03 June 2012

How to be an open source asshole

Not too long ago, a couple of folks have released forks of Firestorm, taking the source we've put a year of hard work into, making their own changes in it, and releasing it under a new name.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's an essential part of the open source software model.

What is wrong is that, in both cases, they did the open source equivalent of filing off the serial number: they removed any credit to Firestorm and its contributors. In essence, they claimed credit for the work themselves.

That's beyond the pale.

There are three main reasons people work on open source software: scratching their own itches, helping others, and gaining a good reputation in the community. The first two are obvious. Every Firestorm developer has added features or fixed code to do something they personally want to see done; the best examples are Zi Ree's Phoenix emulation and animation overrider, and Tozh Taurog's LSL bridge. The second underlies what all of us get out of it, to one degree or another. It's not entirely altruistic. We get warm fuzzes from people thanking us for the work.

The third one is what the two forks have destroyed. As much an economy as open source has is based on credit for work: not monetary credit, but reputation credit. I've cited open source guru Eric Raymond's essay Homesteading the Noosphere here before. In it, Eric describes what drives open source developers as a gift economy: people give away their work in return for credit, thereby enhancing their reputation in the community.

That means that removing credit for work is as close to theft as you can come in the open source world.

There have been complaints in the past that we have not properly credited others for their own work. This has been unintentional, and rectified as soon as the issue was raised. We proudly and happily acknowledge the work of others that makes its way into Phoenix and Firestorm to the best of our ability.

I don't know if the offenders have put the credits back. I suspect one has not; she has shown an ongoing pattern of taking others' work and removing credits before distributing it. The other is reported to have taken down his entire codebase, or at least have made it inaccessible.

One of the two claims that some developers asked him to remove their credits in his codebase. If someone asks that their credits be removed, that is their right, and he would be right to comply. I find the claim difficult to believe, however.

I would personally not consider using either viewer, myself. If they're willing to steal credit for others' work and break the norms of accepted behavior in that way, what else are they breaking?

I considered naming the two viewers and their developers. I decided not to. They have a tiny number of users, and I decided that naming them here might induce others to try them. If you encounter a viewer that looks a lot like Firestorm, though, I would strongly recommend checking the credits section first, and if the Firestorm team isn't credited, run the other way fast.

1 comment:

  1. Correction, year and a half of work. We started on it in October 2010.