Commoning for all

Wikipedia logo from Wikimedia Commons

This article first appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on 14 September 2017

Goods, skills, land, knowledge and many other valuable resources can be held in common: they do not have to be privately owned and they do not have to be part of a marketplace of trade and profit.

Everyone is familiar with the idea of a common as a piece of land where anyone can walk, and some of us vaguely remember a history lesson about peasants being allowed to gather firewood or let their pigs roam or some-such.

Open-source and free software has been a hugely valuable commons for decades in the world of computing. Android is now the most used computer system worldwide. It is based on Linux, which is a poster child of the free software movement. I have used first SuSE and more recently Ubuntu, which are two other types of Linux, on my home and business laptops since 2001. Other examples of the free software commons that you may have heard of include the Chromium and Firefox web browsers, Open Office and LibreOffice (on which I am typing this) and Thunderbird, the free email client. Even Apple’s iOS and macOS are based on BSD Unix. BSD originated at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1970s and was donated to the free software commons in the 1990s.

Wikipedia is a huge commons of knowledge built for free, for free use. The same goes for its sister project Wikimedia Commons, which is a massive repository of photos, diagrams, sound files, videos and so on. Many of these illustrate Wikipedia articles, but they also have a commons life of their own. Wikipedia, and all its related projects are released under Creative Commons licences. After these columns of mine appear in the JEP, they end up licensed under a Creative Commons licence on Nine by Five Media on the internet. Anyone can release their writings, drawings or other works in the same way.

Expanding the commons is a dream of many of the thinkers and campaigners who want to reduce the power that money and commerce have over our lives.

I have read that there are three aspects to a commons. There are the resources held in common, then there are the people who create, manage and maintain the resources, and finally there are the rules that those people choose to put in place concerning their use. With proper controls, I think there is a real future for commoning.

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