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Just Published: The Italian Edition of “Think Like a Commoner”

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
23rd August 2015


Italian translation, cover art_0-225x315I am happy to report that the Italian translation of my book, Think Like a Commoner, has now been published. La Rinascita dei Commons: Successi e potenzialita del movimento globale a tutela dei beni comuni — or The Rebirth of Commons:  Successes and Potential of the Global Movement for the Protection of Commons –was translated by Bernardo Parrella over the past year.

My thanks to Bernardo for his initiative and tenacity in doing the translation and in finding a suitable publisher, Stampa Alternativa. And my thanks also to the pioneering Italian commons thinker and activist Ugo Mattei for writing the preface.

Italy is at the vanguard of many commons innovations these days.  One sign of this is the first International Festival of the Commons (organized by Mattei), which will be held in Chieri, Italy, from July 9 to 12. I plan to attend, so perhaps I will see you there.

For the record, the Italian edition of Think Like a Commoner is the third translation, following the Polish and French translations. Translations into Spanish, Korean and Chinese are now pending.


Originally published in bollier.org

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Featured Book, Original Content | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Conflicts in the Knowledge Society

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th July 2015


* Book: Conflicts in the Knowledge Society: The Contentious Politics of Intellectual Property. Sebastian Haunss.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013

Excerpted from a review by Eden Medina:

“In Conflicts in the Knowledge Society, Sebastian Haunss studies the most visible movements that have challenged international intellectual property (IP) regimes. He positions the growing politicization of IP as part of a more expansive process of social change that social theorists have historically associated with the transition from an industrial to a knowledge society. Haunss opts to use the phrase “knowledge society” instead of such terms as information society or network society because knowledge society is “the most generic term, capturing the central element that distinguishes these societies from earlier forms” (p. 4). According to Haunss, four factors have increased the politicization of IP in recent years: the increasing economic importance of knowledge-based industries; the growing internationalization of IP issues; the greater attention IP issues receive in non-specialist and high-level forums; and the trend toward personalizing IP rules so that they affect end users as well as producers and sellers. Though Haunss does not list the signing of the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as a causal factor, the treaty plays an important role in his analysis.

The book is organized into seven chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. Three chapters document case studies of highly visible challenges to IP regimes. This includes studies of software patents in Europe, the access-to-medicines movement, pirate parties in Germany and Sweden, and the history of Creative Commons (CC) licensing.

Haunss provides the analytical context for these case-study chapters with two preceding chapters: one on the history of international IP and the other on theories of the knowledge society. These history and theory chapters constitute slightly less than half the volume.
The history chapter traces the politicization of IP fromthe high and late Middle Ages to the signing of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) to TRIPS. The chapter also introduces the reader to copyrights and patents, two of the more contested forms of IP at present, and offers an overview of the different narratives that have been used to justify IP rights historically (e.g., personal rights narratives and different forms of the utilitarian argument).The next chapter focuses on social theory. Readers who are already familiar with the work of such scholars as Daniel Bell, Manuel Castells, and Nico Stehr may wish to skip this chapter given that it is mostly a synthesis of previously published work on the knowledge society. Those who are unfamiliar with these theories, however, may and Haunss’s detailed discussion highly useful. In essence, Haunss wants readers to understand how different theorists have described processes of change and con?ict as societies move from economies grounded in industrial forms of production to economies grounded in the production of knowledge.

The book then turns to a series of four case studies in three chapters. The first case-study chapter addresses the controversy surrounding software patents in Europe. Haunss mobilizes an impressive corpus of source materials to build his argument, including 170 newspaper articles published in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Poland, several hundred primary source documents, 25 interviews, and a questionnaire he distributed to actors involved in the controversy. The software patent con?ict of 1997–2005 centered on whether the European Patent Of?ce (EPO) should allow the patenting of software. The EPO and the European Commission felt that this would harmonize European legislation with that of the United States and Japan and remove what Europe’s large industrial associations perceived as an economic disadvantage. The push to make software patentable, however, triggered a counter-response from a diverse set of actors, including the newly formed Federation for Free Information Infrastructure, the EuroLinux Alliance, and the free and open-source software community. These oppositional voices lacked ties to the relevant policy organizations and had less experience and fewer resources than the industry proponents. Yet, they prevailed.According to Haunss, the opposition groups succeeded by creating a “frame bundle” that formed the basis of a collective identity and held together a diverse set of actors from different political, institutional, and personal backgrounds. In this sense, his book draws from, and sits in conversation with, the work of such legal scholars as Amy Kapczynski (2008), who used the frame mobilization literature in sociology to explore how acts of interpretation can spur collective action in the context of IP.”

