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The Scope of Open Source Licensing


  • Josh Lerner
  • Jean Tirole


This article is an initial exploration of the determinants of open source license choice. It first highlights how the decision is shaped not just by the preferences of the licensor itself, but also by that of the community of developers. The article then presents an empirical analysis of the determinants of license choice using the SourceForge database, a compilation of nearly 40,000 open source projects. Projects geared toward end-users tend to have restrictive licenses, while those oriented toward developers are less likely to do so. Projects that are designed to run on commercial operating systems and whose primary language is English are less likely to have restrictive licenses. Projects that are likely to be attractive to consumers--such as games--and software developed in a corporate setting are more likely to have restrictive licenses. Projects with unrestricted licenses attract more contributors. These findings are broadly consistent with theoretical predictions. Copyright 2005, Oxford University Press.
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Suggested Citation

  • Josh Lerner & Jean Tirole, 2003. "The Scope of Open Source Licensing," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000140, David K. Levine.
  • Handle: RePEc:cla:levarc:506439000000000140

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lerner, Josh & Tirole, Jean, 2002. "Some Simple Economics of Open," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(2), pages 197-234, June.
    2. Gandal, Neil & Rockett, Katharine, 1995. "Licensing a sequence of innovations," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 101-107, January.
    3. Gallini, Nancy T, 1984. "Deterrence by Market Sharing: A Strategic Incentive for Licensing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(5), pages 931-941, December.
    4. Michael L. Katz & Carl Shapiro, 1986. "How to License Intangible Property," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 101(3), pages 567-589.
    5. Katharine E. Rockett, 1990. "Choosing the Competition and Patent Licensing," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 161-171, Spring.
    6. Nancy T. Gallini & Brian D. Wright, 1990. "Technology Transfer under Asymmetric Information," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 147-160, Spring.
    7. Andrea Shepard, 1987. "Licensing to Enhance Demand for New Technologies," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 18(3), pages 360-368, Autumn.
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    JEL classification:

    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • K3 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law


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