Brussels / 4 & 5 February 2023


Winners and Losers in FOSS

Open Source Has "Won" - Have We?

Free and Open Source Software not only permeates nearly all of our digital technology systems, but we see increasing amounts of institutions actively contributing to its creation and maintenance. From technology monoliths to universities to governments, the number of “open source developers” has increased, and with it, open source software. It is no secret that Open Source has “won,” according to many. However, despite the sheer scale of FOSS development today, has the form much of our FOSS infrastructure has taken benefited all in the ways that we expect?

In this talk, I will take participants on a journey through the history of labor in FOSS development to better understand the political economy of FOSS development and what it means for individual FOSS contributors. This talk will use economic analysis to bring up many inspiring steps forward we have taken and also raise many worrying questions about the software we are building.

The contents of this talk will be based on the 2021 research paper “The Evolution of Open Source: Winners and losers in volunteer production,” which can be found at the following DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/4CHFN. This paper discusses the material history of FOSS and provides an economic analysis of how labor is the primary means of control of FOSS rather than copyright. Therefore institutions that control significant amounts of labor through the hiring and coercion of workers can dictate the primary benefits of FOSS infrastructure in many of the same ways one could through utilizing copyright.


Photo of Michael Nolan Michael Nolan