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Posted in Copyright/IP, Featured Book, P2P Books | No Comments »

The economic foundations of abundance

photo of David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte
23rd July 2015


pais-de-la-abundancia
An approach to the concept of abundance and the elements that make it more possible and closer today than ever before in the history of our species.


We all understand that abundance exists when it becomes unnecessary to work out what is produced and what not, and above all, how much access to a given product these or those people will have.

Schlaraffenland - JaujaThat’s why it’s intuitive to understand that abundance is a question of costs. We all understand that if producing something doesn’t cost anything, that something will be abundant. The problem is that it’s hard to think of anything whose production doesn’t cost anything, and even harder to picture a society where it never costs anything to produce anything.

The truth is that a situation like this is not necessary to imagine a society of abundance. We just need to distinguish between value and price on the one hand, and the other, between the different types of costs of production.

Value, price and costs

As we saw in the prior essay, as a species, we humans are obliged to transform Nature to survive. In that transformation, “things” incorporate knowledge and are “humanized” as they are turned into products. This incorporation is none other than the effect of the the transformation itself, the effect of work. That’s what we call value.

Value and price

Value is not price. Price is a measure that attempts to quantify the relationship between different resources within general scarcity. Value, in contrast, is the measure of work, and therefore, of the knowledge “incorporated” into an object or a service.

The difference between value and price is a classic piece of economic theory. The first economists of the 17th and 18th centuries, “the classics,” embraced theories of labor-value and built their models around the differences between “incorporated work” and relative prices over the long term. At the end of the nineteenth century, when the corpus of marginalist economic theory was formed, the economic foundation (value) was left out in favor of an effective explanation of the mechanism of prices. A good understanding of the mechanism of prices and the efficient distribution of scarce resources needed no more than a good understanding of the relationship between supply and demand, which is to say the relative measure of scarcity among resources.

In reality, every object or service, to the extent that is necessarily a product, and to the extent that it always incorporates human labor, has value, but only goods, the scarce products that enter the market, have a price.

When something becomes abundant it stops having a price, or rather, has a price of zero. A handy example is free software. It obviously has value: it incorporates knowledge and serves in turn to produce other goods and services. It also has costs: the work hours that thousands of developers have dedicated to coding and the computers they used, the maintenance of the servers from which each program is distributed, etc. And yet, its price is zero. Why? How can it be that something with costs has a price of zero, even when it has established demand and there would be certainly be people prepared to pay for access to it? Is it just a donation?

Price and costs

To answer, we must first understand what costs consist of. Intuitively, when we think about them, we think about the total cost: how much it costs me to produce a given number of copies of something. In reality, this cost has one fixed part–what I have to spend no matter what to start producing–and a variable part, which is a function of the amount produced.
For example, if I want to make sugar, my fixed costwill be (simplifying somewhat) the cost of the sugar-milling machines, while the variable costs will be the sum of the costs of the work hours that I dedicate, the tons of beets I purchase, and the electricity consumed by the machines. The fixed cost, the cost of the sugar-making machine, does not depend on the amount I choose to produce. However, the variable costs will tend to grow as I produce more. Intuitively, we understand that theaverage cost, the result of dividing the total costs by the amount produced, at least at first, will tend to decrease because by producing more, and the part of the fixed cost built into each cup of sugar will be smaller. As of a certain quantity, however, I would begin to find myself obeying the famous “law of diminishing returns,” and costs would vary (three people working on the machine do not produce three times more than the first, but rather, a bit less).

But there is still one more measure of cost, which is especially interesting: marginal cost, the extra cost incurred to produce the next unit of product. Mathematically, it is the derivative of the function of total costs, but the interesting part comes from being useful to determine how much a business will produce in a market in perfect competition.

