Growing the Global Information Commons

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Prepared for the Association for Progressive Communications by Andrew Garton.

Draft v 4.2

The commons is a new way to express a very old idea - that some forms of wealth belong to all of us, and that these community resources must be actively protected and managed for the good of all. The commons are the things that we inherit and create jointly, and that will (hopefully) last for generations to come.

The commons consists of gifts of nature such as air, water, the oceans, wildlife and wilderness, and shared assets like the Internet, the airwaves used for broadcasting, and public lands. The commons also includes our shared social creations: libraries, parks, public spaces as well as scientific research, creative works and public knowledge that have accumulated over centuries. David Bollier<ref>D. Bollier, (Accessed August 2008)</ref>



Growing the Global Information Commons is a scoping paper promoting understanding of the importance of an information and knowledge commons and work towards further casino nurturing and expansion of it as a strategic priority for the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). It is not a paper about open licenses, e.g. Creative Commons.

This scoping paper describes the contribution the APC has made to the global information commons and how its ongoing engagement, within the broader program towards a commons-based society, how this relates to APC's overall mission, concerns and issues for developing countries and civil society, policy trends and spaces, key actors, and an overview of current advocacy and campaigns, resource requirements and where relevant, gender concerns.


This scoping paper is a synthesis of an extensive document review, interviews, correspondence and hands-on experience in commons related projects and initiatives. It should be understood that much has been written about the commons and never more so than the past decade. As such, this paper provides a summary of key issues and contexts relevant to the mission of the APC and includes references, citations and quotes in an attempt to minimise repetition and more importantly, build on the work of others.


Much has been written about the global and information commons in recent years. This paper is not meant to provide any fresh perspectives, but rather, reference and cite materials applicable to the scope of this document.

This scoping paper is a synthesis of current research and reference tool for APC and other interested parties.


A questionnaire was prepared for circulation amongst the APC membership, and participants to the fourth global iSummit 2008. The questionnaire would identify how the commons is generally perceived and understood, known issues and specific commons concerns within developing countries.

  • What is meant by the term the information commons and is this the same as the knowledge commons? Or, what does the term information commons mean to you?
  • What issues are generally understood to be included in the information commons (e.g. copyright, freedom of information, open access, etc.)? Or, what issues do you understand to be included in the information commons?
  • What are the specific concerns of developing countries in relation to the information/knowledge commons? Or, is there a connection between development, developing countries and the commons? if so, what?


The following participants to iSummit 2008 were interviewed for this paper and the proposed micro-documentary, Nailing The Commons.

Interviews were conducted in English. Select the participant name for a full transcript of their interview.

The commons defined

In attempt to define the commons specific to the needs of this paper and the APC community at large, it became apparent that no single definition is possible. This is not to say that it cannot be defined, it points to the need for a meta-definition, that which reflects the many different ways communities will create commons spaces and resources.<ref>D. Bollier, Review of Growing the Global Information Commons, 5 December 2008.</ref>

Generally speaking, a commons arises whenever a given community decides that it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with a special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability. It is, as one commons advocate put it, a social form that has long lived in the shadows of our market culture, but which is now on the rise.<ref>D. Bollier, RENEWAL, "a journal of social democracy," vol. 15, no. 4, 2007</ref>

As such, for the purpose of this paper and the clarifications that follow, the commons is referred to as a social form of managing and creating a resource, or rather, commons-based solutions towards commons-based societies.

Charlotte Hess defines these as the new commons, the new referring to "institutional arrangements created to manage and sustain some kind of shared resource. Whatever the type of resource, the new is the new group of people and corresponding rules created in order to preserve/sustain that resource."<ref>C. Hess, E. Ostrom, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons, MIT Press, December 2006, ISBN-10: 0-262-08357-4, ISBN-13: 978-0-262-08357-7</ref>

The resource this scoping paper refers to is information.

