Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Enclosure of the Information Commons

The current revolution in digital affairs is often analogized to the enclosure movement in pre-industrial Britain. As economic historians have explained, the strong private-property rights created by enclosure “helped to avoid the tragedies are both over use and under Investment. As a result of the enclosure movement, fewer Englishmen starved...”

Boyle subscribes to this analogy, stating “...we are in and the midst of a new kind of enclosure movement, this one aimed at exploiting and you and intangible kind of commons – call it a “commons of the mind.“ Yet, he explains a fundamental difference between real estate and so-called intellectual property: “unlike an earthly commons, the commons of the mind is generally what economists call “nonrival.”

Despite the haste in which the legal technique of absolute private-property rights is assumed to be the best way in which to order intellectual creations, it seems to be a fair question to ask what the unforeseen, unintended and most compelling uses for other technology-governance techniques may be. A failure to seriously investigate this possibility is not just a tragedy of the commons but of the marketplace and of society as whole.

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