Perfect competition is a model that all Econ students learn in their first year. In it, all the businesses in an industry produce identical goods, there are no barriers to new businesses entering the market or old ones exiting. No business has any trouble acquiring new technologies and no business has the power to set prices on its own. In other words, by definition, none of the participants enjoysrents&madsh;benefits due to some type of differentiation or extra-market advantage.

costes variablesIn reality, in a model like this, the price is set by the business that is capable of producing at the lowest cost, and the others adjust their production to that competitive price, which in the end, is simply the one that reduces extraordinary benefits—rents—to zero. In this model, the supply curve of the businesses is built by thinking about how much different businesses would like produce for a given price.

The answer would seem to be common sense: as the price is equal to the income that the last unit sold would produce, they would not want produce if the marginal cost was greater than the price, because then that last unit would cost more than the income it would create and would reduce the total benefit. But if the marginal cost was less than the price, producing a little more could still bring in a little more and give a greater total benefit. Result: a business will be situated with maximum total benefits when the amount produced equals marginal cost and price.

And thus, one of the mantras of every economist is born: in perfect competition, which is to say,when rents don’t exist, the price is the marginal cost.

Abundance as child of the market

By introducing time into this model, Econ students learn that predictably, over the long term, in every industry, the curves shift to the right, which is to say, that prices fall over time. But let’s imagine that a series of technologies or forms of production appear that pull the curve of marginal costs down, so that, over the long term, we could think about marginal costs equal to zero.

If we think about it a bit, that’s already happened with some immaterial goods: up to a certain amount, one more person downloading one of our books from our server does not mean any extra cost. The marginal cost of distributing a book in the public domain is zero. And what goes for a book goes for a copy of the latest distribution of Debian.

In markets like free software, therefore, we can talk about having arrived at the paradigm of perfect competition: Zero marginal cost and zero price. The product has reached a point where the efficient price is the zero price. No longer is it exchanged for money, no longer is it a commodity:decommodification has arrived as a product of the evolution of the market.

Criticism and nuances

Distributed networks and abundance

Topologías_de_redThe first criticism of the example above would be that it’s only true for a certain number of copies, because if our server passed a certain critical point, we would have to increase bandwidth and in reality, if it happened long term, we would have a growing variable cost and therefore, a positive marginal cost.

But this is really only true if there is only one server from which to download the product. If we share it on a P2P network, like those created with the BitTorrent protocol, we would be in a radically different scenario: each new download, each new user, would mean a another possible place to download from for the next person. The more people who “consume,” the less each one of those who already are part of the network need to contribute. Not only we would we be well settled with the zero marginal cost, but at the limits, the total cost borne by each person would also be zero.

This is just one example of the logic of abundance produced by distributed networks described by Juan Urrutia in 2001. In addition to the network effects like the one described above, there’s one more important element: the drastic reduction of transaction costs that appears when the real social network unites identarian communities.

Transaction costs is another concept from economic theory. They were created to explain why, if markets tend toward efficiency, people don’t just start produce things on their own, hiring the factors of production and even the coordination of the process ad hoc. That is, transaction costs are the primary explanation for the existence of businesses. They include things like the cost of negotiating with providers and customers, the derivatives of the need to get information and those of supervising providers and customers. All of them have to do with asymmetries of information and distrust between people, and it is that distrust that makes it rational to set up a business, which is to say an institution, a set of contracts, that is going to remain stable over time.

But all these costs dissipate within a real community–which is, by definition, a small distributed network–of people based on trust. Unity in large distributed networks of overlapping identarian communities–which is to say that on average, each individual will have more than one identity-based community–is both about the role of models and the reality made much more possible by the Internet, the “primordial soup” where abundance germinates for the first time, even if only in a few environments, on a massive scale.

Other rents

El capitalismo que vieneAnother obvious criticism would remind us that, “in real life,” big businesses do not live in markets with perfect competition, but seek rents of all kinds: rents of position, regulatory rents…

But here once again, the emergence of distributed architectures changes the game. The key is a concept described for the first time in another book by Juan Urrutia: thedissipation of rents. The idea is that the unity of distributed networks and globalization erodes all rents more and more intensely, including regulatory rents like intellectual property.

