word “free” has two legitimate general meanings; it can refer either to freedom or to price. When we speak of “free software”, we’re talking about freedom, not price. (Think of “free speech”, not “free beer”.) Specifically, it means that a user is free to run the program, change the program, and redistribute the program with or without changes.

The problem then becomes the one where some of us don’t have lawyers and some of us do.  The ones who don’t have lawyers probably operate under the following assumption:

  • “since I downloaded freely-available open source software as dependencies to my own software, I can’t charge for compiled code which include those”

Conversely, this might be the competing assumption by a large corporation who has lawyers and who understands the playing space better than you or I do:

  • “even though I downloaded freely-available open source software as dependencies to my own software, I can charge for compiled code which include those”

So you should be able to see how a million or so open source coders can now be taken advantage of.  They actively participate in what they believe to be a generous social experiment and yet some of the players in the space aren’t being so generous.

As coders, we need to find the means for making money somehow for all this effort.  Open source is a great concept but it feels to me like people aren’t seeing the bigger picture here, the one in which some people are making money from your free labor and at your expense.

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