Survey: Should Open-Source Repo Maintainers Be Paid?

Recently, users discovered a popular open-source JavaScript library executing malicious code to steal cryptocurrency data. A response from the library’s founder and maintainer about the hack surfaces a topic of discussion: Should open-source maintainers be paid?

GitHub user dominictarr launched the repo in question, Event-Stream, as a “fun” side project: “I created it for fun. I was learning, and learning is fun. I gave it away because it was easy to do so, and because sharing helps learning too. I think most of the small modules on npm were created for reasons like this.”

But as dominictarr points out, maintaining an open-source repository yields you nothing tangible: “You get literally nothing from maintaining a popular package.” Later in their screed, they strongly suggest paying open-source repo maintainers for their work.

Should we pay open-source maintainers, though? The whole concept of open source is that the data is free to use so long as you’re judicious with it (and contribute back, in many cases). It’s the free exchange of information, initiated because developers want to help one another, not because they want a paycheck.

On the other hand, maintaining an open-source repo can be a lot of work. It’s time-consuming, and people always seem to want something more from it. Even the smallest mistakes are amplified when people complain openly about them on GitHub.

If you manage a popular repo, everything good and bad is magnified further, and you have pull requests to consider. Many repo maintainers will only grant management access to those who have a long tail of contributing; it’s a helpful way to gauge intent, but not all maintainers have the time to do this.

If open-source maintainers are paid, should individuals contribute? Should they only be paid based on the size of the repo? Is a Patreon or PayPal account enough, or does GitHub need to weave Square or Stripe into the mix?

We can make arguments for both sides all day, but we’re more interested in what you have to say. Should open-source maintainers be paid, or should the spirit of open source be enough to carry us through? Please vote in our anonymous poll below. We’ll publish the results in a future article, so stay tuned!

2 Responses to “Survey: Should Open-Source Repo Maintainers Be Paid?”

  1. How about this for a fairly simple solution?: Maintainers MUST approve open source commits by 3rd party/independent developers. It slows the repo updating process somewhat but better insures the risk of compromised code or deliberate code injections.

    This will change the Git/Github/Bitbucket process where there would be a “holding” location for code commits by non-Maintainers due to the moderation process but I say it is worth it if it diminishes the risk of rogue/damaging code commits.

    The “paid” angle is up for debate because yes, it will take some time for these Maintainers to CR the commits. I don’t have a systematic answer for this (I know, I know, a main point of the article) :).

  2. Why are the only options on the survey either, “Yes pay all”, “No pay none”, “Pay by size” or “Pay because so and so uses it”? There is not a reasonable option there.
    What about you can donate (ie. pay) to software projects that you find value in and want to support. You don’t need to pay all open source maintainers, and you don’t need to not pay all open source maintainers.
    The great thing about Open Source is that the software can provide just as much use as any piece of commercial software could without the excessive sales systems. Commercial software companies put more effort into marketing and selling software then they do when creating it. Which often means they provide worse products.
    I would say then as its essentially more likely and efficient that Open Source will provide better, more valuable, products. Then people should consider to support that use, and value, by paying a optional and flexible amount. Rather then pay a higher amount, for a worse product from commercial “software” (sales) companies.
    Ie. Pay a bit for what you want to work better, that commercial companies will likely charge you much more for.
    Open Source shouldn’t put effort into figuring out how to squeeze money out of people. They should just ask for the support if they would like it. The consumers then need to use their rationale if they would like to donate or not. Ie. No one should make anybody pay anything, you should just want to because its an actual good product.