Survey: Should Open-Source Repo Maintainers Be Paid?

By | December 3, 2018

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!

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