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The Economics of the Digital Society

Edited by Luc Soete and Bas ter Weel

This important book presents a unique body of research into the economics of the digital society. It questions how modern economies have been transformed as a result of digital goods and markets, and explores the policy implications and challenges of this revolution.
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Chapter 7: Free software developers: Who, how and why

Rishab A. Ghosh, Ru_diger Glott and Bernhard Krieger


* Rishab A. Ghosh, Rüdiger Glott, Bernhard Krieger and Gregorio Robles 7.1 INTRODUCTION A large part of the worldwide market for software is dominated by so-called proprietary software, which means that the buyer and user of a software product is not allowed and not able to read and change the source code of the program.1 Microsoft Office is surely the best-known example of proprietary software. Representatives of proprietary software companies argue that this limitation of the users’ opportunity to customize software according to individual needs and preferences is necessary because otherwise the property rights and liabilities of the software companies as well as growth prospects and job opportunities in the software industry as a whole would be jeopardized.2 In contrast to this viewpoint, developers of Free/Libre/Open Source Software3 (FLOSS) argue that the user should generally be entitled to read and change the source code. Well-known examples of this kind of software are the Linux operating system or the Apache web server. FLOSS developers distribute their products on the basis of licence agreements that require anyone who improves a certain software program to distribute the revised version further only by disclosing the source code again.4 The reasons for this standpoint have a practical and a political dimension. The practical one is that standardized software hardly meets the interests and needs of any individual user and that therefore each user should be allowed to adapt a software product to his or her personal needs. The political one is that software is...

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