Scope of Open Source Licensing, The

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


Josh Lerner and Jean Tirole


NBER Working Paper No. 9363; Harvard NOM Working Paper No. 02-42; Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Vol. 21, No. 1.


This paper reviews the different types of open source software licensing.

Policy Relevance

Developers' choice of open source licenses makes economic sense, given various identifiable factors. Policymakers should treat open source as an ordinary part of the software market.

Main Points

  • Open source software lets users change the code to suit their own needs: it is produced in part by unpaid hobbyists and in part by corporate employees.

  • Open source code under the General Public License (GPL) must be distributed free: this is considered “very restrictive.” Other licenses allow commercial redistribution as long as developers are credited: these are less restrictive.

  • Data shows that projects geared toward end-users or consumers have more restrictive licenses; some evidence shows that open source in a corporate setting will too.

  • Projects for developers, commercial operating systems, and Internet-related projects have less restrictive licenses.

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