Dynamics of Open Source Contributors, The

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


Josh Lerner, Parag Pathak and Jean Tirole


American Economic Review, Vol. 96, No. 2, pp. 114–118, 2006


This paper looks at why open source software programmers may work without pay.

Policy Relevance

The evidence shows that corporate employees who work on open source projects are most interested in those with commercial benefits. Policy makers should not assume that open source actors ought to be treated differently from other commercial ventures.

Main Points

  • Open source software lets users change the code to suit their own needs; open source  code under the General Public License (GPL) must be distributed free.
  • Open source software is produced in part by unpaid hobbyists, and in part by corporate employees.
  • Participants benefit from contributing to open source projects by:
    • Enhancing their reputation for doing good work.
    • Building a project designed to meet individual needs, including ideological or ethical agendas.
    • Commercial, if the project is a potential start-up looking for capital.
  • Evidence shows that corporate contributions are greater with large and growing projects, those with more commercial potential. Licenses with the most limited commercial potential, such as the GPL, are less attractive to corporations.

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