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A proposal by Dmytri Kleiner (et al.), based on a critique of the approach by Creative Commons and other Copyleft approaches.

A more recent development along similar lines is Copyfair. Copyfarleft is specifically limited to worker-owned entities and cooperatives, which some may find restrictive. So Copyfair addresses more generically the relations between commons communities and the market entities working with them, expecting reciprocity in exchange for commercial rights (note from Michel Bauwens)

"The main argument advanced in the essay is that artists can not earn a living from exclusivity of "intellectual property" and that that neither copyleft licenses like the GPL, nor "copyjustright" frameworks such as the creative commons, can help."

Copyfarleft type licenses

Here are some existing licenses which are related to the Copyfarleft concept:


Alan Toner:

"“His suggestion is to establish a form of cooperative which would function in the same way as the copyright collection societies, such as GEMA in Germany which collects licenses for musical performances. Members would assign their copyrights to the cooperative, which would issue free non-exclusive licenses to other members.This is a similar modus operandi to that used by the Free Software Foundation who collect copyright assignments from their contributors, and then grant back a series of guaranteed permissions which form the crux of software freedom. Non-members could still use the works but would have to negotiate and pay a licensing fee in the normal manner. The original twist is in the criteria for membership of the cooperative, which would be limited to those who do not employ wage-labour or capital-intensive technology in producing cultural works; Dmytri referred to these as the non-alienation clause, and it’s worth unpacking it a bit.”

Dmytri Kleiner:

"the basic pragmatics is that that any organisation that employs wage labour, that is, is not a collective, co-operative or individual, would need to buy a license to distribute or otherwise use the works of the copyright collective. It is exactly the same as non-commercial, except that commons-based commercial use is allowed.

This allows the collective to license the work to commercial users, such as other publishers, broadcasters, etc.

Thus, such a collective could earn money from various sources, including licensing as described above, but also from providing streams or physical media to stores and other premises who do not wish to pay gema fees, and providing indemnification from persecution by gema, etc., if they agree to play exclusively titles represented by the collective.

In addition, the collective could publish it's own titles, and provide services including manufacturing, distribution, etc., to members who wish to self-publish.

The collective could also organize live events, such as concerts, screenings, readings and exhibitions, drawing on door and bar receipts as well as grants and sponsorships to earn revenue from such activities.

The earnings of such a collective, beyond funding it's operational expenses, could be used to build production infrastructure that cultural producers require, as well as giving grants and awards to fund artistic works." (by email, September 2009)


Dmytri Kleiner:

"Bauwens other point, that "The problem with copyfarleft is that it actually closes down the commons, since it wants to exclude non-venture business from using it," is false. It doesn't exclude anyone, it simply denies propriatarian users free access, meaning they have to negotiate non-free access, which is what they want and expect anyway.

As for: "Stallman created a feasible defensive tactic against future software capture with the GPL, whereas Kleiner says that isn't good enough, and proposes an offensive one."

The point of copyfarleft is that the economics of software and art are different, as the former is a capital stock, an input to production, while the second is a consumer stock, an end-consumable.

I do not say that the GPL is not good enough, my argument is that it is not applicibale to art (iirc Stallman has agreed with this, if for very different reasons than my own). The most common licences used by "free" art are "Non Comercial" licences, and it is these, not the GPL that Copyfarleft is proposed as an alternative for" (by email, May 2009)


From an essay at (2007)

Here are the details for his ‘Copyfarleft License’:

“For copyleft to have any revolutionary potential it must be Copyfarleft. It must insist upon workers ownership of the means of production.

In order to do this a license cannot have a single set of terms for all users, but rather must have different rules for different classes. Specifically one set of rules for those who are working within the context of workers ownership and commons based production, and another for those who employ private property and wage labour in production.

A copyfarleft license should make it possible for producers to share freely and to retain the value of their labour product, in otherwords it must be possible for workers to make money by applying their own labour to mutual property, but impossible for owners of private property to make money using wage labour.

Thus under a copyfarleft license a worker-owned printing cooperative could be free to reproduce, distribute, and modify the common stock as they like, but a privately owned publishing company would be prevented from having free access.

A trend in works by pro-copyleft artists seems in one sense related. The copyleft Non-Commercial licenses create two sets of rules with theoretically endogenic (orginating within the commons) ‘non-commercial’ uses being allowed while exogenic (orginating outside the commons) ‘commercial’ uses are forbidden except by agreement from the orginal authors. Examples of such licenses include the Creative Commons Non-Commercial ShareAlike license.

However, in order to create commons endogenic terms, the works themselves must be in the commons, and so long as the authors reserve the right to make money with this work and prevent other commons based producers from doing so, the work can not be considered to be in the commons at all, it is a private work. As such, it can not have commons endogenic-free terms, such as a copyfarleft license would require. This problem of creating ‘commons deeds’ for works that are not really a common stock is typical of the Copyjustright approach typified by the Creative Commons.