To understand the ultimate causes, we must add one more factor: the reduction of the optimal scales of production, which is result of technological development. The same movement background that produces a true crisis of scale means that necessary investments are smaller smaller, and it takes less time to replicate an innovation in any industry, including some as complex as pharmaceuticals. That’s why even rents from innovation, the benefit derived from create something new and enjoy a small, temporary monopoly, are more and more brief.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that rents derived from things like the legislation of intellectual property or “custom” regulations for oligopolies like electricity have disappeared or been canceled. It just means that, for the time being, they are being continuously eroded, in an unending cycle of innovations that erode rents and legal repression, new innovations that have already brought down audiovisual industries, publishers, and even energy production, and that, over the long term, seem to reinforce the expansion of technologies and networks that are more and more distributed and opaque to the State.

The fibers of abundance

The fibers of a society of abundance are already among us. Some, like the dizzying development of productivity or the possibility of zero marginal costs, were already present in the thought of the utopians and economists of the 19th century. Others, like the role of the reduction of scales, distributed networks, and the commons, only have appeared clearly in the last three decades.

Those very elements let us clearly see something that is no less important: what doesn’t lead to abundance, what is truly “reactionary” in our days. We’re talking about strategies like the recentralization of the Internet, and about economic nationalism and the expansion of corporate rents that it entails, which are typically accompanied by the exaltation of over-scaled financial markets, and therefore necessarily destructive. But we’re also talking about narratives that present growth, technological development, and productivity as enemies to beat.

In upcoming essays in this series, we’ll go into more depth on the new basis of abundance, to start them to imagine the possible world that they are drawing for us.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Cooperatives, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Company Watch, P2P Development, P2P Lifestyles | No Comments »

A Introduction to the Basic P2P Ideas; Part 4: CopyFair Licenses

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
2nd July 2015


Over the last ten years, the P2P Foundation has produced a sizeable body of material, both original and curated, but none of it is specifically designed as an introduction for newcomers and people who are not so familiar with the P2P approach. Hence Irma Wilson‘s proposal, during a trip which FutureSharp helped organize in South Africa in the two first weeks of June 2015, to produce a number of short videos. With Irma’s assistance, and the help of filmmaker Michel Taljaard, we produced four videos which are being serialised here in the P2P Foundation Blog and which will be compiled in a forthcoming Commons Transition Article.

This fourth highlights the legal and policy suggestions with some emphasis on the CopyFair license

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Copyright/IP, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, P2P Governance, P2P Movements, P2P Theory, Videos | No Comments »

Here’s What a Commons-Based Economy Looks Like

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
2nd July 2015


David Bollier writes:

So what might a commons-based economy actually look like in its broadest dimensions, and how might we achieve it?  My colleague Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation offers a remarkably thoughtful and detailed explanation in a just-released YouTube talk, produced by FutureSharp. It’s not really a video – just Michel’s voiceover and a simple schematic chart – but the 20-minute talk does a great job of sketching the big-picture strategies that must be pursued if we are going to invent a new type of post-capitalist economy.

Michel focuses on the importance of three specific realms that are crucial to this new vision – ecological sustainability, open knowledge and social solidarity. Each is critical as a field of action for overturning the existing logic of market capitalism.

Fortunately, there are many promising developments in each of these realms. Many parts of the environmental movement seek to go beyond the standard “market-oriented solutions.” There is a growing body of open source-inspired projects for software code, information, design and physical production, which is now spawning new types of global sharing of information with distributed local production. And there are many advocates and initiatives for social justice and fairness in the economy, such as cooperatives and the solidarity economy movement.

The problem, says Bauwens, is that these movements do not generally connect with each other or coordinate internationally. He therefore sees the need for “meta-economic networks” to bridge these fields of action. So, for example, we need “open cooperativism” enterprises to bridge open knowledge systems and cooperatives, so that open-licensed systems are not simply dominated by large corporations in the way that Google, Uber and Airbnb have done. We also need to develop an “open source circular economy” to bridge the worlds of eco-sustainability and open knowledge.  We will never address major environmental problems if the technological and product solutions are based on proprietary knowledge; open circulation of knowledge can change that.

