Information commons

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For the building at the University of Sheffield, please see Information Commons, Sheffield.

An information commons is an information system, such as a physical library or online community, that exists to produce, conserve, and preserve information for current and future generations. Wikipedia could be considered to be an information commons to the extent that it produces and preserves information through current versions of articles and histories. Other examples of an information commons include Creative Commons.


The concept of the "information commons" refers to the shared knowledge-base and the processes that facilitate or hinder its use. It also refers to a physical space, usually in an academic library, where any and all can participate in the processes of information research, gathering and production. The term commons refers to the land (or common grounds) that villagers shared for grazing purposes in simpler times. The issues that fall under this topic are varied and include:

Some believe[who?] that the increasing control and commodification of information restricts humanity's ability to encourage and foster positive developments in its cultural, academic, and economic growth.

The Internet[edit]

The internet took the information commons to another level. The internet age empowered consumers to become creators, producers, and distributors of information.[1] The internet facilitated a decentralized production and distribution of information. It bypasses the control of some of the more traditional publishing methods. These information are neither regulated by managers nor are they coordinated by price signals in the market. This result in a common-based production of knowledge that can be easily shared among individuals.

Software commons[edit]

The software commons consists of all computer software which is available at little or no cost and which can be altered and reused with few restrictions. Thus all open source software and all free software are part of the commons.[2][3] However the commons also includes software outside of these categories - for instance, software which is in the public domain.

Many innovative programmers have started to share computer codes and released open source applications to the public. They are without the restrictive licensing provisions of commercial software. A very popular example is Linux, an open source version of the UNIX operating system. Although it is not as popular as its Apple or Microsoft counterparts, it is available for little to no cost and it may be used and redistributed without restriction. The Google search engine runs its server on the Linux open source system.[4]


Open source programs started emerging in the 1960s.[5] IBM was one of the first large scale computer companies to offer their products to the public. Most of these computers came with certain free software that was universal among computers, and could be altered and improved by anyone with the software. This quickly changed in the 1970s when IBM decided to take a more private approach to their products, removing the source codes and not allowing the redistribution of their software among the public. As time went on, many groups integrated and merged in order to further their research and programs. This webbing of integration (software commons) made it easy to access ongoing projects, alter them, and improve them.

In the 1980s and 1990s the software commons grew with the help of a primitive, more private based internet. With the abilities the internet had, international cooperation between different groups allowed these groups to produce and share their own personal products more freely. Groups like the GNU Project and Computer Science Research Group (CSRG) were established in order to create and distribute public software.

In 1995 Netscape released the first public web browser, completely changing the way companies looked at and did business. Now everyone could create, collaborate, and share their products and or software throughout a digital common area.[6][7] Stock over the newly public company skyrocketed its first day, starting at $28 at the beginning of the day, and ending at $75. This shocked the corporate world. Within three years of Netscape's initial release, the company started on its open source Mozilla project. Today, Mozilla Firefox is among the 5 most used web browsers in the world.[8]

More details[edit]

Open sourced software is free software offered to the public in order to compete with private based software companies.[9][10] Mozilla Firefox, a program created within the ideas of the software commons, provides competition from private based software like AOL. Linux, a free operating system, provides an alternative to privatized operating systems like Microsoft Windows and OS X. Other open sourced programs such as BitTorrent or peer to peer software have come under fire for piracy problems such as music and movie piracy.[11]

Licensing commons[edit]

Licensing is the process that copyright owners use to monitor reproduction, distribution, or other use of creative works. Majority of the license outside the commons are specific, costly, and restrictive. Licensing in the commons is quite different. Creators have begun to use the licensing model to grant permissions for many uses in advance. The GNU General Public License (GPL), developed by Richard Stallman at MIT in the 1980s is an example of such license. “The GNU Free Documentation License is a form of copyleft intended for use on a manual, textbook or other document to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifications, either commercially or non-commercially.” [12] The GPL allow works in the common to be secured in the common.

Scholarly commons[edit]

“In the 1980s, many professional societies turned over their journal publishing to private firms as a way to contain membership fees and generate income.” [13] The financial gains are eventually offset by significant losses of access to research. Prices of scholarly journals dropped dramatically and publishing corporations restricted access to these journals through expensive licenses. Research libraries had no other choice but to cut many of their journal subscriptions. European and American academic communities began to find alternate ways to distribute and manage scholarly information. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resource Coalition (SPARC) was founded in 1998. “It is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system. Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries." [14]


  1. ^ Kranich, Nancy. "The Information Commons." (2004): 6. Web. 6 May 2011. <>.
  2. ^ "The Free Expression Policy Project". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  3. ^ "A brief history of open source software". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  4. ^ "Our history in depth – Company – Google". Retrieved 2013-09-30. 
  5. ^ Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. Anchor/Doubleday, New York. 
  6. ^ "Most popular web browsers". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  7. ^ "Browser History: Netscape". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  8. ^ "Browser Statistics". Retrieved 2013-01-17. 
  9. ^ "Open Source - Intel® Software Network - Intel® Software Network". 2012-08-13. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  10. ^ Schweik, Charles M.; English, Robert C. (2012). Internet success : a study of open-source software commons. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01725-1. 
  11. ^ David Bollier (July 25, 2012). "Why Do Some Software Commons Succeed and Others Fail?". Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  12. ^ <>
  13. ^ Kranich, Nancy. "The Information Commons." (2004): 18. Web. 6 May 2011. <>.
  14. ^ <>

Further reading[edit]

  • Beagle, Donald Robert, with Donald Russell Bailey and Barbara Tierney (contributors). 2006. The Information Commons Handbook. Neal-Schuman Publishers. 247 p. ISBN 1-55570-562-6
  • Collier, David. 2005. Brand Name Bullies: The Quest to Own and Control Culture. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-67927-5
  • Burrell, Robert and Alison Coleman. 2005. Copyright Exceptions: the Digital Impact. Cambridge University Press. 426 p. ISBN 0-521-84726-5
  • Free Culture
  • Griffith, Jonathan and Uma Suthersanen. 2005. Copyright and Free Speech: Comparative and International Analyses. Oxford University Press. 426 p. ISBN 0-19-927604-8

External links[edit]