Normative Principles for Evaluating Free and Proprietary Software

22 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2004  

Jonathan L. Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Abstract

The production of most mass-market software can be grouped roughly according to free and proprietary development models. These models differ greatly from one another, and their associated licenses tend to insist that new software inherit the characteristics of older software from which it may be derived. Thus the success of one model or another can become self-perpetuating, as older free software is incorporated into later free software and proprietary software is embedded within successive proprietary versions. The competition between the two models is fierce, and the battle between them is no longer simply confined to the market. Claims of improper use of proprietary code within the free GNU/Linux operating system have resulted in multi-billion dollar litigation. This article explains the ways in which free and proprietary software are at odds, and offers a framework by which to assess their value - a prerequisite to determining the extent to which the legal system should take more than a passing, mechanical interest in the doctrinal claims now being pressed against GNU/Linux specifically and free software generally.

Keywords: Free Software, Microsoft, GNU, Linux, Unix, Proprietary Copyright

JEL Classification: O31, O34, O38, O30

Suggested Citation

Zittrain, Jonathan L., Normative Principles for Evaluating Free and Proprietary Software. University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 1. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=529862

Jonathan Zittrain (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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