Pure information such as ideas, plans, intellect, software, video, audio, genetics, or any design of any kind is not rivalrous, so does not need owners. But each copy must be “hosted” by the rivalrous land and capital needed to store, copy and express it. It is this inescapable connection to the physical world that makes bread and software both infinite in potential, but always limited immediately by the current number of copies in existence, and into the future by the Physical Sources and labor needed to make more copies.
We can think of information as the ‘Virtual’ sources of production, while ‘Physical’ sources are the material aspects of reality such as space, mass and energy. Examples of physical sources include land, water, sunlight, seeds/eggs/spores, buildings, tools, computers, electricity, gas, food, etc.
Information is non-rivalrous in and of itself, but it cannot be utilized, and will often even cease to exist without Physical Sources for storage and expression.
The design of a car, the data and code composing a software program, the genetics of a living organism, a picture, an email, a video or song, etc. always requires physical space, mass and energy to store and express it. Information is not infinite ONLY because it is permanently anchored to the physical world through this requirement of hosting. For instance, when you copy a program, the new copy must be stored on optical, magnetic or ‘flash’ media which itself requires space; and the entire operation requires electricity. Even if the program is so small that you can just memorize it, and type it in at another terminal, it still must reside in your grey matter until transfer it through the keyboard to the RAM and then hard-drive of the computer you work at.
So, while the GNU General Public License can be used to free any information, we are still at the mercy of those that own the physical sources required for hosting and manufacturing.
Small-time hosting is fairly cheap and easy for an individual, but some things are too expensive to be held by a single person, or are only meaningful in a group setting.
For instance, the machinery and buildings needed to manufacture cars and computers are terribly expensive and out of reach for a single individual. Setting such as a “community center” and the physical infrastructure of a network are usually only meaningful if more than one person is participating.
So it is useful to be able to “share” or “co-own” resources, but this organization is typically left to those that intend to extract profit from the consumers or users that need the objects of those facilities.
As a community of users grows around that hardware, it becomes more and more clear that the owners are in control even if the virtual sources being used are free.
The GNU General Public License is a trade agreement originally between the copyright holders (the developers/programmers/artists), and finally between all object INSTANCE owners (those owning the media used to host their own copy) that share with others.
When such trade occurs, the INSTANCE owner is required to allow that new user “at cost” access to the Virtual Sources of that information. This is fairly trivial for Virtual Sources, as the costs are quite small (though never zero). But what can we do for the User to gain control of the Physical Sources of production?
I have an idea about how to go about this, but am not sure it is complete or even accurate. Please tell me what you think of the following proposal, and how we might merge these ideas with those of others working on creating a physical commons.
The kernel of my idea is to write a contract that causes any price paid above cost (what would usually be called profit) to become an investment in more physical sources required to insure that objective continues to be hosted in the future under the direct but collective control (limited by the agreement of the owners of each realistically divisible sub-group) of that very same user. In this way hosting can be large-scale while remaining under consumer control.
The contract would then be used by any group of consumers that buy physical sources for the purpose of product instead of profit.
This perpetuates user freedom through dynamic allocation of physical sources as real property ownership. New users thus gain ownership when the profit they pay becomes their own investment toward more physical sources – so that price approaches cost as competition approaches perfection.