If one thing has become clear since the financial collapse of 2008, it is that some privileged players were abusing the system for their private, competitive advantage. They were, in the language of the commons, free riders. They could milk the system for unfair profits at the expense of everyone else.
Ludwig von Beethoven died 183 years ago. So why is his music still locked behind copyrights and not available for free to everyone? Because even if the music itself is in the public domain, the recordings of his music, or perhaps the sheet music (with special arrangements or notation) can be copyrighted by the orchestras that perform the music or the composers who notate it.
Despite the huge infusions of bailout capital by the federal government, many banks continue their reluctance to lend, even to creditworthy businesses and individuals. If nothing else, the banking crisis of the past 18 months has shown that when the chips are down, it’s the government and taxpayers who do the bidding of the banks, not vice-versa. The common wealth is commandeered to shore up private wealth because "the free market" is seen as the only realistic vehicle for advancing the common good.
One of the big problems in science is the proliferation of databases whose content is technically incompatible or legally proprietary in some fashion — and therefore unable to be used by others in their research. For years a number of smart, committed scientists, law scholars and techies have grappled with the problem of making data accessible and re-useable. Now they have released a blueprint for doing so.
The venerable English pub has long been a place where everyone from the businessman to the housewife to the student, factory worker and vicar could meet as equals — a social commons that reflected the neighborhood and its idiosyncrasies. Over the past twenty years or more, however, large corporations have consolidated the ownership of British pubs so that some companies own thousands of them. The trend has accelerated in recent years, forcing hundreds of independent local pubs to close.
If commons are to take root and grow in our society, at the local, national and international levels, what might that mean for the future of the nation-state, multilateral institutions and public policy? These are big, complex questions that need to be asked. We need to re-imagine governance in profound ways, not just in terms of local or digital commons, but also with respect to new roles for nation-states and new types of multilateral governance systems.
As the world attention converges on Copenhagen climate summit, a little-mentioned issue is the proper role of patents in encouraging the development of emissions-free energy technologies. Large tech companies like to claim that they need broad patents to encourage their investment in innovative new technologies. And they are poised to make a fortune off of selling patent licenses for new "green technologies" designed to abate carbon emissions.
For years, the free culture world was resolutely focused on building its eclectic array of commons projects — free software, open-access journals, wikis, and pools of creative works using Creative Commons licenses. History may record that the free culture reached a turning point in Barcelona, Spain, in November 2009. At the Free Culture Forum, a conference that just concluded this week, free culture activists from about twenty countries came together to assert a shared political and policy agenda.