Pulling A Lunduke: Holding Source Code Hostage


Last week, Bryan Lunduke, the renowned developer of multiple kitschy little apps that nobody is too concerned about, made a post on his blog where he claimed he was attempting to better serve the community by open sourcing all of his software under the GPL.

Unfortunately, what should have been good news turned out to be little more than a PR stunt. Rather than actually open sourcing his applications, Lunduke decided to hold the source code hostage: demanding users sign up for a repeating monthly subscription to enable him to continue developing his software under an open source license.

Flawed Logic

Lunduke claims the only way he could release his software under the GPL is if he was making at least $4,000 per month in subscriptions, a sum which (according to him) is below what he’s currently making by selling the applications individually. The idea that Lunduke is making north of $4,000 per month via one time purchases of games like a Linux distro simulator is already difficult to believe, but if true, shows the most glaring omission of logic in this entire project.

There is absolutely nothing in the GPL that prevents you from selling free software. Absolutely nothing. The idea has always been that the software is free in the sense of what you are allowed to do with it, but not necessarily without monetary value. This is the reason the free software movement has taken to the term “libre”, as it means liberty rather than without cost.

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer..

 Richard Stallman

With this in mind, nothing stops Lunduke from continuing with his current sales model and opening up the source under the GPL at the same time. If Lunduke truly makes enough money with his current distribution, there is absolutely no reason to assume the same would not be true if the source of the software was released under the GPL.

Consider that all of Lunduke’s software is currently released completely without DRM, meaning that anyone is able to upload their binary copy to a filesharing site. Yet, even without piracy protection in place, Lunduke manages to turn a profit. Why? Because the people purchasing his software legitimately want to support its development.

Nobody purchased “Linux Tycoon” because they couldn’t figure out how to pirate it, they purchased it because it was only a few bucks and the money went right to the developer. If the source for the game was open, that situation is unlikely to change. Frankly, it would be more trouble to build the game from source than simply finding somebody who hosted a binary version of it.

So if Lunduke could release the source of his software right now under the GPL and keep selling it just as he always has, why doesn’t he?

There are only a couple of  conclusions we can draw, none of which very flattering. Either Bryan Lunduke simply doesn’t understand the GPL, or he thinks the community is too cheap to continue supporting his work unless they sign up for recurring payments ahead of time.

Community Burden

Putting aside the broken logic which Lunduke used to launch this campaign, the implications of its failure or success put a undue strain on the community and could cause undesirable side effects.

Consider that this campaign succeeds: Lunduke get’s his $4K a month and opens up the source for this software. This will set an uncomfortable precedent, showing that a developer with even marginally popular wares can guilt the community into not just supporting him or her with one time donations, but signing up for monthly fees.

But where does it end? How long is the user expected to pay a monthly fee for a piece of software which everyone else is getting for free? How long until the early users who supported the developer enough to sign up for recurring donations begin to feel abused?

On the other end of the spectrum, if this campaign fails, it will be used as “proof” that the free software model can’t generate income. I can already see next weeks blog post, where Lunduke bemoans how he really wanted to open source his software, but apparently the community just didn’t want it badly enough. The guilt trip has already started, with Lunduke’s comment under the “What If It Doesn’t Work” section of his original blog post:

If, come next week, we haven’t come close to the goal — then I hit the refund button.  Everybody who contributed gets a full refund and nothing changes (so there is no risk).  I continue to develop this software in a closed source way and get a little bummed out [I’d prefer to not get bummed out].

Already the community is being blamed for the possible failure of this campaign, on the very day it starts. Reading this, we are left with the image of poor old Lunduke, who just wanted to help out the community, but couldn’t do it because his fans weren’t as supportive as he had hoped.

Value, Or Lack Thereof

Perhaps the biggest factor in this entire campaign, and the one which demands the most delicate of touches, is whether or not the software of Bryan Lunduke actually deserves to be supported at this level.

There is no question that games like “Linux Tycoon” have a certain appeal and succeed at being a quick time waster; but there is also no question that $5 is just about the top end of the price scale for this kind of software. After 10 minutes you will have seen everything “Linux Tycoon” has to offer, and while I certainly don’t have any remorse about spending my $5 to purchase the game originally, there is absolutely no way I would pay a monthly fee for it.

