Mike's Musings #11: Announcing FS Open Source
By Mike McCarthy (4 July 2007)
Consistent with the vague hint at the very back of my recent article "Add-On Standard File Format", I'm forming an add-on developers association named "FS Open Source" (FSOS). The first FSOS project will be the FSOS 727 discussed at the back of the article you're reading now. If you're interested in helping out, send me an email and we'll talk.
FSOS will publish gauges, panels, airframes, FDE, complete aircraft, documentation, airport scenery and more, all in open source form. Its work product will be published under the FSOS License, which I am drafting for review and comment. Developers who choose not to join FSOS nevertheless will be encouraged to release their products under the FSOS License, and to help define the wording of the FSOS License. This is because the real need of the FS community is for open source add-ons regardless of origin, and not FSOS per se.
Developers who choose to join FSOS will retain the copyrights to their work - - past work, present work, future work. Their products will continue to be distributed as freeware just as happens today. However, new additional payware distribution channels will be opened up by FSOS as discussed below. When payware is at issue, the developers will be able to receive (or decline) royalties.
I will have more to say about the open source philosophy in an upcoming companion article. In the meantime, at my request webmaster Nels Anderson has created an FS Open Source forum. The first thread in that forum is "The FSOS Association", a detailed proposal for the creation and operation of FSOS. It is there for purposes of review and comments and suggestions are invited, from end users as well as from developers, and from people who don't want to join FSOS as well as from people who do.
Freeware Versus PaywareDevelopers, take a deep breath and read these words several times till their meaning sinks in ... FSOS work product will bear unit royalties based on a percentage of publisher selling price of the FSOS work product. However, if a publisher elects to charge zero, just as sites like FlightSim.com have elected to charge zero for downloads, the resulting work product will behave just like freeware.
This approach is being taken for two reasons ...
First, because the FSOS License will impose royalties in situations where the distribution price is non-zero, there is the potential for monetary damages to the developers, who are the copyright holders. Therefore the FSOS License will have standing in courts of law, allowing civil suits against pirates for lost royalties and perhaps for punitive damages. In turn this just might be enough to allow courts to recognize the FSOS license in freeware situations, at least for purpose of getting restraining orders and injunctions. This is probably not true for many of today's author-created freeware licenses, many of which are poorly written and are not likely to stand up to any actual legal challenge. (But I'm not an attorney and you shouldn't take what I have to say in this article as legal advice.)
Second, while FSOS products will always be available as zero-cost downloads, the profit motive is a legitimate way of making other things happen. In fact, when it comes to the planned release by FSOS of a line of budget-priced add-on aircraft CDs aimed at end users who don't want to be bothered with downloads, allowing publishers to make a profit is the ONLY way these CDs are going to get distributed to the end users in any kind of quantity. If the publisher is going to make a profit, the developers should receive royalties, though the developers will be free to decline them. (In which case the royalties will be paid into the FSOS rainy day fund.)
Finally on this subject, the FSOS license will allow anyone to use FSOS products for any purpose, and this includes the embedding of FSOS products in non-FSOS payware. But here too royalties will be assessed because again, if the payware developer and his publisher are going to profit, then so should the open source developers whose work has been incorporated into that payware.
The Purpose Of CopyrightThe legal purpose of copyright is not to restrict the use of copyrighted works. It's purpose is precisely the opposite - - to help make the works available to the widest possible public audience, and to encourage the development of additional such works.
This can only happen if Author A is motivated to write, if his publisher is motivated to distribute, and if author B sees that author A was protected by copyright law from being ripped off, thereby motivating author B to write. So ... In the end the profit motive actually benefits the public by enlarging the number of works available to the public. That publishers and copyright holders are also benefited is simply a necessary side effect of furthering the larger social goal.
Freeware does serve the public without economic benefit to either the copyright holder or the publisher, but the question is then whether freeware reaches the widest possible audience. In today's climate of "don't use my stuff to make money" the answer is no, because this restrictive posture shuts off distribution channels rather than opening them.
