Let’s Copy America

The world’s biggest computer companies are being threatened by a host of new start-ups powered by open-source software, strings of inexpensive computers, and ‘mash-up’ websites which combine information in innovative ways. So argues Peter Day on Radio 4’s ‘In Business’ this Sunday after talking to some of the rising stars of the new wave computing revolution. He bemoans the conservatism of British business leaders compared to their American counterparts, in failing to recognise these developments. You can listen to the programme.

Another good American idea is the Californian website, Onthecommons.org which has noticed that, ‘The majesty of the commons is being neglected’. David Bollier expands on that thought in an Onthecommons’ Essay:

‘ We do not have well-developed language and narratives for asserting the value of free, un-metered exchanges of information, which is increasingly the norm on the Internet. Conventional economics regards sharing and creative transformation as either worthless or a form of piracy. The commons is a useful antidote to this intellectual limitation because it gives us a new story to explain how social communities generate their own distinctive value – value that is economic, social and creative all at the same time.

The commons “tears the curtain” away from normative assumptions, revealing that market exchange is not the only source of value-added activity in societies. The commons can be at least as productive. But first, we need to name that social process if we are going to value it and preserve it.

To talk about the commons, then, … can begin to challenge market-based narratives that refuse to acknowledge some elemental realities of human instinct and social life. For example, copyright law sees value only in property-encased creativity; the public domain is regarded as a wasteland. Real estate developers regard open spaces and wilderness as unproductive land, lacking in value until the magic hand of property enlivens it. Companies ascribe value to people (“human resources”) only to the extent that they contribute to “the economy” as workers or consumers.’

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