Knowledge as a commons
I’m reading this book at the moment:
It’s a few years old, but as you can tell from all the stickies I’ve found it a really useful introduction to commons theory as a way of thinking about knowledge resources. Working in a development studies library, I’m already familiar with natural resource commons, but one fundamental difference is that knowledge commons are non-subtractive or non-rivalrous, ie. one person’s use does not reduce the benefits available to someone else. In fact, the more people share knowledge, the greater the benefits. But although knowledge is non-subtractive, it is subject to other commons threats, such as enclosure. This is what we are seeing all around us in restrictive rights protections, legislative proposals such as RWA and SOPA, and the general commodification of scholarly research.
Like medieval times when enclosure of agricultural pasturelands occurred both piecemeal and by general legislative action, no single decision or act is causing today’s enclosure of the commons of the mind. Some of the enclosures of the knowledge commons have been rapid, others gradual; many brought on by digitization and electronic distribution; others brought on by economic exigencies. – Nancy Kranich, p.87.
This encroaching enclosure is what we as ‘commoners’ are fighting against when we fight for open access to publicly funded research, or for fair use of products and technology that we have paid for. Commons discourse steers a path between the market and the state, asserting a social ethic that is constantly threatened. This book shows that we’re part of an honourable tradition (yay) and I’ve found it full of useful concepts, examples and ideas for further reading.