game theory, competition and cooperation: the GNU GPL model?

I’ve just read a draft paper from a redhat company person about economical justification of the GNU GPL model based on game theory concepts and the synergies between cooperation and competition.

A Beautiful Mind Meets Free Software: Game Theory, Competition and Cooperation by Alexandre Oliva.


Russel Crowe, playing John Nash in Ron Howards’ motion picture “A Beautiful Mind”, claims that Adam Smith’s theory that “in competition, individual ambition serves the common good” is incomplete, and that “the best result will come from everybody in the group doing what’s best for himself, and the group”. Adam Smith’s motto synthe- sizes pretty well what happens in the competition-driven proprietary software development market, whereas John Nash’s adds the cooperation that is so common even among competitors in Free Software markets. Every commercial Free Software developer tries to obtain its edge by developing better software, thus contributing to the software pool that even its competitors will be able to build upon, i.e., every Free Software developer does what’s best for himself, and the group, so the best outcome is achieved. The paper shows how the GNU GPL licensing model can be economically favourable to developers over proprietary and even BSD-like licenses.

This draft paper reviews briefly John Nash contributions to Game Theory, especially the nash equilibrium concept. Then it introduces some basic concepts on Game Theory such as prisoner’s dilemma and the tragedy of the commons. There is a relationship of these Game Theory concepts with those of software development and licensing models. Using that relationship the author tries to show that development under the GNU GPL can be more favourable than proprietary or BSD-like licenses.

I’ve been surprised to read that the credible commitment from commoners to avoid overuse in tragedy of the commons case has real world examples like the Kyoto Protocol as a self-imposed commitment.

The conclusions of the author are that choosing the GNU GPL can be the best choice not only for software users, but also for software developers and vendors, enabling them to share development costs and to achieve a better overall economic efficiency while still being fairly paid for their services

It is an interesting debate the trade-off between cooperation and competition, is it better to be selfish or cooperative?


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