Exit & Voice in Free & Open Source Software Licensing: Moderating the Rein over Software Users

TitleExit & Voice in Free & Open Source Software Licensing: Moderating the Rein over Software Users
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsVetter, GR

This article analyzes the interplay between exit and voice for user adoption of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), as these two are conceptualized in Albert O. Hirschman's book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States. Exit and voice cooperatively sustain FOSS through the institutional mechanism of the FOSS license. Four situations demonstrate this. First, even with attendant uncertainties in its novel legal landscape, users adopt FOSS to escape proprietary licensed software. This exit is tinged with indirect voice. Second, this indirect voice arises from collaborative projects to develop FOSS. The very same code and license that provides the exit carries the voice. Third, complementing exit by users are technologists who contribute, extracurricularly, to open source projects, signaling their affiliation with FOSS. Fourth, from its beginning, the FOSS movement has expressed its voice. Its norm entrepreneurs use rhetoric and persuasion to reinforce FOSS's disciplining effect on an entire industry. These four situations highlight exit and voice combinations for copyright based open source licensing and patent law. The FOSS copyright based licensing scheme helps channel FOSS into uses where exit and voice are concentrated and synergistically reinforce. The interplay with patent law generates voice because patent law, at least theoretically, inhibits exit to FOSS and thus pressurizes the voice mechanism in Hirschman's framework. Understanding FOSS based combinations of exit and voice in light of this framework helps participants and policy makers formulate legal, licensing and policy strategies to guide the movement and respond to its evolution.

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