Peer Property

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Contextual Citation

"the outcome of the process (of Peer Production) is a collective good. In the industrial era, cooperation, typically in a corporate setting, resulted in a proprietary product owned by the company. But, in the network age, cooperation becomes what Benkler calls “commons-based peer production," and it is the production of this commons, i.e. what is held in common, that erodes the foundations of old-fashioned property."

By Paul Hartzog at


Peer Property is a concept coined by Michel Bauwens to indicate the innovative nature of legal forms such as the General Public License, the Creative Commons, etc... Whereas traditional forms of property are exclusionary ("if it is mine, it is not yours"), peer property forms are inclusionary. It is from all of us, i.e. also for <you>, provided you respect the basic rules laid out in the license, such as the the openness of the source code for example. Peer property modes are therefore a 'third mode of property' which is neither private nor state-based, and is aligned with Peer Production as a third mode of production, and Peer Governance as a third mode of governance.

Peer Property create universal common-access property regimes.

The major legal forms of such peer property is the General Public License. See als the Creative Commons license and the Open Source Initiative. A proposed more radical implementation is the IANG License.

What is the key difference between the GPL and CC approaches

Michel Bauwens:

It helps to distinguish between different forms of sharing and purpose. There are many cases in which the individual need for expression and creative sharing is primary, and the commons is a derivative product of the individual creative process. In this case, the Creative Commons approach, which starts from a very strong position of the sovereignity of the individual, is appropropriate, and leaves the individual with a range of choices, many of which are not conducive to the creation of a strong Commons.

But there are other projects in which in individual consciously participates in a common project, such as Linux or the Wikipedia, where his contribution, even though it may correspond to an individual need, is clearly aimed at construction a Commons, which is therefore primary. In such a case, the GPL license is much more appropriate and conducive to the creation of a strong Commons.


Commonism and Ownerism

From a contribution to The Transitioner website:

"Proposition: Economic revolutions occur when aspects of production are sufficiently amplified by cognitive technologies that new economic patterns of production come into being. Example: the printing press provided the intellectual infrastructure (a culture of epistome) for the expansion of the simple tools of production during the industrial revolution into what is called Capital in the classical economic senseexternal link.

Proposition: There is a new economic revolution under way, the Process Revolution, that is the result of the amplification of information and information processing by the cognitive technology of the Internet, and which is similarly bringing new economic patterns of production into being. These patterns are a new economic factor that can be called Information (capital I), which is defined (analogously to Capital) as the data plus the patterns and processes that use that data to organize production.

Proposition: New economic factors produce competing political systems that are answers to the question: who should own the new economic factor. Example: In the industrial revolution the question was: who should own Capital and the products produced by Capital. Communism proposes common ownership in the form of the State, and Capitalism proposes ownership by individuals.

Proposition: The new economic factor of Information is likewise producing competing approaches to answer who should own it. "Ownerism" which proposes the same answer as Capitalism (ownership by individuals, natural or corporate), and "Commonism" which proposes that its ownership be held in the commons (not by the State).

Proposition: Capitalism won out against Communism for three fundamental philosophical and systemic reasons:

1. Capitalism was better at recognizing and building on individual dignity and potential.

2. Capitalism is essentially decentralist because it pushes the intelligence out to the edges (see David Reed & Andrew Lippman's paper on Viral Communicationexternal link for details on this idea) where local information can be used to maximum advantage in decision making.

3. Capitalism works with, not against people's natural self-interest.

Conjecture: Commonism will win out over Ownersim because it shares with Capitalism the same first two properties as well as another property which is analogous to the third, namely that Commonism works with Information's natural abundance and it's tendency to flow everywhere, whereas Ownerism has to fight tooth and nail to keep it scarce and from getting out." [1]

On the Relationship between Ownership and Hierarchy

Jeff Vail at

"The abstract notion of ownership serves as the single, greatest perpetuator of hierarchy. When one steps back and examines the notion of “owning” something, the abstraction becomes readily apparent. Ownership represents nothing more than a power-relationship—the ability to control. The tribal institution of “Ownership by use” on the other hand, suggests simply that one can only “own” those things that they put to immediate, direct and personal use to meet basic needs—and not more. A society crosses the memetic Rubicon when it accepts the abstraction that ownership can extend beyond the exclusive needs of one individual for survival. Abstract ownership begins when society accepts a claim of symbolic control of something without the requirement of immediate, direct and personal use. Hierarchy, at any level, requires this excess, abstract ownership—it represents the symbolic capital that forms the foundation of all stratification. In the simplest terms, in order to destroy the engine of hierarchy, we must destroy the mechanism of ownership. Proposing to destroy ownership may seem impractical, but societies have achieved similar feats before—such as the !Kung tribe’s aversion to status. If a society accepts that hierarchy fails the needs of human ontogeny, then one can argue that ownership—the engine of hierarchy—acts detrimentally to human needs. Like the !Kung taboo on status, a taboo on ownership would represent a serious defeat for hierarchy and all that it represents." (


Typology of Commons Regulation

things Access Regulation
Res nullius all non-regulated
Res privatae owner market-regulated
Res publicae public state-regulated
Res communes community peer-regulated


Steven Weber

Steven Weber is the author of The Success of Open Source, and explains the implications of the new mode of property inaugurated by Open Source and Free Software. The citations were chosen by Stefan Merten of Oekonux.

