Knowledge commons

The term "knowledge commons" refers to information, data, and content that is collectively owned and managed by a community of users, particularly over the Internet. What distinguishes a knowledge commons from a commons of shared physical resources is that digital resources are non-subtractible; that is, multiple users can access the same digital resources with no effect on their quantity or quality.[1]

Conceptual background

The term 'commons' is derived from the medieval economic system the commons. The knowledge commons is a model for a number of domains, including Open Educational resources such as the MIT OpenCourseware, free digital media such as Wikipedia, Creative commons–licensed art, open-source research,[2] and open scientific collections such as the Public Library of Science or the Science Commons, Free Software and Open Design. According to research by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom,[1] the conceptual background of the knowledge commons encompasses two intellectual histories: first, a European tradition of battling the enclosure of the "intangible commons of the mind",[3] threatened by expanding intellectual property rights and privatization of knowledge. Second, a tradition rooted in the United States, which sees the knowledge commons as a shared space allowing for free speech and democratic practices, and which is in the tradition of the town commons movement and commons-based production of scholarly work, open science, open libraries, and collective action.[1]

The production of works in the knowledge commons is often driven by collective intelligence respectively the wisdom of crowds and is related to knowledge communism as it was defined by Robert K. Merton, according to whom scientists give up intellectual property rights in exchange for recognition and esteem.

Ferenc Gyuris argues, that it is important to distinguish "information" from "knowledge" in defining the term "knowledge commons". He argues that "knowledge as a shared resource" requires that both information must become accessible and potential recipients must become able and willing to internalize it as 'knowledge'. "Therefore, knowledge cannot become a shared resource without a complex set of institutions and practices that give the opportunity to potential recipients to gain the necessary abilities and willingness".[4]


Copyleft licenses are institutions which support a knowledge commons of executable software. Copyleft licenses grant licensees all necessary rights such as right to study, use, change and redistribute—under the condition that all future works building on the license are again kept in the commons. Popular applications of the 'copyleft' principle are the GNU Software Licenses (GPL, LGPL and GFDL by Free Software Foundation) and the share-alike licenses under creative commons.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hess, Charlotte; Ostrom, Elinor (2007). Understanding Knowledge as a Commons - From Theory to Practice (PDF). Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-262-08357-7.
  2. ^ Joshua M. Pearce, "Open Source Research in Sustainability", Sustainability: the Journal of Record, 5(4), pp. 238-243, 2012. DOI free and open access
  3. ^ Boyle, James (2003). "The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain". Law and Contemporary Problems. 66 (1–2): 33–74. Archived from the original on 2010-11-23.
  4. ^ Gyuris, Ferenc (2014). "Basic education in communist Hungary. A commons approach". International Journal of the Commons. 8 (2): 531–553. doi:10.18352/ijc.458.

External links

Common-pool resource

In economics, a common-pool resource (CPR) is a type of good consisting of a natural or human-made resource system (e.g. an irrigation system or fishing grounds), whose size or characteristics makes it costly, but not impossible, to exclude potential beneficiaries from obtaining benefits from its use. Unlike pure public goods, common pool resources face problems of congestion or overuse, because they are subtractable. A common-pool resource typically consists of a core resource (e.g. water or fish), which defines the stock variable, while providing a limited quantity of extractable fringe units, which defines the flow variable. While the core resource is to be protected or nurtured in order to allow for its continuous exploitation, the fringe units can be harvested or consumed.


The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values (social practice) employed for a governance mechanism.

Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates .

Commons-based peer production

Commons-based peer production (CBPP) is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler. It describes a new model of socioeconomic production in which large numbers of people work cooperatively (usually over the Internet). Commons-based projects generally have less rigid hierarchical structures than those under more traditional business models. Often—but not always—commons-based projects are designed without a need for financial compensation for contributors. For example, sharing of STL (file format) design files for objects freely on the internet enables anyone with a 3-D printer to digitally replicate (distributed manufacture) the object saving the prosumer significant money.The term is often used interchangeably with the term social production.

Digital commons (economics)

The digital commons are a form of commons involving the distribution and communal ownership of informational resources and technology. Resources are typically designed to be used by the community by which they are created. Examples of the digital commons include wikis, open-source software, and open-source licensing. The distinction between digital commons and other digital resources is that the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources.The digital commons provides the community with free and easy access to information. Typically, information created in the digital commons is designed to stay in the digital commons by using various forms of licensing, including the GNU General Public License and various Creative Commons licenses.

