Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interesting Observation about Software Copyrights

© is the copyright symbolImage via Wikipedia
I noticed that Eric S. Raymond (ESR) had a great observation about the economics for software copyright and open source software that is driven by the high secondary costs of software maintenance:
If ESR’s The Economic Case Against the GPL is correct, then the implication is that copyright will come to a voluntary end.
I don’t think we can draw that implication. The argument I make in that essay is quite specific to software, which has economics very different from other kinds of information goods.

Suppose we grant what I think is true, which is that the efficiency gains from open source are more valuable than the positive externality capture from software copyright. Ultimately, that is because software maintainance and improvements has large downstream costs that make all kinds of interesting secondary markets.

It might still be the case that the positive externality capture from copyright on other kinds of copyable information goods is worth protecting because they do not have such secondary markets.
One reason that open source software has been successful is because the secondary markets for customization, integration, and maintenance are larger than the primary market for apps. This has fostered an industry of open source consultants that often move between industries (pharma to financial services, say), but hone their skills with the same open source toolset (Apache on Linux, for example).

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