Bauwens also sketches a compelling scenario by which commons-based projects can begin to develop a new politics through such vehicles as a new “ethical entrepreneurial coalition,” a “Chamber of Commons,” and “Commons Assemblies.”  He calls for new types of cooperative finance that can support sustainable production (based on the idea of sufficiency shared by all) as well as the mutualizing of knowledge (vs. its privatization via patents and copyright) and social solidarity (to ensure just and fair distribution of any surplus value created).

While the overall vision may strike skeptics as utopian, the truth is that many of the ideas in Bauwen’s scenario are already underway, if not well-developed.  What’s mostly missing is a wider orientation and commitment to a coherent, shared vision such as this one.  There is also a need for new bridges of social practice and coordination among the three key fields of action.

You can also check out several short short videos introducing the basic concepts of peer production here.

Anyone who is especially interested in this topic should know that the P2P Foundation plans to host a three-day summer school on “The Art of Commoning,” from August 25-27, in Cloughjordan ecovillage in Tipperary, Ireland.  Details here and here.


Originally published at Bollier.org

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Foundation, P2P Theory, Peer Property, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

Richard Stallman on “Intellectual Property”

photo of Guy James

Guy James
30th May 2015


I know Stallman is not everyone’s cup of tea but he does have a way of breaking down apparently complex issues so that they can be easily understood. And once you have read his opinions about so-called ‘Intellectual Property’, you may start to wonder how we ever came to lump together three disparate concepts under one heading (hint: it benefits large corporations):

It has become fashionable to toss copyright, patents, and trademarks—three separate and different entities involving three separate and different sets of laws—plus a dozen other laws into one pot and call it “intellectual property”. The distorting and confusing term did not become common by accident. Companies that gain from the confusion promoted it. The clearest way out of the confusion is to reject the term entirely.

Read more here: ‘Did You Say “Intellectual Property”? It’s a Seductive Mirage’

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Posted in Activism, Cognitive Capitalism, Copyright/IP, Open Access | No Comments »

On the Commodification of Human Discovery

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
13th May 2015


Not so long ago, the language of “intellectual property” (IP) was the only serious way of talking about creative works and inventions.  Copyright and patents provided the default framework for explaining how someone’s bright idea grew into a marketable product, and how that in turn contributed to economic growth and human progress. It was a neat, tidy, reassuring story.  It had an irresistible simplicity – and the endorsement of the ultimate authority, government.

And then…. the pluriversal realities of life came storming the citadel gates!  Over the past fifteen or twenty years, the monoculture narrative of IP has been attacked by indigenous cultures, seed activists, healthcare experts, advocates for the poor, the academy, and especially users of digital technologies.  It has become increasingly clear that the standard IP story, whatever its merits on a smaller scale, in competitive industries, is mostly a self-serving, protectionist weapon in the hands of Hollywood, record labels, book publishers, Big Pharma and other multinational IP industries.

We can thank the authors of a new anthology for helping to explain how the standard IP narrative is profoundly flawed, and how an array of challengers are showing how knowledge-creation so often emerges through social commons.

Free Knowledge:  Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery, edited by Patricia W. Elliott and Daryl H. Hepting, provides a refreshing survey of the many realms in which corporations are enclosing shared knowledge — and a sampling of commons that are democratizing the production and control of knowledge. (The book is published by University of Regina Press, and is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.)

It’s an apt moment for this anthology, about fifteen years after the explosion of open source software, Creative Commons licenses and new genres of online collaboration like wikis, blogs and social networking. The world has changed immensely in this short period, and yet there haven’t been many broad book-length appraisals of the IP scene for a while. So why not pause and reflect more deeply on the many “other ways” of understanding knowledge?

Free Knowledge explores the social dynamics of indigenous cultures in maintaining agroecological knowledge and artistic design….the role of farmers in maintaining the biodiversity and robustness of seeds….the role of open access scholarly journals in liberating academic knowledge….and the ways in which freely shareable knowledge is important to our ecosystems, in helping us develop a post-carbon economy.

