Microsoft has confirmed that it won’t be introducing a previously announced new policy that would effectively ban developers from selling open source software on the Windows app store.
Section 10.8.7 of its Microsoft Store Policies document, which was updated in mid-June and had been due to come into effect on Saturday (July 16), had said that developers must not:
… attempt to profit from open-source or other software that is otherwise generally available for free, nor be priced irrationally high relative to the features and functionality provided by your product.
Given the nature of open source software, it’s easy for any developer to repackage a project under a new application and offer it for anyone to access for free or charge a download fee. While it seemed as though the intent behind the new policy was to prevent developers from monetizing the hard work of the open source community, in its existing form, the wording essentially prevented even the core project maintainers and IP-owners themselves from selling their software.
With many in the open source community taking umbrage at the policy change, Microsoft said that it would be delaying enforcement so that it could clarify exactly what its intentions were.
As of yesterday, Microsoft has now removed any mention of open source software from the section in question, plus section 11.2 of the document now includes a link for developers and companies to report intellectual property infringements. A Microsoft spokesperson said:
On June 16, we shared changes to updates made to several policies aimed at protecting customers from misleading listing. In listening to the developer community, we have determined one of those updates could be perceived differently than intended.
Today, Microsoft Store has published an update to policy 10.8.7 and 11.2 in order to clarify the language to better reflect our intention. The policy will now go into effect starting today.
Over the past year, we have been on a journey to continue to open the Store to all developers and deliver better customer experiences. This policy update is a continuation of that work and meant to enable developer choice while helping improve customer experience.
There were conflicting perspectives on Microsoft’s proposed policy. Many developers were broadly in favor of preventing so-called “copycat” apps from monetizing open source software, meaning that all they really wanted Microsoft to do was tweak the wording of the new policy to specify that IP-owners could still charge for their software.
However, others in the community argued that existing trademark laws were sufficient to protect IP-owners and avoid the confusion caused by having multiple apps with the same name. On top of that, they suggested that the very nature of open source software is that it’s free of restrictions — anyone should be able to take a project and transform it into a monetizable application, so long as it meets the conditions set out in the license. So their issue was less about the wording of the new policy than it was about Microsoft positioning itself as gatekeeper to commercializing open source software.
Software Freedom Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization that provides support and legal services for open source projects, has responded to Microsoft’s U-turn, “congratulating” the company for changing their app store T&Cs to “again allow commercial distribution of free and open source software (FOSS).”
“Fundamentally, the proprietary and for-profit app store model creates centers of power that, even when implemented fairly, tend to curtail software freedom,” the organization wrote. “Through vendor-controlled app stores, large corporations are problematic gatekeepers to commercial FOSS.”
The main issue moving forward will be how easy it is for IP-owners to have their infringement submissions and takedown requests dealt with in a timely manner.