Open source and the parasite syndrome

An open-source project is both a common good and a public good. An ideal dichotomy for the presence of parasites, who want to use the technology without participating in it or attract customers by contributing to the project. However, there are ways to overcome this syndrome.

The specificities of open source projects

Open source communities should encourage software free riding. Because software is a public good, a non-contributing user does not exclude others from using the software. Therefore, it is better to have someone who uses your open source project rather than your competitor’s software. Also, a software parasite makes it more likely that other people will use your open source project (through word of mouth or other). This type of user can, therefore, have positive network effects on a project.

Non-exclusivity and non-rivalry

You might think that open source projects are public goods. Anyone can use open source software (non-exclusive), and someone who uses an open-source project does not prevent someone else from using it (non-rivalry). However, through the prism of companies, these projects are also common goods. Anyone can use open source (non-exclusive) software. Still, when an end-user becomes a customer of company A, it is unlikely that he or she will become a customer of company B (rivalry).

An external agent required

Dozens of academics argue that a foreign agent is needed to solve the parasite problem. The most common approaches are privatization and centralization. The government takes care of a common good when it is centralized, as an external agent. During the privatization of a public good, one or more members of the group receive selective benefits or exclusive rights to that common good in exchange for its continued maintenance. In this case, one or more companies act as external service providers.

Individuals do not seek their common interest

Many researches and books were written on the governance of public and common goods. Many conclude that groups do not self-organize to maintain the common goods on which they depend.

It’s all about control

The “appropriator” who refers to those who use or withdraw from a resource, For example, fishermen, irrigators, farmers, etc. – or companies that try to turn open-source software users into paying customers. It means that the shared resource must be made exclusive (to a certain extent) to encourage members to manage it. As soon as there is an incentive, those who are lessees participate.