Open source software: Motivation and restrictive licensing Original Paper First Online: 06 July 2007 DOI:
Cite this article as: Fershtman, C. & Gandal, N. IEEP (2007) 4: 209. doi:10.1007/s10368-007-0086-4 Abstract
Open source software (OSS) is an economic paradox. Development of open source software is often done by unpaid volunteers and the “source code” is typically freely available. Surveys suggest that status, signaling, and intrinsic motivations play an important role in inducing developers to invest effort. Contribution to an OSS project is rewarded by adding one’s name to the list of contributors which is publicly observable. Such incentives imply that programmers may have little incentive to contribute beyond the threshold level required for being listed as a contributor. Using a unique data set we empirically examine this hypothesis. We find that the output per contributor in open source projects is much higher when licenses are less restrictive and more commercially oriented. These results indeed suggest a status, signaling, or intrinsic motivation for participation in OSS projects with restrictive licenses.
Keywords Open source software Intrinsic motivation Professional status Signaling Restrictive licenses References
Bonaccorsi A, Rossi C (2002) Licensing schemes in the production and distribution of open source software: an empirical investigation available at
Ghosh R, Glott R, Krieger B, Robles G (2002) Free/libre and open source software: survey and study. Part IV. Survey of developers. FLOSS Report, International Institute of Infonomics, University of Maastricht, The Netherlands (available at
Halloran T, Scherlis W (2002) High quality and open source software practices. Proceedings from the 2nd Workshop on Open Source Software Engineering, Orlando, FL (mimeo, available at
Hann I, Roberts J, Slaughter S (2002) Delayed returns to open source participation: an empirical analysis of the apache HTTP Server Project. Carnegie Mellon University mimeo
Harhoff D, Henkel J, von Hippel E (2003) Profiting from voluntary spillovers: how users benefit by freely revealing their innovations. Res Policy 32:1753–1769
Hars A, Ou S (2001) Working for free?—motivations for participating in open source projects. Int J Electron Commer 6:25–39
Hertel G, Niedner S, Herrmann S (2003) Motivation of software developers in open source projects: an internet-based survey of contributors to the Linux kernel. Res Policy 32:1159–1177
CrossRef Google Scholar
Johnson J (2002) Open source software: private provision of a public good. J Econ Manage Strategy 11:637–662
CrossRef Google Scholar
Johnson J (2005) Collaboration, peer review and open source software. Cornell University mimeo
Kuan J (2002) Open source software as lead user’s make or buy decision: a study of open and closed source quality. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research mimeo
Lakhani K, Wolf R (2005) Why hackers do what they do: understanding motivation and efforst in free open source projects, In: Feller/Open, Fitzgerland J, Hissam S, Lakhani K (eds) Perspectives on free and open source software. Cambridge, MIT
Leppämäki M, Mustonen M (2003) Spence revisited—signaling with externality: the case of open source programming. Discussion Paper 558, University of Helsinki
Lerner J, Tirole J (2002) Some simple economics of open source. J Ind Econ 52:197–234
Lerner J, Tirole J (2005) The scope of open source licensing. forthcoming, Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 21:20–56
Shah S (2002) A summary of ‘open source software as lead user’s make or buy decision: a study of open and closed source quality. TIIP Newsletter.
Stallman R (1999) The GNU operating system and the free software movement. In: Dibona C, Ockman S, M Stone (ed) Open sources: voices from the open source movement
O’Reilly, Sepastopol, CA.