Hail to the Information Commons!

I’ve always believed that one of the biggest challenges facing the commons movement is showing how to “see” isolated phenomena in new ways. Now comes an excellent new report that does just that for the “information commons.”

Nancy Kranich, a former president of the American Library Association, shows us how online archives of scientific articles, a website that offers music lessons, audio recordings of the US Supreme Court, a site devoted to voter information, an online archive of international children’s literature, and dozens of other such sites constitute a new cultural genre: the information commons. The commons differs from market analogues by their emphasis on sharing and collaboration in the production, use and distribution of information. What’s really provocative is that such commons models are usually more efficient and socially convivial than the market-driven alternatives.

Kranich’s report outlines the concept of the information commons and documents the rampant market enclosures that are privatizing creativity and knowledge. The report, “The Information Commons,” is published by the Free Expression Policy Project in New York, which recently merged with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

By bringing together so many empirical examples, Kranich helps show how the market “solutions” such as “digital rights management,” new extensions of copyright law, and media consolidation, are increasingly destroying the free flow of information and creative works.

She helpfully proposes a number of practical actions to expand the information commons, such as: mandatory public access to publicly funded research, no new expansions of copyright law, the use of licenses and contracts to assure open access to works, and the encouragement of peer production of information.