Ted Leung on the air
Ted Leung on the air: Open Source, Java, Python, and ...
Mon, 10 Jan 2005
I use commons-based peer production to construct a software commons

I believe that I am the developer that Scoble mentions in his post about Mitch and the Creative Commons:

I know a developer working for you. Is he working for free? I don't think so. He has mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay off.

I'm not quite sure how Robert got from the Creative Commons to working for free, but that's not actually the point of this post. This is just a good excuse for me to explain my personal motivations for doing what I'm doing. What you are about to read is my personal opinion and does not represent the views of the Open Source Applications Foundation or the Apache Software Foundation.

Dave Winer's prediction that "the term open source will mean nothing" has been true for a while. If you doubt that, go over to IT Conversations and listen to r0ml. I don't subscribe to the ideology that all software must be free for all people. What I'm doing is called commons-based peer production of software, which is an economically justified set of techniques for constructing information products that happens to look at a lot like what we call "open source". There's nothing about that which says software has to cost zero dollars. What you need is a way to make the information product available so that the highly efficient resource matching that is at the heart of commons-based peer production can kick in. Today, in what we call open source, that is done via source code licensing. It doesn't mean that's the only way to do it. We're still in the infancy of all types of commons-based peer production. But the key point is this: Benkler's work says that for certain kinds of information products, commons-based peer production is the most efficient method of allocating resources in order to get the job done. No free as in beer ideology or free as in speech ideology needed. No destruction of the notion of intellectual property required. Just simple hard nosed economics. People/creators can and do get paid while doing this. In fact, that's how I'm getting paid right now.

Since 1999 I've done a bunch of this kind of work in the context of non-profit foundations, the Apache Software Foundation, and the Open Source Applications Foundation. These foundations are important to developers because they provide a legal umbrella and governance structure to ensure that developers are protected from lawsuits and to ensure that legal and ethical standards are upheld in the development of software. But it goes beyond that. If you accept the notion of a software commons in the sense of the commons as described in Lessig's various works, then these foundations serve another purpose: They hold pieces of software in trust for the public. This is part of the reason they are chartered as 501(c)(3) corporations -- they have a responsibility to the general public. There are certain pieces of software that are so important (operating system, web server, web browser, and the list is growing) that it is in the public interest for there to be version of each of these types of software in a public commons. One of the many means of protecting such a commons is via intellectual property law, including copyright and patents. If you remove the protection of intellectual property, you also remove a very powerful protection for the commons. People are also getting paid to work on these commons. When I worked at IBM I got paid to help construct part of the ASF commons related to XML.

So, the next time you hear "open source development", think "the most economically efficient method for matching resources to construct information products". The next time you see "XXX Software Foundation", think "people constructing a software commons (protected by intellectual property laws) that the rest of use can use and extend". There are more things that you should think, but that's enough for one post.

[09:14] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 6 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post


I translated into French a part of your blog entry. See

Thanks for your article, it's extremely interesting.

--Tristan Nitot
standblog.org / openweb.eu.org / mozilla-europe.org
Posted by Tristan Nitot at Tue Jan 18 23:29:54 2005

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