Digital Commons

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Mayo Fuster Morell: "Digital commons are defined as an information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community and that tend to be non-exclusivedible, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources." (Fuster Morell, M. (2010). The Governance of online creation communities for the building of digital commons. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). European University Institute. Florence.)


Felix Stalder:

The digital commons comprises informational resources created and shared within voluntary communities of varying size and interests. These resources are typically held de facto as communal, rather than private or public (i.e. state) property. Management of the resource is characteristically oriented towards use within the community, rather than exchange in the market. As a result, separation between producers and consumers is minimal in the digital commons.

The digital commons has generated new paradigms for the production and dissemination of cultural works and knowledge goods, based on the right of users to access, distribute and transform them. These new paradigms are articulated by three loosely aligned, networked social movements, each committed to large-scale, collective action aiming to transform social reality. The oldest and most advanced is the Free Software movement which focuses on software code. The Free Culture movement, which focuses on cultural goods, is younger and still somewhat in a formative phase. The Access to Knowledge (A2K) movement focuses on knowledge-intensive goods, such as scholarly publications or medicines. All three share an understanding that in a digital context cultural works and knowledge goods are fundamentally different from physical goods, since they can be easily and cheaply copied, shared and transformed. Because sharing means multiplying rather than dividing, they are naturally abundant. Thus, there is no ethical justification to prevent anyone from enjoying the benefits of using them. Scarcity exists only when it is artificially introduced after production.

At the political level, the Free Software movement aims to empower communities of users to use freely, examine and change what is arguably the most critical layer of the infrastructure of the network society, computer software. The Free Culture movement aims to increase semiotic democracy, that is, the ability of all people to take active part in the production of culture and to contribute freely to the exchanges that constitute public life. The Access to Knowledge movement aims at improving social equity, particularly in the North/South context, by removing barriers to access to knowledge goods, increase social welfare and broaden the range of actors who can contribute to their further development, particularly scientists in developing countries.

The emergence of the digital commons is one expression of a historical shift from the industrial economy (Fordism) to the networked economy. Firms and markets are reorganizing – away from large hierarchical firms producing for mass markets towards flexibly networked, smaller units producing highly targeted goods and services. Moreover, the scope for value creation expands from the economy proper into society at large, at least partially escaping from property regimes and the need for market exchange. The social reality produced by this structural transformation is variable and contradictory. The digital commons represents a cluster of practical visions to steer this it in a more democratic and equitable direction by advancing processes of decentralization, lowering obstacles to participation and reducing positions of power created by monopolies over intellectual property. This commons represents a third model of social production, neither dependent on the state nor oriented towards the market, even though it may partially overlap with both." (

The Digital Commons as a Political Project

George Dafermos:

"The coming of the new millennium, however, signaled the emergence of a new type of commons on the Internet, which are remarkably different from the traditional commons of nature. To begin with, the ‘new commons’ are virtual, which means that they can only be accessed through electronic devices like internet-enabled personal computers and mobile phones. Due to their digital form, which enables their reproduction at negligible cost, they are also ‘non-rival:’ that is, their ‘consumption by one person does not make them any less available for consumption by another’ (Benkler 2006: 36) and so they can be used over and over again without the fear of depletion of supply. Lastly, the digital commons are the fruit of the labour of communities which reside in cyberspace. In contrast to the environmental commons, which are typically managed by local (and usually small) communities, the digital commons are connected with online communities that can be truly huge with thousands of members all over the world (Schweik & English 2007).

In light of these differences, it is obvious that the digital commons diverge from the commons of nature in politically crucial respects (See Report 2. The Common, sections 2.2, 2.3). However, what, more than anything else, sets the digital commons politically apart from the traditional commons is their mode of production. According to the leading theorists of the digital commons, this mode of production –which they define as commons-based peer production (e.g. Bauwens 2009, Benkler 2006)– is antagonistic towards the capitalist mode of production, having in fact ‘the potential to succeed capitalism as the core value and organizational model of a post-capitalist society’ (Bauwens 2012). In specific, they claim that the mode of production of the digital commons is bound to expand and dominate the economy, paving thus the way for the institution of a new society (see, e.g., Bauwens 2005). From the perspective of the theory, then, the digital commons are nothing less than the foundation of a new political project." (


  1. Free Software
  2. Free Culture
  3. Access to Knowledge


  • Fuster Morell, M. (2010). The Governance of online creation communities for the building of digital commons. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). European University Institute. Florence.
  • Felix Stalder’s ‘Digital Commons’, in The Human Economy: A World Citizen’s Guide by Keith Hart, Jean-Louis Laville, Antonio David Cattani (eds) (Polity Press),

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