ECC2013/Knowledge Stream

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Working page for the knowledge stream of the Economics and the Commons Conference.

Please edit, comment, contact the stream coordinator as appropriate. There is also a stream forum on the conference communications site.

Read, view, and add to a list of stream recommended readings and viewings.


Science, and recently, free software, are paradigmatic knowledge commons; copyright and patent paradigmatic enclosures. But our vision may be constrained by the power of paradigmatic examples. Re-conceptualization may help us understand what might be achieved by moving most provisioning of knowledge to the commons; help us critically evaluate our commoning; and help us understand that all commons are knowledge commons.

Let us consider, what if:

  • Copyright and patent are not the first knowledge enclosures, but only "modern" enforcement of inequalities in what may be known and communicated?
  • Copyright and patent reform and licensing are merely small parts of a universe of knowledge commoning, including transparency, privacy, collaboration, all of science and culture and social knowledge?
  • Our strategy puts commons values first, and views narrow incentives with skepticism?
  • We articulate the value of knowledge commons – qualitative, quantitative, ethical, practical, other – such that knowledge commons can be embraced and challenged in mainstream discourse?


This gathering of commons-minded knowledge commoners, together with other commoners, presents a unique opportunity to (re)consider and (re)conceptualize the free/libre/open/commons movements we are active in from a strategic and commons-first perspective.


  • Deepen commons-basis for knowledge commons
  • Broaden our conception of knowledge commons, given commons-basis
  • Explain knowledge commons to, learn from, and make common cause with other commoners
  • Improve descriptions of the value of commons (specifically knowledge, but generally applicable) to society
  • Make our domain-specific commoning more strategic and potent, by incorporating commons knowledge and connections

Non-goal: Repeat domain-specific conversations that occur continuously at hundreds of conferences and online, enmeshed in domain-specific politics and little commons-grounding, e.g.:

  • How to fight the latest proposed expansion of copyright or patent
  • How to pay artists, scientists, journalists, etc
  • Various “business models” for culture, research, etc
  • How to promote free software, open access, open data, etc
  • What is the right public copyright or patent licensing structure to use
  • Does “piracy” increase or decrease culture industry revenue
  • Well-known possible reforms, eg re copyright; expansion of exceptions, filesharing levy, formalities, reduction of term, orphan works, etc
  • Problematization based on privacy, knowledge used for bad things, indigenous knowledge, etc
  • How to explain the existence of peer production; how to make it more efficient

None of these topics are verboten; indeed several may be vehicles used to concretize the above “what if” questions and to illuminate our goals. Creative Commons' Role in the Global Commons Movement from 2011 shows a little bit of the flavor, but not format, in mind: think about a thing's strategy if it were to be first about and aware of the commons, embedded in some other politics second (copyright in this case).

Further provocations that may serve as jumping off points or levers:

  • Might a deeper understanding of the commons paradigm, and (less importantly, and only with more understanding?) use of the term commons empower movements that think of themselves in terms of "open" (sometimes criticized for over-emphasizing access and taking while under-emphasizing provisioning and ethics; eg Open Access, Open Source) or free/libre (which suffers from conflation with gratis, and is too-little criticized for over-emphasizing individual autonomy, under-emphasizing community autonomy)? Acknowledging that free/libre/open often do denote real commons and commoning, and that the term "commons" does not guarantee commons and commoning.
  • Knowledge commons following the free software paradigm focus on voluntary "contractually constructed" commons, and while some consider all humans having freedom of computation (or culture, research, etc) an ethical imperative, the primarly legal instrument thought to protect autonomy relies on the whim of individual copyright holders to take expensive legal action, which very rarely happens. Does a deeper understanding of commons lead to an even deeper embrace of this reliance on "contractual construction" and private action, a turn to emphasis on government and institutional regulation, both, or other?
  • Faced with paradigmatic enclosures (copyright and patent), commoners tend to react (protest enclosure expansion) and propose small reforms to mitigate the broad harms of enclosure and specific threats to voluntary/constructed knowledge commons. Would a deeper understanding of commons change or add to those strategies?
  • If we consider knowledge as commons, can we more clearly appreciate how governance might occur at both global and local/community levels? For example, rules within communities, appropriately far more varied than global rules; threat to both commons by global enclosures, eg patent.
  • What does "beating of the bounds" mean for knowledge commons? "Piracy" is pervasive; how can it, at least in part, be made to help build commons, as opposed to merely marketing proprietary "content" and brands?
  • Would a deeper understanding of commons help the various free/libre/open domains (eg software, science, education, culture, hardware) cooperate more and better? How? What about movements not of the same mold, but very much about knowledge commmons, eg transparency, privacy?


