Funding Free Software

Larry Lessig posted some commentary about the criticism by some proprietary software developers to the OSAF announcement: Is there any vice in free code?. These developers are concerned that open source kills commerical software opportunities. Don Park has written quite a bit on this topic (Free Software Kills Markets, Mitch Kapor's OSAF, Double-Edged Sword). Lessig hits the nail right on the head when he writes:
If there were a way to assure coders -- especially independent coders -- got paid even though the source of their code was open, then it would be hard to oppose open code. And while it might seem odd to imagine how that is possible, we should recognize that our economy already has about a billion ways in which it secures payment to creators without locking up the creativity. Some of those would be bad (moving music back to the patronage system, for example); but not all of these would be bad. And if we could devise a way for coders to get paid, including coders independent of companies like IBM, while allowing the source code to be free, then this legitimate concern of good-souled skeptics could be met.

We need a sustainable way to fund free software development. If developers could make money -- even a little money -- writing free/open source software, not only would there be more a lot more free software, but the objections of commerical developers would be silenced and software innovation would flurish.

Lessig continues with this teaser:

Professor Terry Fisher is devising such a technique in the context of music. Pester him to publish, because it is truly brilliant. Equivalent geniuses should be crafting a similarly brilliant solution for code.

Yes, indeed. I know of some efforts here (including some I'm doing myself). The project which is furthest off the ground is BerliOS's SourceAgency. There should be some very exciting developments in the next year. If you want to keep up to date, check out Potlatch's gift economy coverage. And if you know what Professor Fisher is working on, email me: