We made some mistakes in our handling of the discussion around revenue share with the Banshee team. Thanks to everyone who helped make sure we were aware of ’em 😉

Money is particularly contentious in a community that mixes volunteer and paid effort, we should have anticipated and been extra careful to have the difficult conversations that were inevitable up front and in public, at UDS, when we were talking about the possibility of Banshee being the default media player in Ubuntu. We didn’t, and I apologise for the consequential confusion and upset caused.

The principles from which we derive our policy are straightforward:

The bulk of the direct cost in creating the audience of Ubuntu users is carried by Canonical. There are many, many indirect costs and contributions that are carried by others, both inside the Ubuntu community and in other communities, without which Ubuntu would not be possible. But that doesn’t diminish the substantial investment made by Canonical in a product that is in turn made available free of charge to millions of users and developers.

The business model which justifies this investment, and which we hope will ultimately sustain that effort for the desktop without dependence on me, is that fee-generating services which are optional for users provide revenue to Canonical. This enables us to make the desktop available in a high quality, fully maintained form, without any royalties or license fees. By contrast, every other commercial Linux desktop is a licensed product – you can’t legally use it for free, the terms for binaries are similar to those for Windows or the MacOS. They’re entitled to do it their way, we think it’s good in the world that we choose to do it our way too.

We know that we need a healthy and vibrant ecosystem of application developers. We think services should work for them too, and we’re committed to sharing revenue with them. We want to be entirely aligned in our interests: better code means a better result for both of us, better revenue means more resources to do what we love even better. Our interests, and upstream interests, should be perfectly aligned in this. So we have consistently had the view that revenue we can attribute to a particular upstream should create a revenue share for that upstream. We support Mozilla in this way, for example. The numbers are not vast, but nor are they insubstantial, and while we are not obliged to do so, we do so happily.

Those are the principles, the policy is straightforward: Canonical seeks to earn revenue from services delivered to Ubuntu, and we will share a portion of that revenue with relevant projects who help make that possible. Our interests, and those of the projects, should be aligned to the greatest extent possible.

In engaging with Banshee leads at UDS, we should have been absolutely clear about our expectations and commitment. Apparently, we weren’t, and for that I apologise. There was certainly no conspiring or maliciousness, it apparently just never came up. But it was my expectation that we would share revenue with Banshee, I mentioned it briefly to someone closer to the conversation, but I failed to follow up until I heard rumours of a potential disagreement on the subject in recent days.

We also made a mistake, I believe, as this blew up in private conversations, when a well-meaning person presented a choice to the Banshee developers, who then of course made a choice. But our position isn’t at all what was communicated. Our position is that we’ll deliver the best overall experience to users, we’ll derive services revenue from that, and we’ll share it with upstreams where we can attribute it efficiently. It wasn’t in the mandate of that person to offer a choice outside of that framework, but it was an honest mistake.

So, every free software project out there should be confident of a few things:

Canonical would like you to succeed, would like to make it as easy as possible for many, many users to adopt your software, and is willing to share the benefits of that with you. Whether your software is promoted as the default in Ubuntu, or simply neatly packaged for easy consumption, we’d like our interests to be well aligned. We have a bug tracker that helps us pass issues to you if they are reported in Ubuntu first, we have a revenue model which matches that with passing through a share of revenues, too. And that goes for any kind of revenue that we can attribute to your project; for example, if we offer a support service specially tailored to people using your code, you can reasonably expect to agree a revenue share of that with us.

Canonical invests heavily in creating a big, addressable ecosystem that you can easily reach. That’s worth something. We also want a big, vibrant upstream community that innovates and makes its own investments. We know that contributions come both from volunteers and paid staff, and it’s good to be able to have a bit of both in the mix, for the sake of both the volunteers and the paid staff!

Documenting this position is obviously a priority; we should have done so previously, but we just relied on internal precedent, which is a dumb idea when you’ve grown as quickly as we have in the past few years. So we’ll do that.

As for the revenue share we’ve offered the Banshee team, I would love to see them use that to make Banshee even better. That’s what it should be for. Don’t be shy, don’t be nervous of taking the money and using it for your own project. Canonical has already provided much more in the way of funding to the Gnome Foundation than this is likely to, through initiatives like the bugzilla.gnome.org work that we funded, and many other forms of support. I think money generated by an app should go towards making that app rock even harder. But the offer stands for Banshee devs to take up if they’d like, and use as they’d like. If they don’t want it, we’ll put it to good use.

This certainly won’t be the last word on the subject. I expect these situations to become more common, not less. But I think that represents a great opportunity to see sustained investment in desktop free software, which we have been sorely lacking. I think our model gives projects a nice, clear roadmap: build awesome stuff, partner with Canonical and be confident you will share in the success of Ubuntu. This is the model which catalysed the founding of Ubuntu, seven years ago, this is what we’re here to do: make free software available freely, in the best quality, to the widest audience we can. That’s an opportunity for every project that cares about how many people get to use their stuff, and under what terms.