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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Building a positive intellectual commons

Peter Drahos, A Defence of the Intellectual Commons, Consumer Policy Review, May/June 2006. Excerpt:

For present purposes, the ‘intellectual commons’ refers to information, where information is used as a generic term to mean things like verified knowledge (for example, the structure of the DNA molecule), data, interpretations of that data, techniques, information embodied in technology, the products of technology (for example, music) and many other discrete classes of information. I will argue that monopoly rights in the form of intellectual property rights are an especially bad idea for the intellectual commons. Amongst other things, information cannot be depleted through use....

Pharmaceutical, software and media companies argue for and obtain, usually by means of trade agreements, stronger and stronger forms of intellectual property that are backed by the coercive power of civil and criminal law....In essence, private monopolists are using intellectual property law to command our obedience over new arrangements for the intellectual commons....

The intellectual commons can be distinguished from the public domain. The latter draws its meaning from the laws of intellectual property, while the former is a political expression of community when it comes to social arrangements for use rights over information. Hardin’s tragedy of the commons does not apply to the intellectual commons. In fact, the intellectual common is subject to the law of repletion. It grows rather than depletes through use....A negative common in which monopolists gain the power of restriction over the commoners slows down the operation of the law of repletion and, more importantly, represents a net loss of freedom. Self-organized positive intellectual commons will become more prevalent as citizens conclude that governments, because they have been corrupted by the wealth of big business, will not deliver the institutions of knowledge that citizens want. Citizens will, through social licences, construct variants of the positive intellectual commons that maximize their use rights over the informational assets that matter to their ends in life, commons that will help to disperse the centralizing power of private monopoly over information.