Licensing Schemes in the Production and Distribution of Open Source Software: An Empirical Investigation
Contrary to what most people assume, Open Source doesn't just mean access to the source code. A software is considered Open Source if and only if its distribution terms [i.e. the license] comply with the set of criteria defined by the Open Source Definition (OSD). That is, to say that a code is Open Source is to say that it is subject to a member of a particular category of licenses (McGowan, 2000). As many others in the Open Source field, the research on Open Source licenses suffers from lack of empirical data. Although in the literature there are empirical studies that explore the relationships between license choice and project characteristics (Lerner and Tirole, 2002a), at present we are not aware of surveys that collect data on licensors, that is on firms producing and distributing software on an Open Source basis. This study addresses his shortcoming. We examine the license choice of the firms that supply Open Source products and services and relate it to their structural characteristics, business models and attitudes towards the movement and its community. Between September 2002 and March 2003 we conducted a survey on Italian firms that do business with Open Source software. We asked them to indicate the Open Source licenses with which they work, for the distribution of their software as well as the production process. We made reference to the distinction between copyleft and non-copyleft distribution schemes. Using these data, this paper aims at testing several theoretical hypotheses advanced by the literature on Open Source licenses. In order to make the discussion more lively, for each issue we present the hypothesis and our findings in sequence.