A copyfarleft license must allow commons based commercial use while denying the ability to profit by exploiting wage labour. The copyleft Non-Commercial approach does neither, it prevents commons based commerce, while restricting wage exploitation only by requiring the exploiters to share some loot with the so-called original author. In no way does this overcome the iron law for either the authors or other workers.

‘Non Commercial’ is not a suitable way to describe the required endogenic/exogenic boundary. Yet, no other commons license exists that provides a suitable legal framework for commons based producers to use.

Only a license that efectively prevents alienated property and wage labour from being employed in the reproduction of the otherwise free information commons can change the distribution of wealth.” (

Copyfarleft as 'restricted' commons

Stan Rhodes:

"I partially agree that copyfarleft has the "problem" you identify, but of course Kleiner would not call it a problem. Obviously, it's quite deliberate. It creates an opt-in structure for the commons, which is both closing it, but also not--it's a legal membrane that requires agreeing to a particular perspective of commons management in order to reap the benefits of the commons. The GPL does this too. The important difference with the GPL is the the high of the barrier to entry--the options you give up to reap the rewards.*

Kleiner wants an opt-in system with strong pressure to opt-in for full benefits, versus the opt-in GPL with very weak pressure to opt-in for full benefits. The GPL has a very low barrier to entry to get full benefits, whereas the copyfarleft, if it could exist, has a high barrier to entry. Ironically, what Kleiner sees as copyleft's weakness is also its strength, and why it has lasted and grown. You need all that capitalist free-riding to help propagate it.

  • Of course, the other problem--and another important difference

between copyfarleft and copyleft--is monitoring and enforcement, much like it is now with anything related to intellectual property. That problem is a result of a design, but not one of Kleiner's intention. As a thought experiment, I find copyfarleft insightful, because it couldn't work or restrict any better than copyright does now.

Opt-in structures with strong opt-in pressures shouldn't be abandoned tactically, though. The rule of thumb: strong exclusion attempts fail miserably with easily-transmitted nonrival goods. Kleiner was showing precisely this recently with deadswap. Strong exclusion works quite a bit better with rival goods, although that still varies by "exclusionability." As always, see the work of Ostrom et al. on common-pool resource management." (p2presearch May 2009)


Critique by Stefan Meretz of Oekonux

By Stefan Meretz. The following is a summary of a substantial essay. It starts by summarizing what Meretz says are a series of critical errors in Kleiner's original essay, in essence being that he uses early 19th economic categories that have been superseded by the critique of Marx. He then gives his own summary of Kleiner's position, before giving a more specific critique of that position.

See ; there is an improved version at Mute Magazine

Stefan Meretz:

"Since the copyleft does not bother the »property«, it can’t change the allegedly existing »iron law« of »unjust« participation in wealth such as copyright or »copyjustright« (like creative commons licenses) aren’t able to do that. On the contrary: since copyleft is only regulating usage, »property owners« can use the products.

Since the reason of this »unjustness« is already determined—the »property«—the solution suggests itself: changing of ownership structure. The workers have to own the companies themselves and rule over the means of production and exploitation. Only this way a more just distribution could be reached, because the workers as owners could determine for themselves about the distribution of wealth. This has also to be the measure for licenses, and because all existing licenses don’t touch »property« and distribution of wealth, a new license has to be created.

A »left« copyleft license has to distinguish between two types of »property«: workers property and »property owners« property. Or reworded: Between those, who work and those, who use wage labour. Kleiner: »it must be possible for workers to make money by applying their own labour to mutual property, but impossible for owners of private property to make money using wage labour«.

The workers-owner should be allowed to use the commons, because they are part of the commons. The workers-owner maintain a common pool of information goods, which has to be forbidden to access for »property owners« using wage labour. Thus workers-owner are allowed to be »inside« (»endogenic«), while »property owners« have to remain outside (»exogenic«).

Kleiner explains: »A copyfarleft license must allow commons based commercial use while denying the ability to profit by exploiting wage labour«. This goal is not achieved by any other license, because: »”Non Commercial” is not a suitable way to describe the required endogenic/exogenic boundary. Yet, no other commons license exists that provides a suitable legal framework for commons based producers to use.«

Thus copyfarleft is the attempt to build two economies by law: A commons based economy and a wage labour based economy. (

Key critical points


"He wants to change property disposition, but in no case the logic of producing goods in form of commodities operating on top of any property regime.

Producing goods in form of commodities describes the »mechanism«, that separated private producers—individual or collective ones—have to bring their products to market, in order to realize their value. As traditionally usual »production« is viewed as something neutral, while solely the distribution of the surplus value (wrongly named »rent«) is contendious. Below the line this changes—nothing.

