Open-Source Software Poses Challenges for Legal and Public Policy

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


David S. Evans


Washington Legal Foundation Legal Backgrounder, Vol. 18, No. 4


This paper looks at whether governments should promote open source software.

Policy Relevance

Governments are likely to do more harm than good by intervening in the software market.

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.

  • The GPL could stifle innovation because it restricts downstream developers from selling their code.

  • The costs of government promotion of open source in Brazil, China and the U.S. are likely to exceed the benefits.
    • Benefits include increased competition for commercial software.
    • Costs include allowing protectionism and preventing the adoption of productivity-enhancing commercial software.

  • Governments should not intervene in the software market because markets are serving consumers well.

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