How to deal with free-riders in the open source world?


Author: Li Jiansheng (Suitable)

Recently, several young people have written some articles about complaints about moral kidnapping of maintainers of open source projects. Among them, the representative ones are:

  1. Wangjing brother Xiaozhi: 6 years of working experience in the developer community, talk about the community, open source and business in my eyes
  2. Li Guangyi of toughtworks: The dark side of the open source community

Normally, I ignore such articles, but this time I really can’t hold back anymore and I don’t vomit. I think the biggest reason is that they don’t want to see young people like this. They should be hopeful and optimistic about open source.

What is hitchhiking?

The economist/game theorist’s explanation goes like this:

did not contribute to the accumulation of the sum of benefits by participating in collective actions, and wanted to get a share of the results. [1]

Then we can apply this definition in the open source world:

Some businesses or individuals did not participate in any upstream actions of open source projects (design, coding, testing, feedback, requirements, documentation, publicity, marketing, etc.), but just took advantage of them, and even violated the license statement of the open source project.

If you basically meet this definition, you can be called a free-rider.

How to recognize free-riding behavior?

In the open source world, it is actually quite difficult to identify free-riding behavior, because joining open source is not for this at all. It is also because open source is a completely unguarded transaction for end users, and it is not straightforward to punish free-riding behavior.

The simplest and rude way to identify is whether it violates the project's license agreement, in other words, whether it complies with the open source license terms when continuing to distribute.

Although free-riding is not acceptable to some people in the order established by human beings, it is difficult for most of the traditional intellectual property lawsuits to initiate litigation.

In fact, there is another very effective way of identification, which can be used by US Justice Porter Stewart to appraise erotic art[2]:

"Where there are any standards, I know at a glance whether it is."

Free-riding will not be eradicated, please recognize this situation

We usually think that with the passage of time, especially with the development of modern physics and biology, the concept represented by the theory of evolution has taken root in the hearts of the people. I think that humanity is also fully advanced, but it is not. From a global perspective, cultural development does not go hand in hand. With the development of global supply chains, technology may benefit mankind quickly, but cultural concepts may not. It is the so-called "modern mind, primitive mind" [3].

Because of the natural nature of open source code, there are no restrictions on free-riding behavior, which is what we often describe as "undefended" transactions, and the pricing power is completely and completely returned to consumers. Then free-riding behavior, as long as the culture does not evolve into a biological nature, this kind of thing will not be cut off.

If you regard free-riding behavior as a malicious behavior, and you always stare at these malicious behaviors, it will make your heart full of resentment, which is the type mentioned by the author in the introduction, and then go to the opposite of open source. : Proprietary closed source. In history, there are some smart people who are very good at using human nature, and they have established a proprietary software empire. It is in response to the words of the famous philosopher Nietzsche:

"Those who fight monsters should be careful not to become monsters. When you stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares at you."

Yes, another way of thinking. Isn’t free-riding a prerequisite for soliciting users and even developers? However, as the ancient Chinese proverb says: "Sheng Mien, fight Mien in the second half of the sentence," some free-riders will be converted into a vicious claim to the original creator. This is a situation that no one wants to see, but the weakness of human nature can be prevented and compensated by other means, and we do not necessarily have to use moral kidnapping/condemnation, legal and other coercive means.

How to digest moral nausea

Hitchhikers, most of the time, give people a sense of discomfort. It seems that paying for a reward is a very primitive human instinct. Even in the modern complex society, the interdependence between people is unprecedentedly close. And there is a growing trend.

Just like the disgust and condemnation revealed between the lines of the author of the article we always see in the introduction, the feeling of a hitchhiker is maddening. Every year and in every project, some people can't stand these people or behaviors, burnout is full, and some even have some psychological problems.

In fact, we must try our best to treat this kind of disgust rationally and not let it develop. Whether it is burnout or anger, it actually hurts ourselves. In addition to the above-mentioned diversion, mastering more knowledge is probably a good way to divert this negative.

How to transform free-riding into a win-win situation is the road full of promise

We must realize that people can be changed. No one is born as a hitchhiker. Don't be dignified and willing to be parasitic. With this premise, you can think about doing the following, that is, some free riders can be transformed into: paying users, promoters, contributors, donors, sponsors, and progress together, everyone wins. The zero-sum game is the ending that everyone is happy to get.

From a cognitive perspective

The development of software and the software itself is a very special new type of thing with the characteristics of information, computer technology, and communication. Its abstractness and the complexity of constructing its own world determine that the software is dynamic and open. , The creation of evolution. In other words, it is always changing. Throughout the history of software, this is a good proof.

Only when you truly understand the software can you understand the importance of open source. The source code is a sufficient condition for software evolution as the carrier of technology dissemination and communication. In fact, a free ride like this is a kind of "adventure". It has no fixed possibility of overturning at any time.

Move with affection, empathy strategy

Regardless of the hacker culture[4] or the craftsman[5] spirit, the development and engineering of open source projects are the results of the labor of these people. Just like the results, open source projects represented by Linux, Kubernetes, Apache, etc. For the shaping of the modern information world, these people are also human beings, who need to eat and wear, and they need to do their part for the society with peace of mind. Any harm caused to the unsustainability of open source projects will indirectly cause trouble for these developers. From an economic point of view, once it is not cost-effective, they may abandon the project and find another job.

Do not lose money

The cost of developing an open source project can be calculated. The global exchange rate is circulating, and the per capita income of various places can also be consulted. The iterative open source project is still accumulating costs, and free-riders are often in a static state. Doing calculations and forgetting that there is no investment means the weakening of the ability to control the project and the lack of innovation. The open source projects represented by Linux have proved by facts that after years of washing, free-riders have not accounted for half of the bargain. Compared with continuous contribution, the loss is gone.

Do everything you should do, and the rest depends on their consciousness.

Concluding remarks

"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is recorded in the Code of Hammurabi in the Babylonian era[6], but this is when it is hurt. In fact, free-riders in the information age, or limited to the open source world, at least did not harm the subject: open source projects and their communities, although they are morally offensive in behavior, and do not conform to the community’s daily norms of behavior, they do not It is not the enemy of open source, or it is due to temporary greed, or lack of knowledge, or it is due to hearsay, or it is due to blindly following the trend and unintentionally making these behaviors.

As far as the result is concerned, free-riders often have no good end. Overturning, falling behind, loss of integrity, etc. are the final price they bear.

In any case, they are still part of the open source world, and you can't eliminate them, so it's better to win them.

, will be held soon. Sponsors of speech topics are being recruited. The sub-forums of "Open Source Business" and "Open Source Culture" are welcome to spread open source knowledge and expand users' horizons. , Open the open source trillion market!


  1. Game-The Logic of Human Destiny", [America] 1610228a869d6a Robert Wright , Xinhua Publishing House, 2019-9
  3. "The Illusion of Knowledge: Why We Never Think Independently", [America] Steven Sloman / [America] Philip Feinbach , CITIC Publishing Group, Jan 2018
  4. "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution", Steven Levy , Huazhang Company, China Machinery Industry Press, 2011-10-31
  5. "Artisan", [America] Richard Sonnet, Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 2015-7
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