Prahlad Yeri

Freelance Programmer and Writer

Why I think "Sponsor Only" repositories introduced by Github is a terrible idea


Today morning, I woke up to this dull news that Github is soon going to introduce "Sponsor Only" feature, which means the ability for an open source project to hide its source code from everyone except the one who sponsors them.

Code

This incident shouldn't be taken in isolation but as part of a larger trend. Few years ago, Medium also did a similar thing by allowing authors to monetize their articles. Quora followed suit too last year by prodding popular authors to sign up for their monetization program that involves putting their answers behind a walled garden.

I don't even know where to begin on this. As I replied to the TechCrunch news tweet, I don't like this general direction the Internet is moving towards. There used to be a time when open source used to stand for something, it was all about the commons or the community. Commercial technology companies (and even society at large) used to look up to open source as a model of humanistic value to cherish and endeavor.

This move is totally against the spirit of GPL/MIT/Apache licensed software which is all about openness and software freedom. In fact, both Stallmanists (FSF) and Open Source (OSI) camps are largely affected by this, so both should speak out vehemently against this. This is the time to forget your differences and unite against a common malady. Your definition of "freedom" and what constitutes it may differ, you both may have different ideologies, but here the very foundation of software freedom is being threatened with this "Sponsor Only" move.

Now, I understand that putting food on the table should be a developer's primary concern, and there is nothing wrong in monetizing their efforts. But I strongly disagree with the "walled garden" approach many are taking for it, the same could be done by using more ethical means like advertising, affiliate marketing, repaying the sponsor in other terms (like putting out a brief marketing video for them on youtube as it's usually done).

Meanwhile, I don't understand the very confusing and convoluted concept of "sponsor" here who wants the product all for himself! The wordnet dictionary defines sponsor as "Someone who supports or champions something". If one wants to sponsor a FOSS project, it's naturally assumed that they're interested in the open source or freedom friendly nature of that project too. If not, they should just stop doing the farce of this "sponsorship" and be direct in stating that they want to acquire or buy the project (for that is what they're effectively doing with this "Sponsor Only" move).

I can understand an individual developer's or author's need for money and the need to put bread on their family table. But an institution like Quora or Github should rise above these things, they're the custodians of the legacy of today's Internet and all the content on it. Humans are fallible and corruptible, and that's exactly why we have institutions, even commercial ones have a code of ethics or conduct apparently. Quora could have easily thought of better ways of paying off their content creators than coming up with a program that lures them with money in return to putting their posts behind a paywall. What kind of nonsensical approach is this? Everyone starts somewhere in this world, and everyone isn't born with a silver spoon or the ability to pay for costly subscriptions. The pandemic has broken the financial backbone of many individuals as it is. This is the time to bring out the best of humanity inside us, not the worst.

Imagine a world tomorrow where every single website or blog on the Internet is put behind a paywall, a world where money is the sole motivation to create content and the size of people's pockets determines what gets published. Do you like to live in such a world? Free thinking individuals who don't like to let that happen should speak out in loud voices against these moves, otherwise they'll only keep getting worse and worse.

I also understand that Capitalism vs Socialism is a never ending debate and there are all shades of grey on both sides. But I have a strong feeling that some endeavors like Medicine, Education and Open Source should exist in a realm where not money, but work ethics and human values are a motivator for doing things. Otherwise the result could be disastrous for the society as a whole.