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Europe and Commons 2006, Workshop Proposal

A European-wide initiative on the theme of “commons” launched as a Workshop of experts in the area, where representatives of European Socialist Parties and members of the European Parliament will be invited to discuss the relevant issues. Objectives: a) frame the debate, ii) explore opportunities for new policy initiatives and for political action, iii) provide a roadmap for future actions.

Definition of commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons ):
· An Internet era phenomenon, exemplified by the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) success, which reveals a new economic model of allocation of resources based on “sharing”. It implies an efficient production / exchange model supported by a culture of sharing of practices and values among individuals who “instantaneously” form networks of common action.
· Y. Benkler (Yale): Commons = A social networks-based peer production model where sharing among weakly connected participants (i.e. pooling large numbers of small scale contributions to achieve effective functionality) create, under specific conditions, the basis of an efficient system of allocation of resources.

Examples:
1. Internet: a pool of network resources (IP functionality) available to anybody – users can introduce their “own” application from the “edge” (innovation) / Model: Coordination by design.
2. Open Source Software: a pool of software resources available to anybody – (very frequently) users of publicly available resources creatively and voluntarily participate in the creation of new resources / Model: Emergent coordination.
3. Wikipedia (an online massive shareable knowledge base).
4. Song sharing over the Internet (with the extensive use of peer-to-peer technologies).

Rationale for action:
· Design institutional rules to encourage the emergence of goods under commons’ management (“the part of our world that we all get to enjoy without the permission of any”); encourage social behaviours towards sharing among many autonomous interacting participants.
· Facilitate the emergence of a new social/economic space beyond government regulation and markets.
· Commons appear to be a typical “European theme” that is however actively being discussed only within US academic and technology policy communities.

Political motivation:
· Explore concepts from commons in the production of political ideas and parties’ programmes.
· Community formation to enable large diffusion of critical political concepts and ideas.

Policy implications:
· Short run: Wireless spectrum – Traditionally managed by governments, a spectrum is now, everywhere in the world, under reform to allow for more liberalization and flexibility in the use of wireless frequencies. Policy makers are considering to move simultaneously in a pro-market and pro-commons direction, by designing a common-mix of regulatory approaches and searching for the appropriate balance between fractions of flexibly-licensed and (unlicensed) commons-managed spectrum.
· Long run (domains with potential application of commons’ principles): Long Term Research and Infrastructures.

Related topics:
· Social Europe
· Management of Intellectual Property

References:

Y. Benkler, 2004, Sharing Nicely: On shareable goods and the emergence of sharing as a modality of economic production (available at http://benkler.org/SharingNicely.html) –

– B. Frischmann, 2005, An Economic Theory of Infrastructure and Commons Management, Minnesota Law Review, 89:917-1030

K. Werbach, 2004, Supercommons: Toward a Unified Theory of Wireless Communication, Texas Law Review, 82:863-973
M. Aoki, 2001, Toward a Comparative Institutional Analysis, MIT Press

N. Fligstein, 2001, The Architecture of Markets: An Economic Sociology of Twenty-First-Century Societies, Princeton University Press

Building the European Commons: from Open Fields to Open Source http://iascpeurope.eco.unibs.it/

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