The Future of the Commons – Paul Stacey #open17

A commons is “a community based social system, independent of the state and market, for the long-term stewardship of resources”.

Creative Commons publishes an annual State of the Commons report. Big growth year on year.

  • museums and libraries making heavy use of CC for their materials;
  • open access journals are also growing heavily;
  • open textbooks (OpenStax Physics etc books now being translated to other languages) and other open education resources
  • images eg 500px which focuses on high-quality photos from professionals
  • video eg on vimeo eg short film “Alike
  • open data eg GeoNet; “A Quiet Revolution

Has morphed from individuals using CC licences to organisations using them.

But have we underpaid attention to the social system around this? The rules around CC are different from the rules for copyright. Permissions are expressed upfront. Instead of just borrow/return, you can:

  • retain the copy
  • reuse
  • revise
  • remix
  • redistribute

Physical commons – rivalrous, excludable, depletable, replication cost

Digital commons – non-rivalrous, non-excludable, non-depletable, replication almost free

Processing speed, bandwidth, storage are doubling every year so there’s a different economics.’

Different way to participate – crowdsourcing eg through the Wiki Loves Monuments photo competition; #ColourOurCollections; Rijksstudio platform to remix Rijsmuseum content into eg a kimono; or a sleeping mask; or contact lenses – which get produced and sold in their store.

Initiatives like this increasingly involve and engage librarians.

Expanding physical commons collections eg toy libraries, tool libraries, tie-lending libraries, musical instruments. (However most not being done by libraries.)

Learning commons – but do we help students find CC-licensed content? do we help faculty not plagiarise…? Library in Gouda Netherlands has a chocolate factory.

Maker spaces and 3D printing. Vancouver has an inspiration lab – can borrow instruments, book a studio, edit.

Social and economic aspects of building a commons

Common question: Why would I give my work away for free when I could get rich? So wrote Made with Creative Commons to answer this – a book to show the world how CC is good for business. Interviewed businesses etc across sectors/around the world to show what they’re doing, how it works, etc.

Not your ‘business as usual’ – not in it to maximise profit or restrict access, monetise commodities, selling to the highest bidder. Tended to be driven by social good. Viewed customers differently from a typical business – wanted to establish a personal connection/relation/collaboration.

Success/sustainability = CC + social good + human connection + $$ — ie Have high-value CC-licensed resources; generate genuine human connection; and then you can have some way of making money on top.

Big picture

Historically three ways to manage resources: the market, the state, and the commons. The commons is perhaps the oldest; appropriated by the state (‘enclosure of the commons’); given/taken over by the market.

Some organisations (like Wikimedia) are pure commons. Some (like Arduino) are hybrid commons-market. Then Rijksmuseum is state-commons-market.

You need to understand which part of your operation is which and run it appropriately. The state part and the commons part operate differently, with different norms and rules.

Market: private goods, indirect processes, norms and rules of property; goals are sales, revenue, profit, shareholder return, growth

State: public goods, indirect processes around authority; norms and rules of policies, regulations, laws; goals of quality of life, social and economic wellbeing

Commons: common goods, direct processes, rules and norms of creative commons, goals of participation, distributional equity

Principles of adding value, transparency, attribution, give more than you take, develop trust, defend the Commons

Benefits: access, equity, efficiency, flexibility, participation, reach and impact, lower cost, personalisation – these can’t be done by the market. Don’t put forth a rational based on market rules (eg ROI) it won’t make sense. Amplify the story of the shift from scarcity to abundance.

If you want to point to economists talking like this, see Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth


“Tragedy of the Commons” essay often used against the idea of the commons. But the essay was written by someone who’d never seen a commons. In the real world, people actual speak to each other and balance everyone’s needs against each others and the commons.

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