Knowledge commons and open access to knowledge
Alternative forms of knowledge (cum innovation) production have been explicitly developed to counterbalance or offer an alternative to knowledge privatization. This is the case of open science or open access - the latter particularly related to OSS - (Scheufen, 2014; Schrape, 2018) and the knowledge commons (Coriat, 2012, 2013, 2015; Orsi, 2015; Orsi & Zimmermann, 2011).
OSS has its origins in free software with the pioneering work of Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. Copyleft - in opposition to copyrights - states that every software using and adapting free software must also be free (Stallman, 2002; Williams, 2010). But free means two things in English, that the price is zero and freedom. It was the latter meaning what the free software movement embraced when they voted for “open source” as their new name in a free software summit in Mozilla’s launch party; Stallman was not invited. This paved the way for different licencing alternatives to copyrights all considered as open source. The most popular one is Apache, which is more business friendly because it does not require to make the software using OSS free, as copyleft does. The former became widely used and, by 2010, a popular version of Apache web server software was being distributed by IBM, which was a proprietary modified version of the original free software (Williams, 2010).
The Open Source Initiative defines OSS after a series of conditions that include but are not limited to open-source code. It must be freely distributed software, include at least part of the source code, allow distribution of the source code as well as of its compiled form. The licence must allow modifications and derived work and must not discriminate against persons, groups or fields.2 Overall, the Open Source Initiative promotes open access to intangible goods that are produced in a shared or collaborative way. It is worth noting that most big US companies increasingly use OSS influenced by cheaper costs and network effects (Spinellis & Giannikas, 2012).
The coexistence of these two forms of software has led Casadesus-Masanell and Ghemawat (2006) to argue that there is a duopoly between open source and proprietary software. Moving a step further, and recognizing that intellectual monopolies nowadays dominate proprietary software, Boldrin and Levine (2008) claimed that these two forms of property are incompatible. They added that only open access to or competition for innovation - unlike intellectual monopolies - trigger real, transformative innovations. Using the example of Microsoft, the authors argued that this intellectual monopoly only reacted against piracy and looked after its IPRs once it lagged in innovation, but not during its “early creative days” (Boldrin & Levine, 2008, p. 17). They interpret Microsoft’s reaction as a way to protect itself after its shortfall of new ideas and growing competition. Simultaneously, the authors highlighted the emergence of OSS as a successful initiative of continuous new developments based on free and open competition.
Overall, and as shown by Spinellis and Giannikas’s (2012) literature review, there are multiple scientific analyses focused on the reasons beneath private companies’ adoption of OSS as well as on the software market understood as divided between these two supposedly incompatible forms of property. Less attention has been paid to private companies’ involvement not only in adopting or using but in developing and boosting OSS projects. Here we argue that the latter has become a regular practice of high-tech intellectual monopolies’ innovation strategy.
We share with Boldrin and Levin (2008) that IPRs are not a precondition for innovation. Nevertheless, our analysis nuances the dichotomy between both systems and shows how intellectual monopoly goes beyond IPRs and other forms of closed knowledge like secrecy, profiting from open access as in the case of high-tech giants profiting from OSS.
In some respects, OSS initiatives intersect with the knowledge (or, more precisely, digital) commons. However, the latter always have explicit managing rules (concerning access, use, production, among others), which is not always the case with OSS initiatives. Knowledge commons were defined by some authors following a resource-based definition, focusing on the internet (David, 2000; Hess & Ostrorn, 2007). Other authors consider that the commons is a different innovation regime. In Coriat and Orsi’s framework, the resource is a needed condition of a commons - in the case of knowledge commons these are intangible resources - but two other conditions must be met to speak of a commons: a bundle of rights attributed to different stakeholders and a governing structure that, in the case of knowledge commons, assures shared resources’ enrichment and growth (Coriat, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015; Orsi, 2015; Orsi & Zimmermann, 2011).
Another group of authors considers commons as an alternative social relation to commodities, each of them characterized by its own logics and practices. Contributions to this conception come both from activists (Bau- wens, 2015; Bollier & Helfrich, 2015; Helfrich, 2015) and academics (Dardot & Laval, 2014). From a Marxian framework, according to Dardot and Laval
(2014) , commodities and commons are not just different kinds of products but also different ways of producing; thus, different social relations of production. They differ in how something is produced, focusing on the bonds established during that process, instead of the produced goods. Considering commons as a social relationship means that everything could be produced as commons. Likewise, and it has been the case, everything can be produced as a commodity, even knowledge.
The commodity-producer is a worker detached from the product of her work, whose goal is to sell resulting products, thus guaranteeing her social reproduction. Even if under capitalism humans are in contact with more human beings than ever before, individuality is at the basis of commodity producers’ logic. On the contrary, the commons social relationship is explicitly based on coproduction logics and practices, solidarity and sharing (Dardot & Laval, 2014). It is a self-governing process, while market laws govern commodity production. Among the logics that construct the commons’ social relationship, Bollier and Helfrich (2015) and Helfrich
(2015) suggest three factors as indispensable: sustainability, equality and freedom.
All these approaches recognize the commons as separate from - or even in contradiction with and counterbalancing - capitalist accumulation. Without neglecting this potential, the following section shows how intellectual monopolies have engrafted knowledge commons as well as open access under their accumulation strategy.