License Zero

gainful software in the open

Gainful Software in the Open choosing an important word carefully

You may have noticed a change in the tag line at the top of this blog and licensezero.com. Where it used to say:

sustainable software in the open

It now says:

gainful software in the open

That’s a direct result of a prior post, Profit for Us, Sustainability for You, where I called out the double standard of profit for open source users and sustenance for open source producers. Open source producers should profit. But I went on to say:

“Profit” also has a bad rep, in part because we don’t sully wages and fees for honest work by individuals with the term, even when they exceed immediate needs. It’s possible to profit without exploiting anyone. In fact, profit tends to show that you yourself aren’t being exploited.

I did try “profitable software in the open” for a hot minute. It didn’t sit well. But the right word eventually came:

gainful : productive of gain : profitable ∙ gainful employment

Gainful is the positive term in our speech for just profit in honest pay for honest work. “Gainful” almost always precedes “employment”, as in “gainful employment”. “Gainful” means “profitable”, but without the heavy rent-seeking, exploitative connotation of profit by the corporate form of organization.

I make no bones: open software developers should profit when their work delivers value. But License Zero is not about teaching open software developers to seek profit like corporations do. License Zero is about supporting and defending the people largely outside the corporate system, who are building something beautiful—and inherently valuable—that profit motive alone never would.