Recommended reading:

The (global) commons

The global commons is too, at its heart, a system, or many systems and resources such as air or water, shared by any number of living beings. This was, as Richard Bocking describes, at a time when nobody owned anything, suggesting too that perhaps everyone owned everything, that the world, the entire planet and everything on it was a gigantic commons.<ref name="bocking">R. Bocking, Reclaiming the Commons, 27 Apri8l 2003</ref> Bocking goes on to eloquently describe the gradual and rapid consumption of the commons, reducing for the benefit of a few, an ever diminishing commons for the many:

But as human populations grew and spread around the world, the "commons" were enclosed, piece by piece, whether by national or tribal borders agreed upon or enforced by arms, by property lines described in title deeds, by leases granted by governments, by rights claimed, bought, seized or granted to individuals and groups. The "commons," in its many forms, was reduced to fragments, or taken over entirely by others. It’s a process that continues today at an even faster pace, and its consequences touch each of us.<ref name="bocking" />

James Boyle describes this as the first enclosure movement, the enclosure of physical space. Additionally, Boyle argues that we are in the midst of a second enclosure movement, "the enclosure of the intangible commons of the mind"<ref>J. Boyle, The Public Domain, Yale University Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-300-13740-8</ref> as evidenced, for example, by strict and expansive intellectual property regimes.

A commons-based society seeks to mitigate such enclosures, to both grow rather than inhibit the information and knowledge commons, and to create the means by which to collectively manage all essential resources for the benefit of the many.

Recommended reading:

The information commons

Wikipedia refers to the Information Commons as ..."our shared knowledge-base and the processes that facilitate or hinder its use."<ref>Wikipedia Information commons</ref>

The information commons is native to all cultures. How it is archived, accessed and made relevant varies considerably. Of increasing value, for instance, is the rapidly diminishing information and knowledge commons stored in the oral histories of all cultures. Wade Davies argues that "Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind."<ref>W. Davis, The worldwide web of belief and ritual, video,, June 10, 2008</ref> There is no single meta-codex to record and transmit this information in ways that can nurture the ongoing growth of a culture other by oral traditions themselves. This will be a challenge for the information commons. A single generation is all it takes for an entire cultures oral traditions to be lost forever. Their arts and sacred practices, their knowledge of the natural environment, food and medicines may never be retrieved.<ref>A. Garton, NOTHINGKNOWN - An audio / visual installation, October 2008</ref>

In the cultures that were to record and archive their knowledge, the information commons were the sole dominion of libraries, educational and cultural institutions to sustain. Though still essential and entirely relevant, these record keeping institutions require vast natural resources to sustain. The online, or digital commons, though requiring natural resources to keep it powered for instance, is a source of limitless abundance.<ref>D. Bollier, Commoners as an Emerging Political Force, 17 August 2008</ref>

The vast stores of open source software, open licensing tools, social networking communities and the internet it self are new additions to the (information) commons. They are literally, as Lawrence Lessig describes, a commons being defined into existence.<ref>L. Lessig, Code and the Commons], 9 February 1999</ref>

More books than can ever be written by all who have lived and the many more to come can be stored within the online information commons. Moreover, a greater diversity of information resources, adapted to the idiosyncratic needs of individual communities may be developed, refined, updated and made accessible and for-ever relevant to them.

Recommended reading:

The knowledge commons

On the Commons asks whether we will "have a culture that is authentic, participatory and diverse - or a commercial monoculture based on concentrated media companies selling proprietary product?"<ref>Opening paragraph to Knowledge Commons,</ref>

For knowledge to be of use, it must not only be accessible and in a form that can be digested by those who require it, it needs to be free of property rights restrictions, it must be shared, it must grow. Simply having access to information is not a pre-requisite to knowledge. This requires learning and wisdom, parts of a process that cannot exist in the homogeneous societies perpetuated by private ownership.

iSummit 2008 participant, Mimi Ito, argues that "...all knowledge and culture and information is socially and culturally embedded, that we need to have contexts that are grounded in practices, our understandings (and) our shared social contracts in order for a common culture (and) common sets of knowledge to be properly circulated and mobilised."