The essays in the volume take on some of the ritual catechisms of the IP bar, free-market economics and western modernity by reminding us that all creativity and knowledge are ultimately based in social life.  Their free circulation is critical to creating value. Once knowledge is objectified and hoarded as a market asset, it starts to degrade, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

As Keith Aoki, an early legal commenator on plant genetics, wrote:  “The irony is that germplasm’s value stemmed precisely from its non-commodification.  Plant genetic diversity has been an invaluable resource to humans in preserving and developing a reliable food supply, and farmers could openly access germplasm for thousands of years in local and decentralized fashion.”

The commodification of seeds through patents – and the patenting of living organisms from bacteria to genetically engineered mammals – amounts to an arrogant imposition of scarcity economics on natural abundance. IP regimes are no assurance of access, social equity or ecological stewardship. IP in the hands of industry is mostly about proprietary control and private gain.

For too long, the larger implications of the marketization of knowledge have been ignored.  But now that we’ve seen the harm caused by the patenting of “breast cancer susceptibility genes” and life-saving drugs, it’s time to develop more humane alternatives to antiquated IP laws.

Free Knowledge not only reviews the many unpleasant impacts of over-reaching, ethically challenged IP laws, it explains their deeply flawed epistemology for conceptualizing knowledge.  No, the “lone genius” is not solely responsible for new creative works; a legacy of culture and science is a critical factor as well.  Valuable knowledge is often created by entire communities over generations, or through networks of collaborators — consider free software communities, open design networks and indigenous societies.  Why can’t IP law take these realities into account?

The imposition of intellectual property norms on us, often through violent government coercion and trade treaties, inflicts a great deal of harm. It needlessly withholds life-saving drugs from those who can’t afford them. It marginalizes and degrades the cultures that have been the historic stewards of biodiversity. It changes how people relate to the land and each other.  It locks in an exploitative, extractive relationship between humans and ecosystems.

Free Knowledge is a welcome survey of such alarming impacts of IP law. For a new generation that missed an earlier generation of progressive IP tracts, the book is also a valuable introduction to some salutary alternatives.


Originally published at bollier.org

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Copyright/IP, Featured Book, Original Content, P2P Books, Sharing | No Comments »

How vehicle makers are trying to lock out farmers and drivers from ownership

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th April 2015


Excerpted from Kyle Wiens:

“JOHN Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.

(This is an important issue for farmers: a neighbor, Kerry Adams, hasn’t been able to fix an expensive transplanter because he doesn’t have access to the diagnostic software he needs. He’s not alone: many farmers are opting for older, computer-free equipment.)

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software that powers the products they buy.

In recent years, some companies have even leveraged the DMCA to stop owners from modifying the programming on those products. This means you can’t strip DRM off smart kitty litter boxes, install custom software on your iPad, or alter the calibration on a tractor’s engine. Not without potentially running afoul of the DMCA.

What does any of that have to do with copyright? Owners, tinkerers, and homebrew “hackers” must copy programming so they can modify it. Product makers don’t like people messing with their stuff, so some manufacturers place digital locks over software. Breaking the lock, making the copy, and changing something could be construed as a violation of copyright law.

And that’s how manufacturers turn tinkerers into “pirates”—even if said “pirates” aren’t circulating illegal copies of anything. Makes sense, right? Yeah, not to me either.

It makes sense to John Deere: The company argues that allowing people to alter the software—even for the purpose of repair—would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.”

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Copyright/IP, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

Defending Free Software Against Privatizers

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
13th March 2015


Christoph Hellwig

Christoph Hellwig

How can you protect a commons of software code from free riders who attempt to take it private for their commercial gain?

The traditional answer has been copyright-based licenses such as the General Public License, a legendary legal hack on copyright law that ensures the perpetual “shareability” of all licensed code. The GPL requires that third parties make any derivative software programs freely available to everyone and that they use the same license, thus ensuring that all future downstream uses of the code will also remain shareable.

But what happens if a company simply ignores the GPL and continues to free ride?  We are about to find out.

After a long period of alleged non-compliance with the GPL, the software firm VMware is being sued by the Software Freedom Conservancy, a nonprofit home and infrastructure for free, libre and open source software projects. Most companies respect the GPL and other open source licenses, which is why this lawsuit is a rare enforcement action.

