Determinants of the Choice of Open Source Software License

December 2008 | Sen, Ravi

In this paper we examine how the motivations and attitudes of OSS developers affect their preference among the three common OSS license types – Strong-Copyleft, Weak-Copyleft, and Non-Copyleft. Despite the importance of the license type and developers to open source software (OSS) projects, there is little understanding in open source literature of the license choice from a developer’s perspective. The results from our empirical study of OSS developers reveal that the intrinsic motivation of challenge (problem-solving) is associated with the developers’ preference for licenses with moderate restrictions, while the extrinsic motivation of status (through peer-recognition) is associated with developers’ preference for licenses with least restrictions. We also find that when choosing OSS license, a developer’s attitude towards the software redistribution rights conflicts with their attitude towards preserving the social benefits of open source. A major implication of our findings is that OSS managers who want to attract a limited number of highly skilled programmers to their open source project should choose a restrictive OSS license. Similarly, managers of software projects for social programs could attract more developers by choosing a restrictive OSS license.



  • Chandrasekar Subramaniam
  • Matthew L. Nelson


Journal of Management Information Systems