As successful biomass sustains itself through diversity, so too does culture through access to knowledge. If, like the forests of Sarawak deprived of its biomass where nothing other than palm oil can grow, so too will humanity succumb to the perils of information without meaning, without wisdom.

The information commons can be considered as the source of knowledge, either stored within or harnessed of it. The knowledge commons is the sum outcome of efforts to build information commons', plural.

If we are to continue the work of building the global information commons, we need also stimulate in all facets of our work, from every APC program to its management systems, throughout the membership and stakeholders a fundamental change in our perception of who owns what to fully appreciate and value the knowledge we must nurture and protect for all.

Recommended reading:

  • L. Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Penguin Press, October 16, 2008, ISBN-10: 1594201722
  • E. Hemmungs Wirtén, Terms of Use: Negotiating the Jungle of the Intellectual Commons, University of Toronto Press, September 27, 2008, ISBN - 10:0802093787
  • M. Heller, The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives, Basic Books, July 7, 2008, ISBN-10: 0465029167
  • W. Davis, Keepers of the World, National Geographic Magazine, October, 2004
  • W. Davis, Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures, National Geographic, February 1, 2002, ISBN-10: 0792264746

Commons issues

Commons issues require commons-based solutions.

We are, by continuing to build, nurture and sustain an information commons, creating a commons based society. At the heart of any commons are the social relationships that reflect the collective management and development of our resources. Central to this is our inextricable link to nature, to every plant, every animal - the very stuff of stars.

It is not possible to address the issues that restrict the value of the commons from a policy and political level alone. Bollier argues for a "new world-view and perspective that attempts to shift the attention frame from a neoliberal market world-view to social relationships and nature. The commons points to a different sort of metaphysics and epistemology. Situated local knowledge and community values are honoured, and not regarded as mere impediments to the unified global grid that market culture seeks to impose."

It is from this perspective, towards a commons-based society, that issues thwarting the growth of the global information commons can be further, and more successfully addressed.

The commons issues of import today are not so different to those APC's constituency sought to address in its founding years. APC members, partners and associates, both prior to and since 1991 have sought to provide access to and defend a global commons for the provision of information that was impossible to source at the time, coordinate and mobilise advocacy campaigns locally, regionally and nationally and to improve the understanding of minorities, from the remote indigenous to the urban poor.

For some the commons as a political and cultural response to market and political enclosures is new. For many in the APC this is common ground. The language of the information society has changed. As APC steps back from connectivity and moves forward to defend what has been created, the language of the commons is not only inspiring an expansion of a movement of openness, it assists in identifying that which seeks to, for instance, disperse the indigenous from their home lands, to further bury the poor from the public eye and to restrict freedoms of expression and movement.

Such cause and effect may yet continue for millennium to come, but the scale of which the commons is plundered and paralysed, must be significantly minimised. Doing nothing is not an option.

Other than Media Piracy, which could slot in under IP,
issues specific to APC can be added to those listed below.
Accessible web sites (which I have a problem with regarding
could be slated under Open access to knowledge for example.
ag 00:47, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
 From Natasha, suggesting we add the following to each of the issues below:
 - civil society perspective on the issues above
 - specific developing country agenda/interests
 - concrete examples of how APC or the global community responds to these challenges currently
 Although not a bad idea in terms of structure and value adding
 this section, this would require additional research at this time.
 ag 15:23, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

Equitable access

One cannot grow an information commons if both contributors to it and consumers of it are either unable to access it, for one reason or another, or cannot afford to do so.

Ensuring equitable access to the means by which the information commons grows and how it may be used is critical to a functional, liberal and meaningful society.

