Should We Be Paying Software Tax?

Duck Duck Go Founder Proposes Open Source Tithes

Jessica Thornsby

Gabriel Weinberg suggests imposing a tax on companies that benefit from open source software.

Founder of search engine Duck Duck Go, Gabriel Weinberg has a novel idea of how to fund open source projects: impose a tithe on the companies that benefit from the help of said open source software. This money could be used to fix non-critical bugs in projects; bugs which the community has no pressing interest in fixing. The money gained from tithes would be an incentive for programmers to work on a project out-of-office-hours, but it could also allow them to take time away from their day job, to work on an open source project.

Weinberg runs his search engine on the FreeBSD operating system and, hoping to start a trend, he has pledged 10% of the gross of Duck Duck Go’s 2011 and 2011 revenue to open source projects. have already followed suit.

This isn’t the first time a so-called “software tax” has been mentioned, with the GNU Manifesto listing the ways “development can be funded with a Software Tax.” This document suggested a set software tax when purchasing a computer, but with the additional option of making a donation to the project of their choice, to be deducted from the total tax.

However, Christopher Mims does warn that open source projects do not always have the resources to effectively handle large donations. Previously, Jeff Atwood donated $5,000 to an open source .NET project, only to discover that the money was left in a bank account for four months. “Website hosting fees are fully covered by ads and donations, and there are no other direct expenses to cover,” explained project coordinator Dario Solera.

Jeff Atwood was disappointed that his donation hadn’t made the impact he had been after:

“I had hoped that $5,000 grant money would be converted into something that furthered an open source project — perhaps something involving the community and garnering more code contributions. But apparently that’s more difficult than anyone realized…….I’m absolutely dumbfounded to learn that contributing money isn’t an effective way to advance an open source project. Surely money can’t be totally useless to open source projects… can it?”

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