Why We Must Talk about the Information Commons – David Bollier

Why We Must Talk about the Information Commons, by David Bollier (2004), is as contextual now as it was nearly a decade ago. Bollier presents a simple, yet powerful, discussion of why we must develop a new language surrounding the information commons. Rather than treating information commons as a “trendy buzzword”, Bollier proposes it is a new way of thinking that allows a clearer vision of a complex “ecosystem of creativity and information in the digital age.” He makes strong links between technology, markets and the law, and how this may impact our democratic freedoms in ways we cannot currently comprehend.

We should take ‘innovation commons’ in a similar manner. The issue with current views of innovation economics is that we generally start with a discussion of patent law, copyright law and research and development (namely their downfalls). These are institutional solutions that have been engineered in an attempt to stimulate innovation. Whether they are effective, efficient or morally right, should be argued, but it should not be the argument.

The issue is that if we start our discussion from this perspective, we already start with a distorted view. We miss the ‘big picture’. We need a new language and terminology around the innovation commons – to “open up a new vector of discussion”. I propose that viewing the innovation problem from an institutional governance perspective will prove a valuable endeavour.

We need a broad theory of innovation; a dynamic process mapping the innovative process. Currently I’m working innovation through three main phases; (1) initially pure ideas, (2) through competition, cooperation and trial-and-error; and (3) a governance decision regarding specific formal institutions. This dynamic process enables a broader, general overview with which we discuss innovation, rather than keeping in the restrictive point of view we currently hold. It still holds a place for patent law, copyright and R&D, but at least allows other solutions, too. In particular, it allows a conversation of the innovation commons. A more general model would allow different innovation paths to develop along side each other, as complements in a broad framework. This is much more realistic.

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