Digital ecosystem

A digital ecosystem is a distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with properties of self-organisation, scalability and sustainability inspired from natural ecosystems. Digital ecosystem models are informed by knowledge of natural ecosystems, especially for aspects related to competition and collaboration among diverse entities. The term is used in the computer industry, the entertainment industry, and the World Economic Forum.

Free Software Movement of India

Free Software Movement of India (FSMI) is a national coalition of various regional and sectoral free software movements operating in different parts of India. The formation of FSMI was announced in the valedictory function of the National Free Software Conference - 2010 held in Bangalore during 20–21 March 2010. FSMI is a pan Indian level initiative to propagate the ideology of free software and to popularize the usage of the free software. One of the declared aims of the movement is to take Free Software and its ideological implications to computer users “across the digital divide”, to under-privileged sections of society.Free Software movements in different states such as Swecha (in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Free Software Movement of Karnataka (FSMK), Democratic Alliance for Knowledge Freedom (DAKF) (Kerala), Free Software Foundation, Tamil Nadu (FSFTN) (Tamil Nadu) and FSMWB (West Bengal) are partnering with the coalition. Sectoral movements such as Knowledge Commons, Academics Initiative, OSGEO India and the National Consultative Committee of Computer Teachers (NCCCTA) joined the national coalition at the very initial stage itself.

FSMI differentiates itself from other organisations, forums or user groups in the free software domain by the method of movement building which is primarily grass root and mass movement.


HowlRound is a non-profit service organization based out of Emerson College’s Office of the Arts. Its aim is to support developing theatre practitioners and facilitating dialogue within not-for-profit theatre and performance arts field. Like Wikipedia, their platforms use commons-based peer production as their content methodology.

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a San Francisco–based nonprofit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge." It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and millions of public-domain books. In addition to its archiving function, the Archive is an activist organization, advocating for a free and open Internet.

The Internet Archive allows the public to upload and download digital material to its data cluster, but the bulk of its data is collected automatically by its web crawlers, which work to preserve as much of the public web as possible. Its web archive, the Wayback Machine, contains hundreds of billions of web captures. The Archive also oversees one of the world's largest book digitization projects.

Labour coalition

Labour was represented in the Northern Ireland peace process by a loose coalition of left wing and labour groups, including Militant Tendency (forerunners of the Irish Socialist Party), the Newtownabbey Labour Party and the British and Irish Communist Organisation. The coalition was formed to stand in the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum elections. It was listed in the enabling legislation simply as "Labour".The coalition gained only 6,425 votes (0.85% of the total), winning no seats, but as the tenth most successful grouping in the election, it was entitled to two "top-up" seats on the Forum. The seats were taken by the first two named on the Regional List of Candidates, Malachi Curran and Hugh Casey. Both were former Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) councillors.The coalition split shortly after the election. Mark Langhammer of the Newtownabbey Labour Party, originally the leader of the group, severed his connection with it, and Malachi Curran replaced him as nominating representative for Labour, notice being posted in the Belfast Gazette of 16 August 1996. Curran represented Labour in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens (born 21 March 1958) is a Belgian Peer-to-Peer theorist and an active writer, researcher and conference speaker on the subject of technology, culture and business innovation. Michel Bauwens is a theorist in the emerging field of P2P theory and director and founder of the P2P Foundation, a global organization of researchers working in collaboration in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property. He has authored a number of essays, including his seminal thesis The Political Economy of Peer Production.

Open-design movement

The open-design movement involves the development of physical products, machines and systems through use of publicly shared design information. This includes the making of both free and open-source software (FOSS) as well as open-source hardware. The process is generally facilitated by the Internet and often performed without monetary compensation. The goals and philosophy of the movement are identical to that of the open-source movement, but are implemented for the development of physical products rather than software. Open design is a form of co-creation, where the final product is designed by the users, rather than an external stakeholder such as a private company.

Open admissions

Open admissions, or open enrollment, is a type of unselective and noncompetitive college admissions process in the United States in which the only criterion for entrance is a high school diploma or a certificate of attendance or General Educational Development (GED) certificate.

