A Developers Bill of Rights: What Open Source Developers Want in a Software License
AbstractIn this paper, we study open source developers' perspectives on the nature and structure of software licenses as well as the processes through which these licenses are designed. Recent history has shown that software licensing approaches are critical to the dynamics of the software industry and the open source ecosystem, and thus of interest to the many policy makers and practitioners that follow this part of the global economy. The study is timely, since it informs the debate on the revision of the GPL license, one of the most popular licenses in use. This revision has the potential to shape the software industry for many years to come; hence it is important that the governance process for this revision reflect the needs of the broader software community. Our study employed structured interviews to capture data on open source developers' opinions about software licenses. We focused on how license choices impact the relationship that exists between open source and proprietary software. Our findings reveal that developers are primarily interested in flexibility and choice when considering a licensing approach. Most developers we interviewed used open source licenses to tap into the open source development approach. They chose this option for flexibility in developing a great product, without necessarily espousing any particular philosophy about how the software should be distributed. Developers also generally valued flexibility in the choice of business model for distributing software. The actions of the Free Software Foundation, which is revising the GPL, appear not to reflect the opinions of the broader community, but the agenda of a small minority that may represent as little as 10% of the open source developer community. Sharing data on the needs and perceived rights of developers, both open source and proprietary, will help the software community, industry experts and policymakers to champion a more flexible and responsive approach to sharing and developing software. Policy makers should work to preserve what has made the software ecosystem successful: innovation, community input and involvement, and developer freedom of choice.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Regulation2point0 in its series Working paper with number 447.
Date of creation: May 2007
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Web page: http://regulation2point0.org/
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