His other software, such as “Illumination Software Creator”, “BLABA”, and “Radical Comic Designer” are all variations of the same theme: rapid development of simplistic content. Software like this has had its place for years: people want to make games or apps but don’t have the prerequisite knowledge to actually program them. So rather than spending the time and effort to learn how to develop native applications, they turn to rapid development tools like these to make passable products in a fraction of the time.

Again, there is no question that the software accomplishes its goals, but is it really worth a subscription fee? Is a tool designed to let you quickly generate web comics really worth $4,000 per month, when there are so many other free software projects out there that are willing to give away their code without the song and dance? Does supporting Lunduke and his software further the overall free software community as much as say, donating to Slackware?

Clearly, whether or not you feel Lunduke’s particular brand of software is worthy of your donation is an absolute matter of opinion. Nor is anyone attempting to claim that Lunduke puts out bad software. The issue here is whether or not the people signing up during this subscription campaign are doing so because they legitimately want to support Lunduke and keep games like “Linux Tycoon” going, or because they have been fooled into believing that doing so somehow furthers the legitimacy of the GPL.

Now What?

An oddly appropriate strip from "2299"

With time rapidly running out, Lunduke is already backpedaling on the end date for his subscription campaign:

The deadline I set was end of day Monday.  Which, to be honest, was a fairly arbitrary deadline (I simply needed to pick some point to declare as the “end”).  If we can get at least close to the goal by that point, I will gladly extend the deadline out a few days to give enough time to achieve the goal.

If the total subscriptions were anywhere near what his original goal was, this could be interpreted as loosening up the reigns a bit to make sure the community got what it wanted…but as the donations sit at only $100 above his half way mark, this simply comes off as desperate. If he doubles the original timeframe just to meet his monetary goal, is it still a success?

There are likely many reasons that Lunduke’s campaign failed to generate the money he was looking for, but it’s certainly not because people aren’t willing to support the development of free software, or that free software by its nature is without monetary gain. Even though I have the distinct impression those are two claims we’ll be hearing a lot after this is all said and done.

About Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .
  • 0sConstruction

    I think that Bryan Lunduke does a ton of goodfor the community, and I keep building Linux distrobution’s for friend’s so I will likely keep paying for his software, because the people I install if for like it. Let’s not forget that this is “community supported software”. In other words the community should support the software developers… fact is that Linux users have extra cash because we don’t pay for our platform…the humble bundle, and many successful kickstarter campaigns promising Native Linux support(novaCut–shadowRun…etc…) I for one think the overly-complicated definitions of “free-software”, “Free/Libre open-source software tend to confuse most average computer users…Although when you say “community supported software” to users, the light switch seems to go off sooo…much sooner!!!

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      It really bothers me that he is co-host of The Linux Action Show and sings the praises of open-source software, and then plugs both of his closed source wares… It’s bullshit. I don’t normally single individuals out on this website, and I don’t go out of my way to use strong language either, but in this case I don’t see any redeeming aspects to this.

      Not to mention the irony of a game that you pay for to design imaginary free software. WTF.

      • Ticstah


        He’s repeatedly stated that he doesn’t care what kind of software is on Linux… open or closed, as long as there is software on Linux. Period.

      • Fredo

        You can love the hell out of Linux and free/open source software, but you still need money.

    • Kenny Dalgliesh

      Really? I happen to know quite a bit of people who think that he is one giant douchebag.
      Its funny how people can have two viewpoints so different.

      His podcast is an embarrassment, he is a huge publicity seeker, he consstanly misrepresents free software and basic concepts, an arrogant ass on some interviews and a boot licking sycophant in others…
      he CONSTANTLY embarasses the various communities and is thought to be a di*k by more bloggers/podcasters than anyone else I can think of, eve ESR.

      I cant think of anyone else who nauseates me this side of Randall Schwartz (who just makes me ill but at least he’s a brilliant coder.).
      He is what Chris Chase is in the Yahoo blogging world.

  • 0sConstruction

    and as far as the back-pedaling…he has many times in the past let sales to go far too long, because I believe he is in for the community…like the help a guy out bundle…I was probably one of the3 last to chip in on that…I am usually functionally late for life sometimes…:/

  • Shane Quigley

    Stop being so negative last time I read an article here you were reviewing my software and rather than just saying this is kinda of awesome which admittedly you used it as an example of canonical being lazy which they certainly weren’t . There’s no need to bash things in every post Illumination cost 50 quid even if he only made 3 sales a day he would beat the 4000 dollars a month marks easy.

