'Infectious' Open Source Software: Spreading Incentives or Promoting Resistance?

111 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2005

See all articles by Greg R. Vetter

Greg R. Vetter

University of Houston - Law Center


Some free or open source software infects other software with its licensing terms. Popularly, this is called a viral license, but the software is not a computer virus. Free or open source software is a copyright based licensing system. It typically allows modification and distribution on conditions such as source code availability, royalty free use and other requirements. Some licenses require distribution of modifications under the same terms. A license is infectious when it has a strong scope for the modifications provision. The scope arises from a broad conception of software derivative works. A strong infectious ambit would apply itself to modified software, and to software intermixed or coupled with non open source software. Popular open source software, including the GNU/Linux operating system, uses a license with this feature. This article assesses the efficacy of broad infectious license terms to determine their incentive effects for open source and proprietary software. The analysis doubts beneficial effects. Rather, on balance, such terms may produce incentives detrimental to interoperability and coexistence between open and proprietary code. As a result, open source licensing should precisely define infectious terms in order to support open source development without countervailing effects and misaligned incentives.

Keywords: software, code, foss, f/oss, open source, software development, oss, moral right, right of integrity, collaboration, programming, linux, GNU/Linux, GPL, general public license, OSD, open code, apache, SCO, viral code

JEL Classification: D29, K29, L86, Z13

Suggested Citation

Vetter, Greg R., 'Infectious' Open Source Software: Spreading Incentives or Promoting Resistance?. Rutgers Law Journal, 2004, U of Houston Law Center No. 2004-A-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=585922

Greg R. Vetter (Contact Author)

University of Houston - Law Center ( email )

100 Law Center
Suite 201F TU2
Houston, TX 77204-6054
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uh.edu/faculty/gvetter/

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