May 21-22: Pertinent side events on communications, education, health; self-organize others.

May 23, 18:00: 30 minute keynote on knowledge commons by Carolina Botero; video available at YouTube

May 24 (detailed below):

  • 09:45-12:00 – knowledge stream session, concurrent with Money, Markets, Value stream session
  • 14:30-17:00 – knowledge stream in depth session, concurrent with all streams
  • 17:30-18:30 – plenary Towards a Commons-based Society together with all streams

May 25: For those who chose to stay: How to get there from here? conference followup and post-conference planning.

May 24

See methodology for important notes.


Concurrent with Money, Markets, Value stream session

09:45 Welcome

09:50 Articulating all commons as knowledge commons

Shared knowledge is a basis for all commons, and control of knowledge the basis for many inequalities. Enclosure of natural resources and infrastructure leads to loss of knowledge of how to manage the same a commons. Knowledge commoning isn't something best left to people who only or primarily care about software, scientific publication...

10:30 Beating the bounds: filesharing, leaking, counterfeiting, saving patented seeds, archiving without permission, ignoring their rules -- as knowledge commoning

Informality gets short shrift from knowledge commoners focused on constructed commons (free software etc) and policy reform. This is intended as an exploratory discussion – let's acknowledge informality as a form of knowledge commoning, perhaps hearkening back to "beating of the bounds" of physical commons. Where does considering informality in its relationship and effects on the commons rather than in its relationship and effects on enclosure regimes lead?

11:00 Knowledge commons, marginalized people, social justice

The ethics of digital knowledge commons focus on individual freedom; the case for knowledge commons as necessary for social justice is underdeveloped; traditional knowledge of marginalized people is seen as a dilemma for knowledge commons. What improvements can we expect and demand from a commons-first re-conceptualization of knowledge commons?

11:30 Knowledge commons research agenda

We don't have much rigorous knowledge about knowledge commoning, even celebrated and controversial methods (eg copyleft), and we lack characterizations of the value of knowledge commons that would be helpful for policy. What questions should we be encouraging researchers to take up?


Knowledge stream in depth session, concurrent with all streams

14:30 Promoting and protecting knowledge commons: copyleft and beyond

Given a new knowledge commons problem X, someone will stat that we need a "copyleft for X". But is copyleft even effective at promoting and protecting the commons of software? What if we re-conceptualize copyleft as prototype for effective pro-commons regulation rather than a hack on enclosure?

15:00 Provisioning knowledge commons, not merely recapitulating enclosed products: mass collaboration and other means

Provisioning knowledge in the commons can result in the same "products" as produced by enclosure, just with less inequality. But commons provision can also result in qualitatively different results, thoroughly shaped and enabled by the context of their provisioning. Big budget movies and pharmaceuticals are often posited (wrongly, by the way) as impossibilities for commons provision ... but should these industries be the "commanding heights" of culture and medicine, or would a commons-based society create different commanding heights?

15:30 Strategy: all commons as knowledge commons, commons-first knowledge commoning – how to?

What are the takeaways for knowledge commons movements and their strategies? How can various movements (eg free software, seed sharing, transparency...) and methods (eg democratic politics, legal reform, constructed commons, ignoring their rules) collaborate and complement each other? Is there a high-level vision for the role of knowledge commons in moving toward a commons-based society and the commons-first re-conceptualization of knowledge commons that we can develop a shared statement around?


Keynote to inspire stream participants to address stream objectives, introduce and motivate knowledge commons for all commoners.

Both knowledge stream sessions will be held Friday, May 24. The morning session will engage with the big picture: all commons as knowledge commons, and knowledge commons as ... commons, first and foremost. The afternoon session will dive deeper on what commons-first re-conceptualization means for knowledge commons movements.

There won't be presentations, rather discussion topics kicked off by brief (5 minute) provocations or a debate. The intent is lively discussions in which all attendees are assumed to be deeply knowledgeable and encouraged to be active participants -- and furthermore, to not have the same debates that can be had at many free/open software/culture/science/etc conferences, but to provocatively consider knowledge as a commons first rather than primarily as a carve out from a property regime, and to consider how shared knowledge -- knowledge commons -- are crucial to all commoning activity.

The stream may be more generative of questions than answers, but we hope to resurface with some principles and provocations that will be fruitful for all commoners to grapple with over the next years.

Plenary: To be determined by session content, overall conference organizers

How to get there from here?: To be determined, appropriately


  • Ongoing online communication on furthering stream goals; See the stream forum on the ECC communications site.
  • Brief statement on stream goals that can be endorsed by many and widely translated and promulgated
  • Documentation of all stream-related conference activities (writeup/photos/recording)
  • Further collaborations sparked in stream/at conference