Lately, one of the questions that I find myself wrestling with is what’s considered respectful and acceptable for charging for support or accepting donations for open source plugins?

Or, more simply, what’s an ideal model for open source profit sharing when you’ve received contributions to open source plugins?

A Disclaimer (For The Paranoid!)

To be clear, this question is completely motivated by a hypothetical situation. Although all WordPress plugins that I’ve released are, by default, open source under the GPL, I’ve received zero code contributions to them (only language files for translations for which we’ve brokered deals).

Secondly, I have one plugin available on GitHub and though it has received a few pull requests, I’ve received no donations for this plugin since placing it on GitHub.

Donations For Their Work?

That said, here’s the question

If I develop and release an open source plugin, then several others contribute to it, and I personally receive donations for it, what’s the proper way to share that income since I’m no longer responsible for all of the work?

I’ve my own thoughts that I’d love to discuss in the comments, but for all intents and purposes let’s assume that all donations are relatively small.

By that, I mean that they range anywhere from $10 to $50.

The initial options, though viable, present inherent problems:.

  • Keep the donations for myself. Though this is morally subjective, this is simply greed.
  • Split the donations evenly with those that have contributed. How often do you split income? Is it just for the version to which they contributed? What if they just cleaned up some white space? What if they added a single screenshot?
  • Split the donations based on a percentage of the work others have contributed. This is the “paid by lines of code” problem. That is, just because someone wrote a lot of code doesn’t mean that someone who wrote fewer lines did less work.

Obviously, if the plugin, theme, or application grew to a certain size then you’d likely want to grow it into some type of small business or legal entity for managing residual income, tax purposes, distributions and/or payroll and all of that fun stuff.

But that scenario isn’t what I’m talking about.

So, as I mentioned early in the post, what’s considered acceptable and respectable for sharing income with others who have contributed to your work?