In conjunction with the rising importance of copyright and IPR reform on the international political agenda, the Open Source Movement has been identified as a means of fostering innovation in products and services through marshalling successive and iterative layers of creative contribution and collaboration as an alternative to more proprietary creative models. This approach has underpinned the creation of a broad range of digital products including open source web browsers (Mozilla Firefox), web publishing platforms (Wordpress), mobile operating systems (Linux-based Android is the world’s most popular smartphone operating system - ComScore Report 2012) as well as programming languages (PERL, PHP) and server software (e.g. Apache – which hosts 55% of all active global websites) which have played a key role in the delivery and accessibility of modern web content. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia which is based on the open source model is currently the sixth most popular website (Alexa site ranking) in the world. A 2012 comparative study (see page 5) assessing the accuracy and quality of its entries compared to other popular online encyclopaedias found that Wikipedia performed well against the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
However, it is worth noting that while open source approaches may have been initially driven by the aspiration to escape the limitations of proprietary systems – they effectively operate on the basis of existing copyright law, but in a context where the author or authors of the work voluntarily waive the right to restrict the reproduction, modification or commercial use of that work. Most open source licenses therefore still preserve certain restrictions such as a requirement to attribute the original authors or requiring modified or derived versions of the software to carry a different name or version number to the original software in order to preserve the integrity of the author’s source code (Opensource.org). Where those restrictions exist, the only current legal basis for enforcement remains traditional copyright. As the US Department of Defense’s Frequently Asked Questions on open source software webpage testifies, open source software licenses are legally enforceable (underpinned by existing copyright law) as demonstrated by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s ruling on Jacobsen v. Katzer .
Wikipedia itself uses the Creative Commons open licensing system which provides a simplified menu of standardised licensing options for copyright holders to waive certain rights and share their work in the public domain retaining certain rights and specifying certain conditions. In 2009 there were an estimated 350 million works licensed by the Creative Commons system (Creative Commons – history). Nevertheless, the Creative Commons guidance page takes care to emphasise that “Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.” (Creative Commons – about).