In the Preface:

By experimenting with fundamental notions of what constitutes property, this community has reframed and recast dome of the most basic problems of governance. At the same time,m it is remaking the politics and economics of the software world. If you believe(as I do) that software constitutes at once some of the core tools and core rules for the future of how human beings work together to create wealth, beauty, new ideas, and solution to problems, then understanding how open source can change this processes is very important.

In Chapter 1 "Propery and the Problem of Software":

I explain the creation of a particular kind of software - open source software - as an experiment in social organization around a distinctive notion of property. The conventional notion of property is, of course, the right to exclude your from using something that belongs to me. Property in open source is configured fundamentally around the right to distribute, not the right to exclude. If that sentence feels awkward on first reading, that is a testimony to just how deeply embedded in our intuitions and institutions the exclusion view of property really is.

What would a broader version of this political economy really look like? This book uses the open source story as a vehicle for proposing a set of preliminary answers to that very large question.

Ultimately the success of open source is a political story. The open source software process is not a chaotic free-for-all in which everyone has equal power and influence. And is is certainly not an idyllic community of like-minded friends i which consensus reigns and agreement is easy. In fact, conflict is not unusual in this community; it's endemic and inherent to the open source process. The management of conflict is politics and indeed there is a political organization at work here, with the standard accouterments of power, interests, rules, behavioral norms, decision-making procedures, and sanctioning mechanisms. But it is not a political organization that looks familiar to the logic of an industrial-era political economy.

Creation and innovation as collective process: legal assumptions of IP rights

Comment by David Bollier of the On The Commons weblog: "Georgetown law professor Julie E. Cohen has a path-breaking law review article on copyright law’s failure to recognize the “centrality of borrowing, collaboration and environment to creative practice of all sorts". Cohen’s paper, “Copyright, Commodification and Culture: Locating the Public Domain," calls for "a sociology of creative practice" and analyzes why the “public domain," as traditionally understood in the law, fails to recognize the actual dynamics of creativity.

Cohen writes: "Although economic modeling can contribute to the understanding of markets for creative goods,…. by itself it cannot provide adequate theoretical foundation for understanding the dynamics that drive the development of artistic culture, and therefore it cannot provide adequate theoretical foundations for copyright policy….Creativity and creative practice are social phenomena that are both broader than and antecedent to the institutions with which both economics and more broadly political economy are concerned…. If copyright law is to recognize a right of creative access to the cultural landscape, it is precisely this right that must be limited, yet that is precisely what copyright law increasingly refuses to do. Instead, conventional wisdom holds that any curtailment of derivative rights would reduce “incentives" to invest in works of mass culture."

"Attention to the social parameters of creative practice suggests that the common in culture is not a separate place, but a distributed property of social space. The legally constituted common should both mirror and express this disaggregation. The paper offers a different organizing metaphor for the relationship between the public and the proprietary that matches the theory and practice of creativity more accurately: The common in culture is the cultural landscape within which creative practice takes place." (

More articles by Julie Cohen at

Against the Private Appropriation of Common Knowledge


Bifo, an Italian radical writer, on the private appropriation of collective knowledge:

“The attempt at coercive privatization of collective knowledge has encountered resistance everywhere. Since intellectual labour is at the center of the productive scene, the merchant no longer possesses the juridical or material means to impose the principle of private property. When immaterial goods can be reproduced at will, the private appropriation of goods make no sense. In the sphere of semiotic capital and cognitive labour, when a product is consumed instead of disappearing, it remains available, while its value increases the more its use is shared" (Bifo, in Neuro, e-newsletter)

Herve Le Crosnier

Herve Le Crosnier summarises the different attempts to extend commodification to the informational sphere:

