Academic journal article Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences

Open Standards and License Choice in Open Source Software

Academic journal article Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences

Open Standards and License Choice in Open Source Software

Article excerpt

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Technological standards are technical specifications that determine the compatibility or interoperability of different technologies. Open standards, as opposed to proprietary standards, are standards that are freely and publicly available for implementation and use. Open standards enable interoperability of software components so that different devices and applications can work together across the Internet. Open standards have stimulated innovations in the Internet technology and have led to the growth of new business areas such as e-Commerce, automation of data processing, and cloud services.

Many products and services of the Internet technology experience network effects. Network effects occur when the value of a product to an individual user increases with the number of the other users. The existence of network effects makes standards particularly important in markets for Internet technology. According to the Internet Society, a non-profit and professional organization that determines and publishes many open standards for the Internet (, accessed on November 5, 2015), a technology is more likely to become a standard if it is widely used. And a technology will gain more users after it is established as a standard. The additional benefits of becoming a standard include the capability to affect the direction of future standards development (Gamalielsson et al., 2015).

Open standards and open source software are closely related. The source code of open source software is free for users to access, modify, and redistribute. Open standards reduce the risk of lock-in among different open source technologies and enable collaborative development within open source communities. It is widely recognized that open source communities have contributed significantly to the establishment of key standards for the Internet (see e.g. Bresnahan & Yin, 2007; Friedrich, 2011).

Ghosh (2005) argues that owners of an interoperable technology can control the development of the standard through licensing conditions that discriminate or exclude certain groups of users. Owners of an open source software can choose to release the software under an open source license that is approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The open source licenses can be divided into two categories: restrictive and nonrestrictive. The restrictive license requires that modified versions of the open source code remain open and prohibits the mixing of open and proprietary code. That is, if a proprietary project incorporates code released under a restrictive license, then this project must also be distributed under the terms of the same license. This is called the "viral" nature of the restrictive license (Feller & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 19). In contrast, the nonrestrictive license may or may not require the modified versions of the open source code be open and allows the mixing of open and proprietary code. Code released under nonrestrictive licenses can be incorporated into other code without affecting the openness of the incorporating project (see, e.g., Lerner & Tirole, 2002). GPL (General Public License) is an example of restrictive license and LGPL (Less General Public License) is an example of nonrestrictive license.

In the existing literature there are studies that discuss the relationship between open standards and licensing terms of technology. Gamalielsson et al. (2015) argue that permissive licensing terms involving zero royalty of patents are crucial for increasing software interoperability. Ghosh (2005) analyzes the use of LGPL license in an open source word processing software, OpenOffice, to argue that open standards should be compatible with open source licenses to promote competition in the market. Lerner and Tirole (2005) suggest that standards might be an important concern to open source projects in the area of Internet.

There are empirical studies that investigate the relation between license type and the success of open source software. …

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