The idea of the commons is an ancient one. Peasants of medieval Europe seldom owned their own land. Legally, it was held by the nobles, the king or the Church. But they did have the right to use certain lands in common to grow crops, cut wood, or graze livestock. As capitalism supplanted feudalism, the commons began to be privatized. First, land and forests were enclosed. As commodity relations spread, more natural resources, like water, followed suit. In our own era privatization has gobbled up a huge new arena of the commons as intellectual property: the patenting of traditional plant varieties, the human genome itself and biodiversity itself.
David Bollier says the enclosure of the commons by the market is one of the paramount injustices of contemporary life. But, he says, the emerging digital commons of the internet is exerting a powerful counterforce. It’s all about a values shift from limiting access to throwing it wide open, creating benefits for both individuals and social communities.
Bollier calls it VIRAL SPIRAL in a new book of that name. And he walks his talk: the book is available as a free download, as well as a traditional hardcover you can buy commercially.
David Bollier has been thinking and writing about the commons and intellectual property for a long time. His previous book, Brand Name Bullies, examined the excesses of copyright law. He edits the web portal and blog OnTheCommons.org.
MORE ON THE COMMONS: Let’s Reclaim The Commons