The Software Freedom Conservancy reports that it attempted to reason with VMWare, a $36 billion company traded on the New York Stock Exchange, before finally realizing that the company had no intention of complying. The last straw came when VMWare demanded that that lawyers sign a nondisclosure agreement just to discuss settlement terms.

The plaintiff is German Christophe Hellwig, a key developer of the Linux kernel in this case,  The lawsuit was filed in a German court last week. The Conservancy describes Hellwig’s experience this way:

Christoph is among the most active developers of Linux. As of Feburary 19, 2015, Christoph has contributed 279,653 lines of code to the Linux kernel, and ranks twentieth among the 1,340 developers involved in the latest 3.19 kernel release. Christoph also ranks fourth among those who have reviewed third-party source code, tirelessly corrected and commented on other developers’ contributions. Christoph licenses his code to the public under the terms of the GPL for practical and ideological reasons.

VMware, a company with net revenue of over $1 billion and over 14,000 employees, ignored Christoph’s choice. They took Christoph’s code from Linux and modified it to work with their own kernel without releasing source code of the resulting complete work. This is precisely the kind of activity Christoph and other kernel developers seek to prevent by choosing the GPL. The GPL was written to prevent this specific scenario!

…..What point is there for companies to make sure that they’re compliant if there are no consequences when the GPL is violated? Many will continue to ignore the rules without enforcement. We know that there are so many companies that willingly comply and embrace GPL as part of their business. Some are temporarily out of compliance and need to be brought up to speed, but willingly comply once they realize there is an issue. Sadly, VMware sits in the rare but infamous class of perpetually non-compliant companies. VMware has been aware of their noncompliance for years but actively refuses to do the right thing. Help us do right by those who take the code in the spirit it was given and comply with copyleft, and stop those don’t.

Here is a FAQ about the lawsuit.  The court ruling promises to be a landmark not just in clarifying the scope and enforceability of the GPL, but in showing that FLOSS users have the will and capacity to defend their software commons.  So, in this spirit, consider a contribution to the legal fund for enforcing the GPL, and consider joining the Free Software Conservancy.

Why care about the GPL? Check out the recent blog post by Mike Linksvayer, former Creative Commons Chief Technology Officer, “Six reasons for GPL lovers, haters, exploiters and others to enjoy and support GPL enforcement.”

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Commons, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Original Content, P2P Legal Dev., Peer Property | No Comments »

Island in the net or an alternative to the net?

photo of Manuel Ortega

Manuel Ortega
8th March 2015


Could new free systems, thought of as alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, and with a distributed structure, create a different logic and dynamic from these born on centralized services?

Mar_de_floresAt the end of 2010, we published several posts on the nature and the consequences of the FbT-model, that is, socialization on Facebook + Twitter. The conversations that fed these posts were born of the question of whether new, free systems, thought of as alternatives to Facebook + Twitter and with a distributed structure, could create a different logic and dynamic from these born on centralized services.

We knew well the general dangers of centralized services, but beyond that, it became clear and obvious that the FbT-model had serious consequences for the culture that was born on the Internet. Little by little, it endangers the birth of conversational communities, and consequently limits the birth of new identities and social models.

Three years later

Not long ago, we installed two nodes of GNUsocial, one of these alternative systems. The two nodes are lamatriz.org and pluvio.net. In these first days of experience with GNUsocial, we learned a lot and begin discover interesting and important contributions to the above-mentioned conversation.

David: On the other quitter nodes, I think there is less sharing of links than on Twitter, and more characters and conversation.

Jacinto: How nice to have a space for calm conversation without all the noise.

First David and later Jacinto made reference to the existence of conversations in the nodes of GNUsocial. Reading their messages and rereading past posts, I believe I have found the key to understanding where this difference comes from.

It’s curious that when service is thought of for a real community and the software on which it is based is released… it loses its centralizing role (like Facebook’s), because it focuses on the building of an “island in the net,” provides tools for others, and distances itself from the totalitarian idea of making an alternative to the net.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Esperanto)

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Posted in Commons, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Free Software, Networks, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Development, P2P Technology, Social Media | No Comments »