FUTO Statement on Open Source

A while back, FUTO posted an article meant to parody and poke fun at the Open Source Initiative’s (OSI) “The” Open Source Definition. Many in the community reacted to this article and our use of the term.

Fundamentally, our goals are to build great products that don’t abuse people, beat the tech oligopoly, and elevate the rights of programmers developing software that has source code open to public scrutiny and tinkering. In order to change the culture around software to make this a reality, top tier software engineers need to make a living wage creating good open source software.

We believe the current models have failed. We are experimenting with new ways of doing things. Part of this experiment was creating an alternative license that allows us to demand compensation for commercial use. It is a problem that YouTube can make 31 billion in revenue while offering projects like ffmpeg nothing but a few programmers for Google Summer of Code in return. That isn’t a fair exchange of value, and we don’t want that for our software.

We don’t want the top 1% of programmers to think they need to work at Facebook or Google to pay for gas while working on passion projects in their spare time. We want to cultivate a culture where those passion projects can be their full time job.

We fully support the work of groups like the Free Software Foundation and have donated to them directly. We have also donated millions of dollars to various FOSS projects, many of which are listed on our site . Certain aspects of our own products, Grayjay plugins for example, are licensed as GPL code.

Our use of the term “open source” thus far has been not out of carelessness, but out of disdain for OSI approved licenses which nevertheless allow developers to be exploited by large corporate interests. The OSI, an organization with confidential charter members and large corporate sponsors, does not have any legal right to say what is and is not “open source”. It is arrogant of them to lay claim to the definition.

There is a reason these licenses and the organizations affiliated with them have the support of Google, Microsoft, Apple, and other giants. Corporate interests benefit directly from the “Fields of Endeavor” criteria within the OSI definition of open source. At FUTO, we fully believe that these kinds of licenses have failed to properly protect developers and community members from being exploited.

Furthermore, the OSI has done nothing to stop the proliferation of closed source malware, with “the customer is the product” as the dominant business model. They wrongly removed Eric S. Raymond from the OSI mailing list and are currently pushing for AI standards that are arguably closed source. While it is not our intention to bog this statement down in digressions about these internal OSI issues, they are worth mentioning.

The community has told us that “open source” has a particular meaning to them and suggested we call it “source available” instead. We have been reluctant to do so for numerous reasons .

Source available is not a real licensing standard and is so wildly generalized that it applies to free software, “open source” software, and in some cases even proprietary software. Many codebases deemed to be source available have extreme restrictions on everyday user’s ability to access and modify software.

Often, source available licenses require users to pay to access source code and then restrict the distribution of it to paying organizations. These restrictions do not apply to our software whatsoever. Using such an overly broad catch-all category that applies to nearly anything does not adequately inform people about what they can and cannot do with our software.

Thus, we have been calling our software “open source.” Our goal has never been to start semantic arguments about definitions, but to call attention to the wider issues we see occurring with open source software.

The problem is that we didn’t just stick a fork in OSI’s eye — we stuck one in yours: the wider community who abide by this definition. We understand that, and we’re changing.

We’ll use the term “source first” instead for our projects. We believe this is a fair compromise.

Accepting the term source available risks us being lumped in with projects with far more restrictive terms than our software.

Accepting the OSI definition of open source entails putting no limits on bad actors’ ability to use the software commercially.

Neither fully fits what we’re doing. So we will be making our own term and trademarking it.

“Source first” is a new licensing standard that we will be using to describe some of our software.

Source first software will:

  1. Allow users to see the source code of all of our software.
  2. Ensure that you can modify the source code for your own use, and redistribute it.
  3. Ensure that our software is not limited to use by a particular organization.
  4. Demand that any client we release that requires a server, also releases the server software under principles as free as the client software.
  5. Avoid the integration of crypto scams.
  6. Reject “the customer is the product” as a business model.

Most crucially however, source first software will not force programmers to let others, especially the tech oligopoly, profit from their work for free.

Ultimately, the community has spoken and likes what we’re doing. They like that we fund consumer-facing software projects like immich that will beat Google Photos & iCloud. They like that we’ve donated millions to non-profits. They don’t like that we’ve used the term open source. As stated above, neither OSI nor anyone else “owns” that term. Culturally, however, the community does own that term and has a right to dictate how it should be used. We accept that. So we’ve changed our branding accordingly and hope that clears up any misinterpretation about our intentions going forward.

This is all an experiment. In the end, it comes down to this: if we create software that doesn’t abuse the public; will people pay for it? Will programmers quit working for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft; and decide to work on good software instead? That is our goal. That is what we want to achieve. We need your help and your feedback to reach that goal.

Keep providing it. We’re listening.