FOSS is free as in toilet

I am a bit dissatisfied with the use of the Tragedy of the commons to represent issues with free and open source software development. It is not an abstract resource that can be depleted when overused. It is not magically maintained if left alone.

It is based on the work of people, and we should not erase those people.

Unfortunately (and it is by design), most of the licences and the vocabulary around it are focused on the software’s user. After all, they work by reducing the creator’s right to empower the user.

As examples of this vocabulary, we have the distinction between “free as in beer” and “free as in speech” to show that the “free” word in “free software” has more to do with freedom and people’s rights to use, study, modify and share a program, than its actual price. Although, in practice, the overwhelming majority of FOSS will not cost you anything.

This model has won, FOSS is everywhere, companies not only use it, but even heavily rely on it, millions of devices run with it.

But at which cost? Open source developers are burning out. Some core libraries, on which basically everything relies, are maintained by very small teams of people working on their free time. We still have the right to study the software, but the most interesting parts are now in the user’s data, which is jealously guarded by a few huge companies.

This is not a tragedy, this is a fucking farce.

Let’s own up to the absurdity of talking about a personal freedom that depends mainly on hidden people working for free. Let’s add more ridicule to it. Let’s start using a new expression to describe it:


Nobody believes that a free toilet will be magically cleaned up and maintained, somebody has to do it, and that person would better get paid for it. Sharing a toilet means that you flush, clean up after yourself, and always leave some paper, it’s basic manners. And yet, like toilets, as FOSS gets used by more and more people, it gets more likely that you will see obnoxious people that shit all over your commons and then complain about it. And nobody will want to take care of it.

Treating correctly the people who work on the software you use is just basic FOSS hygiene.