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      Shane, I rather respect your work and am very excited by what you’ve accomplished. We are not in the business of slander here, but we hope you can appreciate that as journalists, we are entitled to deliver our opinions. Sometimes they are positive, and sometimes they are not.

      I would not consider this blog negative, but we are not afraid to point fingers if we feel that it is necessary. I never called Canonical lazy, I merely gave my perspective. It is in the style of this blog to report news and to give our personal insights.

      That said, we think that your work is great and we are thankful that you have been here more than once. I hope that you will continue to read our posts but understand that what is written is that of our opinion, of which you may agree or disagree.

      Thank you.

      • http://twitter.com/funnyfatman Funny Fat Man

        Journalists are entitled to facts only. Pundits and bloggers are entitled to opinions.

        • 0sConstruction

          This slander w/in the realm of “community supported software of Bloggers that bash someone trying to make $ with Free/Libre Open-source software”…This is exactly why I try to stay instructional && call free software–software created by a community, and for the community; with community supported software….

        • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

          We are all three. Commenters are entitled to point that out. :)

  • Nicholas Ganey

    Speaking of being ungrateful… I think i speak for everyone than i say “Bryan Lunduke should NOT release his software rather than wait a week.” It is a real shame when a man wants to feed his family while proving a point and doing good for the FOSS community, just makes me sick to my stomach.

    This article is a joke…

    • The NakedTruth

      I think you intentionally miss the point. There is nothing stopping Bryan from SELLING software under the GPL and earn from that. Instead he wants and fire and forget agreement where he offloads any support the the community (well it is now GPL so fix it yourselves) while simultaneously earning for not actively contributing anymore.

      Bryan has already shown in the whole brewhaha after RMS how his idea of free software only goes so far as using it to make a profit. Altruism nor morality come into it.

      While the tone of the blog might seem harsh also seems to be objectively true as well.

      • http://www.facebook.com/scott.wears.9 Scott Wears

        how do you figure that ….. he has already said that the contributions would pay him as the full time dev/maintainer of the software’s so Yeah the community can do what they like AND if its cool and works well then it may be added to the software’s for a new release

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.wears.9 Scott Wears

    “is anyone attempting to claim that Lunduke puts out bad software.” did you not do that with ” the renowned developer of multiple kitschy little apps that nobody is too concerned about,” and “is whether or not the software of Bryan Lunduke actually deserves to be supported at this level.” .

    “If he doubles the original timeframe just to meet his monetary goal,” from what I gather Bryan has no intention of doubling the deadline in any attempt to make sure the community get what it wants and in fact he has already said that he would only extent it by a small period if he was close enough to the goal that extending it would make any difference.

    Another point in fact is bryan has said that he is trying something others are unsure of even he him self isnt sure if it is going to work he will also be posting all of his findings both bad and good for all to see ……

    also http://www.digifail.com/misc/support.html in effect aren’t you doing the same thing here If you aren’t in the position to donate physical objects, you can also donate through PayPal. If you like my site enough to send even a dollar or two, thanks; it really means a lot.

    Pot calling the kettle black me thinks

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      The difference is you won’t find anything on my site not released under the GPL or BSD licenses, despite the fact that nobody is paying me a subscription fee.

      If anyone who uses my software decides to donate that’s their own choice, there’s absolutely no obligation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/scott.wears.9 Scott Wears

        there is also no obligation on lundukes site …. I’m sick of people saying they are forced to buy things … you wouldn’t buy a house if you didn’t like it so why cry on about buying software Bryan is proposing the same thing as you do on your site only he is trying to make it a little bit more predictable not just for him but for other indie dev’s in the future …. Its not like he has the most ground breaking software you cant live with out ( He makes good software though) where if he doesn’t get the sign ups he is just going to pull all his software and go live in a cave and the whole world will end ……. people are smart enough that If they don’t want to do it they wont …. Its more of an expression of interest at this stage …… if the interest is there then he will release his source codes if not everything stays the same and all those who have contributed will get a refund…. I honestly don’t see the issue….at least he has the balls to try and change and to try and work towards more open and free way of working. Some times you need to separate the man from the idea.

        • telchar16y

          I wonder why the author keeps referring to Linux Tycoon like it is the most important piece of software that Lunduke makes.

          • Joshua Hurst


          • georgezilla

            I’ve read the article TWICE before making this comment.

            The author is a dick. Almost as arrogant as Bryan. Not quite, but almost. And nowhere as imaginative as Bryan. Nor as entertaining.

