Futo, Please don't attempt to create your own Open Source Definition

Update: Since writing this Futo have published a statement in regards to their use of open source, which shows intent to stop redefining the term and instead establish “Source First” - Futo statement - Futo video - Brodie Robertson video

Bonus Update: Brodie Robertson and I had a longer discussion around the subject of this post on his Tech Over Tea podcast here

As someone that watches and documents confusion (and potentially misleading) use of open source & licensing in the open source space, I’ve had my eye on Futo since they released their application GrayJay. This was referred to as open source in a now-removed YouTube video by Louis Rossman (who’s part of Futo) while under a license that puts limitations on use & modification which would mean the license would not meet the generally considered open source definition (OSD), nor the free software definition. The reason for custom license terms was said to ensure the software does not get redistributed with malware, but the scope of the actual license terms is not specific to that and applies wider limitations to common rights provided by open source and free software.

Today I saw that Futo have published their own open source definition, and this contains elements that set limitations on what would be provided under the OSD.

Before I continue, I want to be clear I completely respect the right to license your efforts how you wish, my main concern revolves around how “open source” is used, why it’s used, and how it’s use could potentially mislead users or potentially negatively impact how open source is considered. I have nothing against using license terms that protect the rights and wishes of authors. I am an open source author myself and understand many of the difficulties faced with maintaining open source software. I am not a legal expert though, just someone passionate about open source.

Why I think this is bad

First of all, there is already the commonly considered open source definition (OSD) that has the OSI as the steward. This is the definition that open source has been popularised under. It’s under this definition, and all the code built under licenses that adhere to this definition, that the reputation of open source has been built upon. This definition ensures not just code open to viewing, but also open to use, modification and distribution.

Attempting to define your own different definition, and publishing software under that definition, will be misleading to many. If users see new “x opens source App provided by Futo” they may expect those open rights of use, modification & distribution which this definition does not provide.

This kind of custom defining of a term, especially when pushed to an audience like that which Futo & it’s members command, can also contribute to the erosion of the OSD. If you don’t have to respect it and the freedoms provided, why should others? Then where does the baseline for that’s considered as open source lie? This can really be a downer to those that believe in the freedoms provided under the OSD and those that have contributed & build work under those freedoms (again, which is what I believe has made open source popular).

Specific restriction concerns

The FUTO definition sets four limitations, which I’ll break down why they may be problematic under the banner of open source:

  1. Change our payment links to pay someone other than FUTO.

This limits the ability to re-sell and modify software, both of which are core rights of free and open source software. Subsequently, limiting of these rights can inherently limit the forking and distribution/re-sell/management under new authorship. This is a core mechanism that can help open source projects evolve and continue past the control of their original authors. This helps in the event the original authors change direction, terms, ideals, or even when a group of users just want to go in a different direction. There’s now a significant divide between the open rights of users & original authors.

  1. Put advertisements or other malware in our software.

Seems reasonable but this is a limitation of modification. What could be considered under the scope of either an advertisement or malware here is open to interpretation which could be abused. The malware aspect at least is usually something that can be helped at the distribution channel side of things, and helped by the next step.

  1. Use our trademarks in modified versions of our software.

Fair, and something that I think could be compatible with the OSD as long as the trademark can be used for attribution and to just refer to the original project. Trademarks can help fight against the likely-hood of malware distribution since the value of malware will mostly be related to the reputation of the trademark and its users.

  1. Steal attribution for authorship.

Again, fair and is a common requirement in many open source licenses, although what may be considered as “Stealing attribution” could be unclear. Maybe best to have a requirement to provide attribution rather a restriction against stealing.


A common name for this category of licensing is “source available”. There’s also “Fair-code” along these lines, which I believe may be going to “Fair Source” fairly soon.

If you don’t agree with all this, I would ask: Why do you need to use “open source”? In many of these kinds of cases I see I get the impression is because folks want use of the marketing & reputation that open source has, but I feel this has been acquired on terms that the projects are not willing to meet. If you feel that “open source”, as per the OSD, has to change, I’d ask why does it need to change instead of you using an alternative term, that wouldn’t impact that original core definition that many believe in.

Further reading


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