APC response

 Link with Strat Plan post APC Members feedback.
 ag 21:13, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
  1. Response
  2. Response
  3. Response

Recommended reading:

  • P, Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All, University of California Press, February 10, 2008, ISBN-10: 0520247264
  • J. Rowe, Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences, The Vanishing Commons, Demos (pp. 150-164), October 14, 2005
  • P. Linebaugh and M. Rediker, The Many Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Beacon Press, September 16, 2001, ISBN-10: 0807050075

Intellectual property

The dead continue to have their copyrights extended and yet many of the living are giving their rights away. That the dead put pay to innovation, cultural development and firm the paradigm of intellectual enclosure, the commons movement seeks new means by which intellectual property may stimulate and re-extend the public domain regardless of the laws that impose its restrictions.

Patents too are increasingly seen as restrictive to innovation, particularly at a time when the resources for solving the significant issues of our time ought to be freely accessible.

APC response

Challenging dominant IP regimes and advancing the development agenda in WIPO:

  1. practices within govt and private to advance anti-piracy agenda;
  2. new language around so called piracy that is less around criminalising and more about sharing knowledge;
  3. percolation up from national to regional and global through advocacy.

Strategies for promoting commons licensing strategies:

  1. Focus on rights management and procreation of knowledge. What are the laws, what is the legal regime within which people operate?
  2. Create a product (video/book/paper/presentation) that can be shared as part of a proposed road-show that deals with licensing regimes and issues.

Challenging dominant IP regimes and advancing WIPO development agenda:

  1. Use CICEWA model and link to advocacy strategy at national and regional levels in Asia region.
  2. Translate some of Jinbonet's work into English.
  3. Well developed budget for CICEWA project can be looked to and customised for Asia project.

Recommended reading:

Open spectrum

New technologies afford more flexible uses of the frequency spectrum, however little<ref>802.11b/g/a 2.4 - 5Ghz the most liberally accessible of spectrum for public use, the remaining digital spectrum is largely privatised.</ref> of the digital spectrum is publicly available. It is a commons space that has been largely privatised. It is akin to selling the rights to water before anyone realised thirst could be a universal problem.

Spectrum issues are as important, and closely related to those of the internet. As these seemingly incongruous technologies merge, the same issues surface. Equity of access, intellectual property, communication rights.

With the arrival of high definition video over broadband, quality equivalent to standard analogue television broadcast, these mediums will continue to blur the definitions between conventional broadcast mediums, regardless of spectrum, and the innovations of abundance that continue to flourish on the internet.

The APC cannot remain entirely focused an conventional communications technologies with so much unconventional use being defined and redefined on both platforms, both of which become less and less distinct as delivery and receiver platforms converge.

APC response

  1. Define the point at which digital spectrum and broadband intersect - is it content, is it the medium, does it matter?
  2. Seek to bridge APC ICT Policy expertise and programs with those working within open spectrum advocacy and seek to develop and joint response, publications, presentations, campaigns.
  3. Where applicable build an APC spectrum policy response into its ICT policy work, identifying where in its Internet Rights Charter such representation can be made.

Recommended reading:

Open education

Open education is a collective term that refers to forms of education in which knowledge, ideas or important aspects of teaching methodology or infrastructure are shared freely over the internet.

It was inspired by related concepts like Creative Commons, Open source, Open data and Open Access, and expands them to include lectures and other courseware.<ref>Wikipedia,</ref>

A critical issue is to get a commons of information for school kids – copyright licensing fees are restricting access to knowledge for our kids – we need to publicly subsidise or find other ways to create a commons for school kids to be able to access

Above recommended by Brian Fitzgerald.
Quote from Cape Town Dec?
Do we have anything on this specific to APC you could refer me to?
ag 01:09, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

APC response

 Link with Strat Plan post APC Members feedback if strategies surface.
 ag 21:17, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
  1. Response
  2. Response
  3. Response

Recommended reading:

Open access to knowledge

Text required. If anything specific from
APC let me know where to find it, or bridge with Strat Plan.
ag 01:11, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

APC response

J. Ober, 2008, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classic Athens Princeton UP, Princeton

Build member capacity around commons and A2K issues:

 Link with Strat Plan post APC Members feedback.
 ag 21:14, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
  1. Response
  2. Response
  3. Response

Recommended reading:

  • J. Schumpeter and S. Metcalfe, The Broken Thread: Marshall, Schumpeter and Hayek on the Evolution of Capitalism, in Yuichi Shinoya (ed), Marshall and Schumpeter on Evolution, Economic Sociology of Capitalist Development (pp. 116-144), 2008
  • D. Bollier, A Major Victory for Open Access,, March 17, 2008
  • The Peer to Peer Community Patent Project
  • WikiEducator Community of educators coordination and planning education projects linked with the development of free content; development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning; work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs.

