Digital commons (economics)

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The digital commons are a form of commons involving the distribution and communal ownership of informational resources and technology. Resources are typically designed to be used by the community by which they are created.[1] Examples of the digital commons include wikis, open-source software, and open-source licensing. The distinction between digital commons and other digital resources is that the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources.[2]

The digital commons provides the community with free and easy access to information. Typically, information created in the digital commons is designed to stay in the digital commons by using various forms of licensing, including the GNU General Public License and various Creative Commons licenses.

Early development

One of the first examples of digital commons is the Free Software movement, founded in the 1980s by Richard Stallman as an organized attempt to create a digital software commons. Inspired by the 70s programmer culture of improving software through mutual help, Stallman's movement was designed to encourage the use and distribution of free software.[3]

To prevent the misuse of software created by the movement, Stallman founded the GNU General Public License. Free software released under this license, even if it is improved or modified, must also be released under the same license, ensuring the software stays in the digital commons, free to use.


Today the digital commons takes the form of the Internet. With the internet come radical new ways to share information and software, enabling the rapid growth of the digital commons to the level enjoyed today. People and organisations can share their software, photos, general information, and ideas extremely easily due to the digital commons.[4]

Mayo Fuster Morell proposed a definition of digital commons as "as information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community and that tend to be non-exclusive, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources".[2]

The Foundation for P2P Alternatives explicitly aims to "creates a new public domain, an information commons, which should be protected and extended, especially in the domain of common knowledge creation" and actively promotes extending Creative Commons Licenses.[5]

In light of the Zero Marginal Cost Society, the Commons Transition and the transition to a digital commons in particular, appears to be inevitable. Critics observe the tension between contributing to the digital Commons, which is fundamentally abundant, and making a living, which is based on scarcity.[6]

Modern examples

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization that provides many free copyright licenses with which contributors to the digital commons can license their work. Creative Commons is focused on the expansion of flexible copyright. For example, popular image sharing sites like Flickr and Pixabay, provide access to hundreds of millions of Creative Commons licensed images, freely available within the digital commons.[7]

Creators of content in the digital commons can choose the type of Creative Commons license to apply to their works, which specifies the types of rights available to other users. Typically, Creative Commons licenses are used to restrict the work to non-commercial use.[7]


Wikis (like Wikipedia) are a huge contribution to the digital commons, serving information while allowing members of the community to create and edit content. Through wikis, knowledge can be pooled and compiled, generating a wealth of information from which the community can draw.

Public software repositories

Following in the spirit of the Free Software movement, public software repositories are a system in which communities can work together on open-source software projects, typically through version control systems such as Git and Subversion. Public software repositories allow for individuals make contributions to the same project, allowing the project to grow bigger than the sum of its parts. A popular example of a public software repository is GitHub.

City Top Level Domains

Top Level Domains or TLDs are Internet resources that facilitate finding the numbered computers on the Internet. The largest and most familiar TLD is .com. Beginning in 2012, ICANN, the California not-for-profit controlling access to the Domain Name System, began issuing names to cities. More than 30 cities applied for their TLDs, with .paris, .london, .nyc, .tokyo having been issued as of May 2015. A detailing of some commons names within the .nyc TLD includes neighborhood names, voter related names, and civic names.[8]

See also


  1. Stadler, Felix. Digital Commons: A dictionary entry. 22 April 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fuster Morell, M. (2010, p. 5). Dissertation: Governance of online creation communities: Provision of infrastructure for the building of digital commons.
  3. Bollier, David. Viral Spiral. How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own. New York, London, New Press, 2008
  4. Ghosh, Rishab Aiyer. CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2006
  6. See for example
  7. 7.0 7.1 Walljasper, Jay. All That We Share: How to save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities, and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us. New York: New, 2010.

External links