The same applies for the so called »iron law of wages«. The fact, that the wage corresponds with the necessary means of reproduction, does not change. Also a workers owned company has look for the marketing of their products being commodities, has to keep up in competition, has to invest, has to cooperate with partners, has to outpace competitors—and can only pay the value of the work force. Such »workers owned« high tech companies as the »Telekommunisten« have always existed.

A prominent example is the Berlin company PSI, one of the really big consulting companies in germany in the meantime. Now, they no longer »workers-owned«, where they started from: The collective determination was stepwise reduced to employee participation and finally abolished resulting in an ordinary company. This has to come this way, the reasons given like »effective leading of the company« were not simply pushed forward, but resulted directly from the logics of exploitation (»making more money from money«) in competition."


the author is not only far away from criticising the basic principles—necessarily including exchange, market, money, state—but he rejects such considerations explicitly. When I asked him whether he wants to »rescue the exchange value« he answered: »I do not want to eliminate exchange, I want to eliminate property privilege.« This corresponds to the paper discussed here.

Despite all radical rhetorics Dmytri Kleiner don’t want to touch the basic principles of commodity production, but he want have are slightly more equal distribution of wealth based on commodity production. This was the goal of many people, a lot of people tried to realize this goal, and despite of so many defeats many people already want it: They will not succeed. It is simply not sufficient to achieve the disposition over the means of production, if they are used in the same operational mode. The production is not a neutral issue being seemingly usable for arbitrary purposes, but the production of separated private works is necessarily commodity production, where the societal mediation is only occuring ex post by the comparison of values—with all consequences (from market to climate disaster).

Conclusion: A critique of property combined with a bare critique of surplus value is definitive short-sighted, only a critique of value can take the basics of our societal mediation in the focus, because this is the point: It is about a new way of producing our lives. What a production beyond the logics of exploitation can mean, is shown by the free software. Copyleft exactly in the current form keeps free software legally grounded—nothing more, but also nothing less."

Alan Toner on the Problems of the Copyfarleft proposal:


Copyfarleft essentially reformulates familiar problems from the creative commons discussion but arguably succeeds in framing them in a more interesting way. For those who use the non-commercial clause as an avatar for ‘keep satanic corporations away from me!’, he actually provides a means of identifying the ’satanic’. But at a practical level, as a license, it would undoubtedly finish in the same theological attempt to ‘count the ‘number of angels you can fit on a pin’ which lies at the core of the non-commercial clause’s inanity. Let us recall at this point some of the basic issues raised by the latter. Site A offers works available for free and makes money off them by monetizing public attention through advertising sales. Site B sells .avi video files with printed covers at the cost of production and postage. Are either, neither, or both of these sites commercial? If one thinks about the alienation clause for ten seconds similar problems emerge: I make a film using unwaged labour, from youngsters who don’t have the money to buy a computer suitable as a basic video-editing machine, and then trade on the reputation gains of the output so as to make money in secondary activities (speaking, teaching, punditry) - has alienation take place? Has anyone been exploited?


Whilst the proposal has obvious conceptual difficulties, my real critique is a bit more unkind, which is that I think it projects desires from another political age onto an unwelcoming terrain. Effectively this framework expects people to apply a high-level political analysis to their online production, and this dies not jive with my perception of people’s motivations, which are complicated, contradictory and far from having the consciously contestational intention that Kleiner’s proposal implies as a given. In short his demand is for politics with a heroic capital P, in an age where the small ‘p’ is the fertile field of agency. Let me put it another way: there’s no problem in loosely aggregating millions of people around a diffuse pro-piracy/anti-copyright program, because it rhymes with their own interests, is composed of (a) negative thinking and (screw the industry!) (b) small homemade constitutive acts (rip!), and (c) the absence of heavy ideological baggage (all political shades love it!). Try and interest the same people in drawing up a political program that addresses the complexity of modern social organization and you’ll retain the attention of about .1% of them. Maybe 1.1%, if you can make them laugh with reasonable frequency.


In addition to the political problem, there is the matter of the lessons of recent history. Scrutiny of the story behind GNU/Linux, Wikipedia and any of the other really successful attempts to create functioning economic resources for their users, have proceeded by putting usability first, and limiting the political dimension to that which is directly pertinent to that field of activity. A totalizing critique of capitalist social relations simply has provided the base for a large-scale collaborative enterprise in the web so far. And there are some groups who are giving it a crack.

But now it’s late, so I’ll conclude. At a later point it will be worth taking a moment to consider how useful the contributions of Carol Rose, Elinor Ostrom and the scholarship on common property regimes/common pool resources could be.”

More Information

  1. Copyfair
  2. Copyleft
  3. Creative Commons
  4. General Public License

Other attempts at more Equity-based Licenses:

  1. The IANG License proposed by Patrick Godeau
  2. The User Ownership approach proposed by Patrick Anderson.