Government Preferences for Promoting Open-Source Software: A Solution in Search of a Problem

Interoperability, Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


David S. Evans and Bernard Reddy


Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2002


This paper looks at whether governments should support open source software.

Policy Relevance

Governments are unlikely to do any good by becoming involved in software markets. These markets are working well and give consumers many choices.

Main Points

  • Open source software lets users change the code to suit their own needs; open source code under the General Public License (GPL) must be distributed free of charge.

  • Traditional “proprietary” software, like Microsoft Windows, is licensed to users for a fee.

  • Government subsidies for open source might be justified if there is a reason the market is not working (“market failure”).

  • Evidence shows that the software industry is working well:
    • Prices are dropping as products improve.
    • Consumers have many choices and often switch.
    • The market is not concentrated; the few dominant firms help consumers by offering networks that are more valuable to users when many users join.

  • Compared to “proprietary” software, open source software...
    • Is less focused on consumer needs and testing.
    • Mostly imitates proprietary successes.

  • Governments lack expertise in software that would let them help consumers by becoming involved.

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