Knowing the knowledge commons

  • D Bollier recommends Guides to different sorts of knowledge commons -- which accepted the integrity and legitimacy of each.
  • E Rennie and Open Spectrum Australia recommend a schema intended to address something that regulation never will - the visibility of community/grassroots media. Too much effort has been spent on trying to achieve recognition and resources through regulation/policy/lobbying and not enough on public awareness and cross-sector collaboration. By labelling sites - or giving groups the tools to identify under a common brand - we are addressing the ‘audience’ and participants of community media. The new media environment is so diverse and expansive now that anything that helps us navigate it is a good thing.
Flesh out David's recommendation or wait integrate E Rennie recommendation?
Personally, I am not entirely convinced we need the means to identify
community media, but a guide to the knowledge commons, how one works within
indigenous communities, or as Natasha puts it, distinguishing between codified
and non-=codified knowledge.
ag 00:34, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

APC response

 Following, as suggested, from TOR, however, bridge with
 strat plan post Members feedback.
 ag 21:16, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

Promoting traditional and women's knowledge: Potentially some tensions between growing the commons and people who have traditional knowledge and want to retain control over it.

  1. What are the tensions?
  2. How do we manage this and the knowledge itself?

Recommended reading:

The APC and the commons

The commons is a new political and social movement. "Online commons are producing new models of citizenship - and a growing third sector of production and governance".<ref name="ftn5">D. Bollier, Commoners as an Emerging Political Force, 17 Aug 2008</ref> The APC has consistently provided a framework, intuitive expertise and technologies to such a coordinated response to the telecommunications vacuum it filled. It has, in fact, incubated and hosted commons projects since its inception.

For example, the APC established the first email connectivity and coordinated distribution of papers and presentations for the United Nations and participating NGOs at the landmark UNCED / Earth Summit (1992); the Third World Network's extensive independent news network spanning Latin America, Asia and the African continent pre-dated IndyMedia by nearly a decade. Many other pre-internet initiatives include Interdoc, AsiaLink, AfricaNet, EcoNet, WomensNet, LaborNet, Pactok, IBASE, Nicaroa. The list of contributions and achievements is encyclopaedic.

The APC and its partners literally grew the open and online information commons from the slums of India to the Indonesian archipelago, from the libertarian movements of Latin America to the remote plains of resource depleted African communities. In this new millennium, within its constituency, there lives an invaluable knowledge commons, the so called new commons built from the heritage it has left for many others to build upon. This being the case the real value of the commons to the APC is to see "itself as a facilitator and protector of important information commons, and situating itself in a 'kinship' with other commons-related projects.

The commons is not so much about physical, tangible resources per se as the social and political relationships among people who depend upon those resources. APC already seems to operate on this plane of thought and action. So naming its work as commons-based begins to stimulate a self-awareness of its important role, rather than trying to contextualise it in inapt categories of thought, such as an NGO or a resource watchdog.<ref>D. Bollier, A. Garton, email discussion, Growing the Global Information Commons, December 5, 2008</ref>

The challenge there fore is how to bring the historical and the contemporary currency APC has achieved to these new spaces where there ought be no vanguard, where there must be tangible solutions and change brought about through collaborative and communal effort... a commons movement providing commons-based solutions within an ever growing information commons.

