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The Scope of Open Source Licensing


  • Josh Lerner
  • Jean Tirole


This paper is an initial exploration of the determinants of open source license choice. It first enumerates the various considerations that should figure into the licensor's choice of contractual terms, in particular highlighting how the decision is shaped not just by the preferences of the licensor itself, but also by that of the community of developers. The paper then presents an empirical analysis of the determinants of license choice using the Source Forge 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 those geared towards the Internet are less likely to have restrictive licenses. Finally, projects that are likely to be attractive to consumers such as games are more likely to have restrictive licenses. A more tentative conclusion based on a much smaller sample is that projects that involve software developed in a corporate setting are likely to have more restrictive licenses. These findings are broadly consistent with theoretical predictions.

Suggested Citation

  • Josh Lerner & Jean Tirole, 2002. "The Scope of Open Source Licensing," NBER Working Papers 9363, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9363
    Note: CF IO PR

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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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    More about this item

    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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