            Bryan is a dick too. But he’s likeable. This author? First time here. Last time also.

          • 0sConstruction

            I read carefully any article, no matter how opinionated it is, or rageful it gets me. 2 assume anything that you do not know for fact shows ur ignorance sir…

          • Joshua Hurst

            osConstruction, Two things…

            1. If you are going to do your best to sound high and mighty and put yourself into the upper class, you may want to leave the texting shortcuts at home. It shows your ignorance.

            2. Your point that you just tried to make seems to be hitting you directly with this one. You wrongfully assumed that my comment was directed towards you. Whereas my comment was clearly directed towards telchar16y. Talk about slapping yourself in the face.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.wears.9 Scott Wears
  • hatsix

    Tom: You just sound pissed that Bryan has found a way to pull in a salary from his software. And it turns out that it took him an extra day to accomplish that goal… 8 days to hit his goal is certainly not a failure.

    Bryan could easily make 2-3 times more if he went back to working for a company… instead he’s trying to make a commitment to Open Source, and you’re being super-bitchy about it. Forgive the man if he doesn’t want to risk his family’s income without having some sort of monthly subscription in place.

    • telchar16y

      You make a very good point. If you read his full explanation or watch the LAS episode where he talks about it, he is clearly not doing this for selfish reasons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.wears.9 Scott Wears

    Well looks like he has done it …. whats you opinion now ?

    • Björn Persson

      Well, looks like he didn’t after all. What’s your opinion now? 😉

  • Iamoverrated

    I see where this article is coming from; I agree that he could release the source right here and now, still sell everything, and do just as well. I think the multiple low blows were uncalled for; say whatever you will about Lunduke, its your right, I found it in bad taste but to each his own.

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  • Eric49a

    wow, we have a Lunduke hater. aka Tom Nardi. Tom you talk about still being able to sell the software even if it is GPL. Do you see any GPL software being sold and the money from those sales directly supporting the developer of the software, because I don’t. There’s a reason for that, it doesn’t work

    • Duke

      Huh? There is plenty of GPL/BSD software that is for sale.

      Go browse through the Android Market, there are many apps that are up for sale at $.99 and have their source available. There have also been open source Linux applications that were supported this way, like Cedega. A compiled binary cost money, but anyone could grab it from the CVS and build it if they had the patience.

      Just like with this, people would rather pay a dollar or two than compile their own version, or have to track down a binary. It’s not that that hard a concept, if somebody wants to support you, they are going to do it whether they could get the software for free or not.

      But even if there wasn’t, it doesn’t matter. Lunduke is claiming he came up with this idea because nobody else was doing it and he wanted to see if it was possible. So even if were true that nobody was selling GPL software, that shouldn’t have stopped him.

    • hsoft

      Mine. My software is BSD (and one GPL) and I sell it. It makes roughly 5000$ per month.

      Bryan makes it sound like he’s the first to ever attempt this kind of venture. Well, he’s wrong and he moderates comments on his blog pointing to previous attempts.

    • reecedunn

      I am selling my eSpeak for Android port [http://reecedunn.co.uk/espeak-for-android] on Google Play which funds my development time. I am also working on other projects.

      There are other projects as well such as Battle for Wesnoth that are being sold on Google Play.

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  • hsoft

    Whatever we think about think about this whole affair (I personally thought it was an interesting initiative, even if a bit misguided at some places), what I find disquieting about Bryan is that he has just moderated a comment I’ve made on his blog. Really, nothing offensive. I was just pointing out a flaw in his open sourcing plan. And boom, moderated.

    That’s a symptom of someone not being honest, and that’s disquieting.

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      He has deleted my comments as well.

      • Bill

        I’ve had several posts get deleted from lundukes blog and from LAS whenever I disagreed with him. Flattery however will remian forever available. Piss-ant tactics. But if you followed the whole nastiness surrounding lunduke’s character assassination of stallman and the gpl you’d hardly be surprised at his utter lack of integrity.

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  • madjr

    Well this was a total abomination.

    I don’t think after this am a big fan of Bryan anymore.

    he even left the linux action show.

    Indeed he pulled a big one…

    am not up for any one of his future stunts.

  • Try Stanford

    Richard Stallman is a communist who was subsidized by MIT for decades and his views about software commerce are interesting only to the children of the everyone-gets-a-prize generation who pose their own great burden on our society.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

    You won’t debate because you cannot debate.

    You’re a fool and a coward.