A commons movement is described as an "eclectic set of campaigns to protect the creations of nature and society that we share in common, and that are indispensable to our well-being and to future generations".<ref name="ftn6">D. Bollier, The Commons as a Movement, 8 Nov 2004</ref> This does not differ at all from what was set out to be achieved by the likes of Mark Graham, Peter Gabriel and Mitra Adron, nor the initiatives evoked by Jagdish Parikh, Karen Banks, Roberto Verzola, Norbert Klien, Randy Bush, Scott Weikhart, Robert Garnsey, Ian Peter, Mike Jenson, Cristina Vasconi, Carlos Afonso and the many others who shared these same aspirations and still do. The commons movement, in terms of APC, is by no means embryonic, we are merely witnessing and in many cases, participating in consciousness raising across many more disciplines, through a common language and new instruments by which to mobilise critical change by.

Mission, vision and values

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network of civil society organisations dedicated to empowering and supporting groups and individuals working for peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment, through the strategic use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), including the internet. APC Mission Statement

A significant aspect of the APC that has barely changed since its founding are its values, presented and confirmed at the November 2001 members meeting. It is these values that inspired APC's founders, that sustains the organisation today and represents a clear commitment to the values underpinning a broad commons agenda:

  • Local initiative, decentralised action, local ownership
  • Open content: sharing of information in the public domain
  • Open source application development: sharing tools in the public domain
  • Social equality and gender equality
  • Having a strong Southern base and orientation
  • Creating and strengthening an international membership community for joint action and learning
  • Peer support and community
  • Collaboration and partnerships
  • Inclusiveness and diversity
  • Creativity and capacity building
  • Democratic, accountable and transparent governance
  • Appropriate and affordable ICT solutions freedom of communications and information.

The APC envisions a "world in which all people have easy, equal and affordable access to the creative potential of ICTs to improve their lives and create more democratic and egalitarian societies".

The commons resides within the "creative potential" made available through ICTs. It is clear that the APC sustains and refines its involvement in nurturing and growing the commons, particularly ensuring equitable access to it.

In terms of APC's mission, that it supports, through the use of ICTs, organisations "to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development", is a direct contribution towards the global information commons.

As such, it is inherent in APC's vision and mission that growing the global information commons is integral to "equitable human development" and the creation of more "democratic and egalitarian societies".

Theory / strategy of change

APC works with ICT policy and the use of ICTs for social justice. APC members were among the first providers of email and internet access in their countries and to build the capacities of civil society organisations to communication tools. Today, APC continues to pioneer practical and relevant uses of ICTs for social justice, especially in developing countries. APC acts as an international facilitator of civil society's engagement with ICTs and related concerns, in both policy and practice.

Adopting the commons framework for APC's work does not require a significant transformation in its existing work, but it does imply a new orientation to its mission and values that will, over time, reveal new strategic possibilities. It implies a strengthening of the relationships among participants in the commons and to its enabling stewards; it implies an openness and transparency in dealings, and a focus on the core mission of the commoners. In this sense, the commons can help APC develop a sovereign sense of its mission, as opposed to one driven by foundation grantmakers, public policy debates or short-term political agendas.

The commons also helps APC express and explore its commonality with other commons-based organisations and projects. Moreover, it can do so collaboratively and respectfully without requiring a strict political or ideological conformity with its partners (because commons will naturally vary). Yet working under the commons banner implies a greater ongoing solidarity and mutual commitment than conventional coalitions.

Development and the commons

Developing countries

We are not fighting the government, we are fighting for our rights. Land is life... we have as much right to land as we do life and this must be defended at all costs. Dayak Head Man, Sarawak, Aug 2008

The German Heinrich Boll Foundation hosted a major conference on the commons in December 2006 in Mexico City. One thing that became clear at that event was the strategic value of the commons for indigenous peoples and opponents of neoliberal trade policies.

Instead of merely being opposed to "free trade," commons based societies can assert affirmatively the value of their local economies, local knowledge and regional ecosystems, above and beyond the economic value that trade ostensibly brings to a developing country.

