This chapter examines the development of open source computer software with specific reference to the political economy of copyleft and the legalities associated with the General Public License (GPL). It will be seen that within the context of computer software development the notion of copyleft provides an important contrast to more traditional uses of copyright. This contrast symbolizes political, economic, and social struggles which are contextualized within this chapter. As the GPL is an important legal embodiment of copyleft, its legalities are preliminarily explored so as to determine its future potential. While there is some scope to further refine the legal strength of the GPL, it will be seen that it remains a strong and subversive legal instrument which will continue to underlie open source initiatives in the years to come.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Open Source: Refers to practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s sources.
Tragedy of the Anticommons: Where too many owners hold rights of exclusion, the resource is prone to under use.
Copyleft: A type of intellectual property license which uses copyright law to remove restrictions on the distribution of copies and modified versions of a work for others and which also requires the same freedoms be preserved in modified versions.
Code: A set of instructions designed to cause a computer to perform a particular function or to produce a particular result.
Tragedy of the Commons: When too many people have a privilege to use a resource and no one user has a legal right to exclude any other user the result is over consumption and depletion of the resource.
Anarchism: Absence of government.