Libre Software

Bernard Lang, INRIA

Open source or "libre" software is often seen as an economic paradox. However it is only a replay of a development paradigm which is very familiar to the research community. The traditions of academic freedom, of collaboration and of peer review, which are the foundations of our successful quest for knowledge are also the fundamental reasons for the success of free software. In a world where boundaries are now between corporate economic powers much more than between countries, a liberal view of knowledge economics shows that the free trade of ideas, the free circulation of intangible resources, is generally more effective for technological progress - the economic growth of intangibles - than the protectionist policies that these economic powers wish to enforce. The already available experience shows that the development of libre software can have a positive effect on the economics of new technologies, and particularly on preserving free competition in technologies that naturally tend to monopolies. New business models are emerging, and major traditional actors are discovering their own incentives to promote libre software. In this context, one may wonder whether it would not be wise, in the words of the recent UNDP Human Development Report, "to stop and question the relentless march of intellectual property rights" which, among other dangers, may jeopardize the development of libre software.