The FSOS License will change this situation by exploiting not only the usual freeware distribution channels but also those new distribution channels that can only be reached via the profit motive. Thus while the FSOS License will allow developers to receive royalties, this will be mainly in those situations where their works would otherwise not get distributed at all. (The other royalty situations are the ones where outside payware developers and publishers want to use FSOS products in their own products. Here the availability of FSOS product should help those people lower their development costs, resulting in lower selling prices and therefore wider distribution, again benefiting the end user public.)
And that's it, folks. From a societal viewpoint the issue is how best to reach the largest number of end users with quality product, not whether developers' hands get tainted by filthy lucre. :-)
The Purpose Of Open SourceBecause it is not generally available in open source form, today's freeware further restricts distribution by confining it to those cases where freeware can be used as-is in binary form. Thus as a practical matter distribution is blocked in those situations in which technical and other issues prevent the binaries from being used and/or modified.
Here too the FSOS License, like any other open source license, will create new distribution channels by allowing users to make changes themselves, provided they in turn distribute the resulting derivative works under the terms of the FSOS License. In solving technical problems for their own purposes, these users will end up benefiting the FS community at large.
Why FSOS?FSOS will represent its membership on copyright and license matters, it will represent its membership in all negotiations with publishers, and it will collect and distribute all membership royalties. In other words, FSOS will provide a business management umbrella under which its members can concentrate on development while still getting the benefits of being in business for themselves. (That's right, folks. FSOS developers will not be employees, they will be independent entrepreneurs working in a cooperative, just like farmers who belong to a fruit growers' cooperative.)
Here's another way to look at FSOS: To make an analogy with the world of music, you can think of FSOS as being the business manager for several different bands. If band members write songs, they are the copyright holders, not the business manager. If the business manager gets the band paying gigs, the band members should get the bulk of the resulting income, but the business manager deserves a cut. If the band chooses to put on public benefit concerts that have no admission charge, the business manager will collect nothing in these situations.
Finally, lest anyone be worried about misappropriation of royalties, I propose that they be paid over to an escrow agent, someone selected by the FSOS developers themselves. I may suggest a list of respected candidates, but the actual decision will be left to the developers. I would tell the escrow agent whom to pay and how much to pay, and I would produce quarterly reports on these disbursements, but the actual funds themselves would not pass through my hands.
The FSOS 727Our kickoff project is the FSOS 727, which will be both a zero cost download and a royalty-bearing CD, both versions to be released under the FSOS License. We have the panel now (not the one discussed in my previous article) but we need the airframe, liveries and FDE. Existing work might be acceptable for these components but only if it is of high quality (my call) and only if the developers can show that they hold the exclusive (repeat exclusive) copyrights to the works in question.
The FSOS 727 package will come with an installer, but it will also be in standard download format. Being open source, all the components of the package will be presented in whatever form makes it easiest for interested users of the package to make changes to its components, and to redistribute the result.
Of course such changes will result in a derivative work, and if someone publishes that derivative work as payware, or embeds it in payware, the original copyright holders will still be entitled to royalties just as if they themselves had made the changes. (If I write a song but you modify the lyrics, it's still my song. Having seen your changes I might agree to take you on as my writing partner, but then again I might not. Either way, I'm entitled to royalties from your publisher regardless of whether you get royalties from your publisher.)
Join The RevolutionThere is a great deal more that needs to be said, and much of that is said in the "FSOS Association" document which has been posted as the first thread in the FS Open Source forum here on FlightSim.com. I hope that developers will read that document in detail and then sign up with FSOS. It is what NASA calls a "straw man" - - something to throw rocks at.
Now ... Many add-on developers consider themselves to be artists, either literally or in an engineering sense, and they are right. (I feel the same way about my AirBoss™ product. It's a work of engineering art.) Many of you will disagree but commercial art is an even higher calling than is fine art because you have to satisfy not only The Muse and yourself, you also have to satisfy the market.
As far as I'm concerned, commercial artists and commercial photographers are the Naval Aviators of the art world. It's really easy to land at an airport of your own choosing. It's really hard to land on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Have you got what it takes?