Open collaboration

Open collaboration is "any system of innovation or production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants who interact to create a product (or service) of economic value, which they make available to contributors and noncontributors alike." It is prominently observed in open source software, but can also be found in many other instances, such as in Internet forums, mailing lists and online communities. Open collaboration is also thought to be the operating principle underlining a gamut of diverse ventures, including bitcoin, TEDx, and Wikipedia.Open collaboration is the principle underlying peer production, mass collaboration, and wikinomics. It was observed initially in open source software, but can also be found in many other instances, such as in Internet forums, mailing lists, Internet communities, and many instances of open content, such as creative commons. It also explains some instances of crowdsourcing, collaborative consumption, and open innovation.Riehle et al. define open collaboration as collaboration based on three principles of egalitarianism, meritocracy, and self-organization. Levine and Prietula define open collaboration as "any system of innovation or production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants who interact to create a product (or service) of economic value, which they make available to contributors and noncontributors alike." This definition captures multiple instances, all joined by similar principles. For example, all of the elements — goods of economic value, open access to contribute and consume, interaction and exchange, purposeful yet loosely coordinated work — are present in an open source software project, in Wikipedia, or in a user forum or community. They can also be present in a commercial website that is based on user-generated content. In all of these instances of open collaboration, anyone can contribute and anyone can freely partake in the fruits of sharing, which are produced by interacting participants who are loosely coordinated.

An annual conference dedicated to the research and practice of open collaboration is the International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (OpenSym, formerly WikiSym). As per its website, the group defines open collaboration as "collaboration that is egalitarian (everyone can join, no principled or artificial barriers to participation exist), meritocratic (decisions and status are merit-based rather than imposed) and self-organizing (processes adapt to people rather than people adapt to pre-defined processes)."

Open university

An open university is a university with an open-door academic policy, with minimal or no entry requirements. Open universities may employ specific teaching methods, such as open supported learning or distance education. However, not all open universities focus on distance education, nor do distance-education universities necessarily have open admission policies.

P2P Foundation

P2P Foundation: The Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives is an organization with the aim of studying the impact of peer to peer technology and thought on society. It was founded by Michel Bauwens, James Burke and Brice Le Blévennec.The P2P Foundation is a registered institute founded in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its local registered name is: Stichting Peer to Peer Alternatives, dossier nr: 34264847.

Peer production

Peer production (also known as mass collaboration) is a way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organizing communities of individuals. In such communities, the labor of a large number of people is coordinated towards a shared outcome.

Traditional knowledge

The terms traditional knowledge, indigenous knowledge and local knowledge generally refer to knowledge systems embedded in the cultural traditions of regional, indigenous, or local communities. Traditional knowledge includes types of knowledge about traditional technologies of subsistence (e.g. tools and techniques for hunting or agriculture), midwifery, ethnobotany and ecological knowledge, traditional medicine, celestial navigation, ethnoastronomy, climate, and others. These kinds of knowledge, crucial for subsistence and survival, are generally based on accumulations of empirical observation and on interaction with the environment.

In many cases, traditional knowledge has been orally passed for generations from person to person. Some forms of traditional knowledge find expression in stories, legends, folklore, rituals, songs, and laws. Other forms of traditional knowledge are expressed through other means.

Tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons is a term used in environmental science to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action. The concept originated in an essay written in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land (also known as a "common") in Great Britain and Ireland. The concept became widely known as the "tragedy of the commons" over a century later due to an article written by the American ecologist and philosopher Garrett Hardin in 1968. In this modern economic context, commons is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, roads and highways, or even an office refrigerator.

It has been argued that the very term "tragedy of the commons" is a misnomer since "the commons" referred to land resources with rights jointly owned by members of a community, and no individual outside the community had any access to the resource. However, the term is now used in social science and economics when describing a problem where all individuals have equal and open access to a resource. Hence, "tragedy of open access regimes" or simply "the open access problem" are more apt terms.The "tragedy of the commons" is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over global warming. It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation and sociology.

Although common resource systems have been known to collapse due to overuse (such as in over-fishing), many examples have existed and still do exist where members of a community with access to a common resource co-operate or regulate to exploit those resources prudently without collapse. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for demonstrating exactly this concept in her book Governing the Commons, which included examples of how local communities were able to do this without top-down regulations.


Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (ISBN 1591841380) is a book by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, first published in December 2006. It explores how some companies in the early 21st century have used mass collaboration and open-source technology, such as wikis, to be successful.

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