"le marché ne pouvant plus s'étendre géographiquement (la fin de “l'impérialisme", malgré les soubresauts guerriers actuels) en vient à coloniser ce qui fait le propre de la société globale des humains : le vivant et la connaissance. Pour le secteur de la connaissance, ce sont les méthodes informatiques qui sont au coeur de ce phénomène de renouvellement de la sphère marchande :en favorisant le paquetage de micro-documents (par exemple une chanson plutôt qu'un album, une page plutôt qu'un livre, un article plutôt qu'un journal...) ; en permettant le traçage des usages (les “Mesures Techniques de Protection" comme les DRM – Digital Rights Managements systems), bientôt complétées par l'authentification systématique des personnes et des actes de lecture (le modèle du “Passport" de Microsoft). Ajoutons le financement publicitaire ciblé rendu possible par l'exploitation de masse des traces de lecture et la personnalisation des accès à l'information (la notion de “portail personnel") ; en favorisant l'émergence de “micro-paiements". Le fameux “gain de productivité introuvable" de l'informatisation et des réseaux pourrait bien enfin émerger dans ce phénomène, qui exploite la baisse radicale des coûts de transaction, en créant des opportunités nouvelles (l'économie de la longue traîne, La longue queue ) mais aussi des effets boomerang encore inconnus pour l'organisation sociale (par exemple l'usage des RFID pour les “paiements" indolores dans un monde de péages généralisés. cf l'expérience de Hanau, Allemagne, de paiement par téléphone muni de RFID pour les trajets de bus » (

Herve Le Crosnier then outlines the negative aspects of such enclosures of the Information Commons :

« Or cette expansion inédite dans l'étendue de la sphère marchande est en contradiction avec bien des méthodes que les sociétés ont trouvé au fil des siècles pour produire les ressources nécessaires dans les domaines liés à “l'information" et sa transmission :

- c'est un phénomène qui réduit les capacités des paysans à utiliser au mieux les plantes, et ne reconnaît pas le caractère global et historique de l'obtention végétale. Avec les OGM, par exemple, c'est le dernier maillon de la chaîne (celui qui intriduit un gène et le brevète) qui bénéficie de l'expérience cumulée des générations de paysans et la privatise pour lui-même [on trouvera de nombreux exemples et des explications dans “Pouvoir Savoir : le développement face aux biens communs de l'information et à la propriété intellectuelle". ) ;

- c'est un phénomène qui réduit les capacités d'innovation, à l'image des “buissons de brevets", qui visent à bloquer l'émergence de technologies hors des grandes entreprises se partageant un secteur industriel : tout nouvel entrant se retrouvant inévitablement à marcher sur des plates-bandes déjà retournées, et les puissance du secteur se contrôlant mutuellement par l'échange de brevets. L'exemple de l'industrie électronique est particulièrement éclairant [ Economie de la propriété intellectuelle, par François Lévêque et Yann Ménière, Coll. Repères, éd. La Découverte, 2003, 124 p., 7,95 euros ] ... ce qui renforce toutes les craintes si les “brevets de logiciels et de méthodes" sont généralisés [ .Brevets logiciels : Lettre ouverte de Richard Stallman au Parlement italien, 19 mai 2005 – traduction française ] ;

- c'est un phénomène qui réduit les capacités de transmission de la culture et de la connaissance par l'éducation. En faisant du “marché éducatif" un eldorado mondial encore inexploré, les stratégies promues, tant par les entreprises que par les grands organismes intervenant sur ce secteur, comme la Banque mondiale, laissent se marginaliser les méthodes de contact direct propres à “l'éducation de masse", qui malgré leurs défauts ont su porter, en un seul siècle, la richesse intellectuelle dans tous les endroits de la planète (mutatis mutandis, évidemment en fonction des niveaux de développement) ;

- c'est un phénomène qui réduit les capacités des créateurs à se nourrir des oeuvres précédentes, à “remixer" la(les) culture(s) [ “The People Own Ideas!", Lawrence Lessig, MIT Technology Review juin 2005 ] dans un phénomène permanent dans lequel le lecteur et sa capacité interprétative devient le meilleur “passeur" de la culture (le prêt de livres et le conseil des amis restent par exemple le principal vecteur de la lecture) et le meilleur “interprète" de nouvelles versions (reprendre les idées pour les “remixer" dans ses propres productions) (

Stefan Meretz: strategically, ownership follows practice

Stefan Meretz:

"A lesson what we can learn from several historical trials is, that we cannot start from the question of ownership: first conquer the ownership, then build a new society -- no, this does not work. We can learn, that ownership is a result of the development of the way to produces our lives and of the productive forces, it was always in history in this sequence. Thus, we have to develop a new way of production using most developed productive forces, and then ownership will follow. "Will follow" does not mean automatically, there will be fights. But it would be the right sequence: First the production, then the societal form. We saw this "logical" sequence in free software and free culture movement:. (Oekonux mailing list, 12/2007)

Key Book to Read

  • Steven Webber. The Success of Open Source, explicitely interprets the open source production process as centered a new vision of property seen as a right not to exclude, but to distribute.

  • Alexander, Gregory S., Commodity and Propriety: Competing Visions ofProperty in American Legal Thought, (University of ChicagoPress, 1997).

Recommended by Bollier, David: "A magisterial history of the concept of property in American law, and therefore a useful investigation into the basic assumptions embedded in property law discourse."

Recommended here

  • David Ellerman. Property and Contract in Economics: The Case for Economic Democracy.

Recommended by Kevin Carson.

More Information

  1. Digital Property. Essay by Sabine Nuss, excellent overview.
  2. Power and Ownership