On the other hand, in India, the Alternative Law Forum is very active in thinking and writing about the commons from a developing nation perspective. For example, they discuss the complexities entailed by the grafting of the word "commons" to an historically problematic definition, "Asia". They argue that there is no real sense of any issues specific to the history of the commons in Asia apparent in the term, Asia Commons.<ref>L. Liang, P. Iyengar, J. Nichani, How Does and Asian Commons Mean?, July 25, 2008 (pp. 7)</ref>

To fully value commons issues, or commons-based solutions within the context of developing countries (itself an outmoded term), we must turn once again to scholars and activists from these countries and regions to best understand how we may engage with, nurture and / or grow the information commons there.

The Kenyah elders of Sarawak do not wish their culture to be archived. They want nothing more than to keep it alive, not through a Museum or the internet, but through the physical transference of knowledge. In short, they want their young people with them, not burdened by income generation and the promise of a life better than they had known on their customary, native title lands. These are commons-based societies in peril who too need protection too from the enclosures that have enslaved property and are determined to imprison the mind.

Recommended reading:

  • L. Liang, P. Iyengar, J. Nichani, How Does and Asian Commons Mean?, July 25, 2008
  • R. Lemos, From Legal Commons to Social Commons: Brazil and the Cultural Industry, June, 2007
  • L.Chan, S. Costa, Participation in the global knowledge commons: Challenges and opportunities for research dissemination in developing countries, New Library World, 2005, Issue 106, (pp. 141-163), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN: 0307-4803, DOI: 10.1108/03074800510587354
  • V. Shiva, Patents, Myths and Reality, Penguin India, 2001

Recommended listening:

Civil society

What are the specific concerns of civil society more broadly in developing countries?

Do these concerns differ from the interests of civil society internationally?

 Personally, I am having difficulty focusing on specific CS concerns. 
 Had hoped a response from questionnaire to Members would result in a 
 more meaningful outcome.
 I think what is more relevant to civil society are commons based models
 for governance of them, that which, as David puts it, gives more more
 political and conceptual definition to the work of "civil society".
 ag 21:24, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
 Following dot points from Natasha. Added here for consideration. 
  • transparency issue – accessing public information (though of global concern, transparency and accountability may be a more pressing issue in current developing country contexts)
  • geographic location of IP claims in the north ... and the impact on the global north on access to learning materials,
  • uneven access to infrastructure that impacts negatively on the global south ability to contribute to the global information commons (makes the connection with open and affordable access)

APC agenda

Quite simply, the APC ought to place everything it produces into the public domain including the development of proposals and its strategic plan. This would be in part a process towards the establishment of the APC as an open commons organisation within all its capacities, programs and management systems.

Recommend this as a workshop with clear action outcomes for the next face-to-face Board/Management/Staff meeting.


The information commons is the new matrix for information and culture in the future, so long as an open internet remains the organising infrastructure for communication.

The powers of decentralised, distributed intelligence will only grow, and assert themselves against centralised, hierarchical institutions, whose powers and knowledge-making capacities will decline relative to those of commons-based societies and initiatives.

A key issue will be how centralised institutions of all sorts (nation-states, broadcasting, newspapers, book publishers, etc.) will transform themselves to take account of the information commons. Will corporate players successfully co-opt the potential of the commons, or will the commons communities be able to establish their own secure vehicles for the creative work that they produce?

 Above recommendation from D. Bollier, slightly edited.
 ag 17:14, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

Specific trends include:

The virtual corporation

Commons-based models influencing the creation of new tools, technical, business and legal infrastructure towards the formation and operation of companies and organisations entirely online.<ref>R. Legrand, The Virtual Corporation, possibly a milestone in the collaboration era, Metanomics blog, June 28, 2008</ref>

Open Access to Public Sector information

The movement towards access to government or public sector information (PSI) as recommended in the OECD Seoul Declaration on the Future of the Internet,<ref>Seoul Declaration on the Future of the Internet, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (pp. 7), March 2008</ref> March 2008:

Foster creativity in the development, use and application of the Internet, through policies that:

  • Maintain an open environment that supports the free flow of information, research, innovation, entrepreneur-ship and business transformation.
  • Make public sector information and content, including scientific data, and works of cultural heritage more widely accessible in digital format.
  • Encourage basic and applied research on the Internet and related ICTs.
  • Encourage universities, governments, public research, users and business to work together in collaborative innovation networks and to make use of shared experimental Internet facilities.

