WOS 3 / Program / Panels / Free Infrastructures / The Future of the Digital Commons / The Future of the Digital Commons / abstr

The Future of the Digital Commons

Saturday, 12 June 2004, 20:00, Track 1

With the Internet nurturing the sharing spirit inherent in people, „commons" has taken on a new meaning. Free software proved spectacularily that the commons is a viable alternative to commodification. The term „Digital Commons" is widely used but only losely defined. Still, it has an obvious evocative power, and the potential to reconceptualize our knowledge environment and to unite those fighting for its freedom.

Charlotte Hess will give an overview of the historical and contemporary uses and meanings of the "commons," "common-pool resources," and "common property" as they apply to both natural and digital resources. The challenge she takes up is to build shared understandings and definitions in this rapidly emerging area of scholarship which will give rise to appropriate collective action. David Bollier will then explore the value of the commons paradigm in understanding the Internet, the electromagnetic spectrum, and GNU/Linux and related software communities. He will also suggest why such diverse realms as biotechnology, academic science, environmental activism and indigenous peoples movements are also embracing a vision of the commons, and what these fledgling movements share with efforts to protect the digital commons.

It was the environmental movement‘s growth from isolated initiatives to a powerful global force that inspired James Boyle in his seminal article „A Politics of Intellectual Property: Environmentalism For the Net?" (1997) to ask what it takes to unite a similar movement for a rich, sustainable, open and free cultural and informational environment.

The closing discussion will take up Boyle‘s challenge. We will try to grasp more clearly what the common themes of freedom, openness, community, and collaboration are that run through the wide range of presentations at WOS 3. We will ask for persuasive concepts that can crystallize shared understanding and common interests. What analytical tools can help comprehend the dynamics of the manyfold digital knowledge commons? What governance structures are best suited for sustaining, jointly managing, defending, and further developing the Digital Commons? How can activism and politics help bring about a broad coalition, a united movement for informational freedom? „It would be a shame for the fundamental property regime of the information economy to be constructed behind our backs." (Boyle)

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