Legal Commons and Social Commons

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Legal Commons vs. Social Commons

Distinction used by Ronaldo Lemos in a presentation



According to him, open business can take two forms. One is what he calls the "legal commons" - a business model based on an idea of sharing and using open licenses. Netlabels like Magnatune, open access journals like PLoS or the Brasilian press agency Agencia Brasil are all examples of this approach. The other form he calls "social commons", which are more typical of developing countries and contexts in which intellectual property is a foreign idea to most. Social commons thrives in situations where technology arrived before the law, allowing autonomous creative industries to appear. These often take for granted free sharing and dissemination outside of a legal framework.

While many would call this "piracy", Ronaldo points out that it is the idea of sharing and mutual appropriation, rather than plunder and robbery, that is at the heart of what he therefore calls a "social commons".

Ronaldo provided several examples. Tecno Brega is a strong musical scene from northern Brasil, with artists releasing hundreds of CDs a year. These get sold through a network of street vendors without returning a single penny to the artists, who make money by playing at concerts and parties. (Here's an article bout Tecno Brega at the OpenBusiness site). Another example coming from Brasil is Baile Funk music (also known as 'Favela Funk' or 'Funk Carioca') - Ronaldo pointed out the high symbolic impact of this music, which originates in Rio's favelas and spreads out around the world as artists copy its infectious rhythms. Tati Quebra Barraco, a popular Funk MC, has not sued M.I.A. for including samples of Tati's songs in their hit song "Bucky Done Gun" without paying a cent of royalties. Appropriation is natural to Baile Funk artists. In Egypt, singers make their music available for free on the internet for "pirating", while they make big profits by playing at weddings.

In Nigeria, a "social commons" movie industry thrives - the largest in the world, taking into account the number of films produced (Heather Ford wrote about Nollywood for this site in May).

It is necessary to remember about vast pockets of "social commons" as we try to build a global map of cultural production and distribution. From the Brasilian perspective, the world of strict IP rights enforcement is located quite far away, as even major music labels publish little more than a dozen new CDs a year in this musically rich country of 180 million inhabitants. Interestingly enough, as Ronaldo observed, these countries will have to switch to "legal commons" with the introduction of digital technologies and internet in particular - to preserve the tradition of "social commons". ([1])