Recommended reading:

Peer to peer and governments

Increase and ongoing development of the internet / blogs for community discussion / feedback on government policies. Of specific interest will be activities in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

The rise of internet-enabled peer production as a social force necessitates a rethink about how policy and politics is done in Australia. In the longer term, governments will have to adapt to information's new online centre of gravity. This is not an undesirable thing; there are significant opportunities for government to use peer production to consult, develop policy and make closer connections with the citizens it serves. As a huge creator and manager of information with an obligation to be open and transparent, we have little choice. Lindsay Tanner MP, Federal Member for Melbourne, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Australia
We want the research conducted in universities and public research agencies to inspire and inform fresh thinking across the community. The more collaboration and interaction there is between researchers and the society around them, the better. It follows that research and research data should be widely disseminated and readily discoverable. .. The results of publicly funded research should be publicly available. More accessible information equals more robust debate equals a stronger national innovation system. Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Australia, There is More than One Way to Innovate, February 7, 2008

Recommended reading:

Policy spaces

The following table maps the main policy spaces/ instruments and frameworks that impact on the commons. Column one lists pro-commons initiatives and the second, pro-enclosure, those that are the antithesis to the global, regional and national commons. Note it is not within the scope of this paper to provide an extensive list of pros and cons, it reflects on that which is by large, relevant to the APC and the issues described in Commons issues.

 (Input from APC due post IGF. Further consultations being sought.)
Commons Enclosure
National Australia: OAK Law Report

Recommended reading:


The following organisations and individuals are considered key actors in the evolution of the commons as a political force and critical third sector governance model.

Research, advocacy and campaigns

What are existing campaigns in this area? Which are the most strategic for APC to align with?

 Natasha recommends:
  • African Copyright and Access to Knowledge (ACA2K, IDRC funded project)
  • Media Piracy research – South africa, India, Brazil, Russia

Resource mobilisation

The commons paradigm sites across all APC programs... Propose the language of the commons, its concepts, emergent instruments and coalitions, much like FOSS, be introduced as either a cross-cut, or embedded within all strategic priorities. Doing so would strengthen APC's role in defending, advocating against and dismantling the mechanisms of market and political enclosures – some of which, at the time of writing, are doing a fine job of destroying themselves.

 Natasha recommends adding suggestions to the following:
  • what would be potential commons project funders?
  • ideas/proposals for potential projects?
  • strategic alliances with other A2K networks?
  • where would the project management would located, even if its a cross-cut?


The commons, in practice, is inclusive. Although it may be argued that gender representation within the context of the commons is a pre-requisite, it ought be implicit and well understood that diversity, from cultural Diaspora to minorities, from biomass to atmosphere, from access to open knowledge to liberalised patents the commons is inherently comprised of.

References and resources



This is by no means an exhaustive bibliography, but does represent a cohesive and timely set of views, observations and critical programs from a selection of known and respected actors in the field.

Barnes, Peter, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons, Berrett-Koehler, forthcoming, 2006

Benkler, Yochai, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale University Press, 2006

Bocking, Richard, Reclaiming the Commons, 2003

Bollier, David, Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth, Routledge, 2002

Ertuna, Irmak, Imagination, the Commons, and Enclosures, 2008

Fox, Jeff, Mapping the Commons, 1998

Lessig, Lawrence, Code and the Commons

Lessig, Lawrence, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, Penguin Press, 2004

Lichtenstein, Brad, Care To Try to Define the Commons?, 2008

Mathiason, John R. and Wagner, Robert F., Managing the global commons: reform and the role of the United Nations beyond the nation-state, 1996

Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons : The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions), Cambridge University Press, 1990

Rheingold, Howard, About the New Commons


This paper would not have been possible without the contributions made by the following:


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