Dynamics of Open Source Contributors, The

Article Source: American Economic Review, Vol. 96, No. 2, pp. 114–118, 2006
Publication Date:
Time to Read: 1 minute read
Written By:

 Parag Pathak

Parag Pathak



This paper looks at why open source software programmers may work without pay.


Policy Relevance:

The evidence shows that corporate employees who work on open source projects are most interested in those with commercial benefits. Policy makers should not assume that open source actors ought to be treated differently from other commercial ventures.


Key Takeaways:
  • 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.
  • Open source software is produced in part by unpaid hobbyists, and in part by corporate employees.
  • Participants benefit from contributing to open source projects by:
    • Enhancing their reputation for doing good work.
    • Building a project designed to meet individual needs, including ideological or ethical agendas.
    • Commercial, if the project is a potential start-up looking for capital.
  • Evidence shows that corporate contributions are greater with large and growing projects, those with more commercial potential. Licenses with the most limited commercial potential, such as the GPL, are less attractive to corporations.



Jean Tirole

About Jean Tirole

Jean Tirole is Honorary Chairman of the Jean-Jacques Laffont - Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) Foundation, Scientific Director of TSE-Partnership, and Honorary Chairman, Executive Committee, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST). He is also affiliated with MIT, where he holds a visiting position, and the Institut de France. Professor Tirole’s research covers industrial organization, regulation, finance, macroeconomics and banking, and psychology-based economics.

Josh Lerner

About Josh Lerner

Josh Lerner is the Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking at Harvard Business School and head of the Entrepreneurial Management unit. He graduated from Yale College with a Special Divisional Major which combined physics with the history of technology. He worked for several years on issues concerning technological innovation and public policy, at the Brookings Institution, for a public-private task force in Chicago, and on Capitol Hill. He then earned a Ph.D. from Harvard's Economics Department.