When and why developers adopt and change software licenses
Linares Vásquez M
Di Penta M
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Software licenses legally govern the way in which developers can use, modify, and redistribute a particular system. While previous studies either investigated licensing through mining software repositories or studied licensing through FOSS reuse, we aim at understanding the rationale behind developers' decisions for choosing or changing software licensing by surveying open source developers. In this paper, we analyze when developers consider licensing, the reasons why developers pick a license for their project, and the factors that influence licensing changes. Additionally, we explore the licensing-related problems that developers experienced and expectations they have for licensing support from forges (e.g., GitHub). Our investigation involves, on one hand, the analysis of the commit history of 16,221 Java open source projects to identify the commits where licenses were added or changed. On the other hand, it consisted of a survey—in which 138 developers informed their involvement in licensing-related decisions and 52 provided deeper insights about the rationale behind the actions that they had undertaken. The results indicate that developers adopt licenses early in the project's development and change licensing after some period of development (if at all). We also found that developers have inherent biases with respect to software licensing. Additionally, reuse—whether by a non-contributor or for commercial purposes—is a dominant reason why developers change licenses of their systems. Finally, we discuss potential areas of research that could ameliorate the difficulties that software developers are facing with regard to licensing issues of their software systems.