Information commons

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An information commons is an information system, such as a physical library or online community, that exists to produce, conserve, and preserve information for current and future generations. Wikipedia could be considered to be an information commons to the extent that it produces and preserves information through current versions of articles and histories. Other examples of an information commons include Creative Commons.



The concept of the "information commons" refers to the shared knowledge-base and the processes that facilitate or hinder its use. It also refers to a physical space, usually in an academic library, where any and all can participate in the processes of information research, gathering and production. The term commons refers to the land (or common grounds) that villagers shared for grazing purposes in simpler times. The issues that fall under this topic are varied and include:

Some believe[ who? ] that the increasing control and commodification of information restricts humanity's ability to encourage and foster positive developments in its cultural, academic, and economic growth.

The Internet

The internet, and the subsequent internet age, took the information commons to another level by empowering consumers to create and distribute information on a mass scale. [1] The internet facilitated the decentralized production and distribution of information because it bypasses the control of some of more traditional publishing methods. Information published online are neither regulated by managers nor are they coordinated by price signals in the market. This results in a common-based production of knowledge that can be easily shared among individuals.

Software commons

The software commons consists of all computer software which is available at little or no cost and which can be reused with few restrictions. It includes open source software which can be modified with few restrictions. [2] [3] However the commons also includes software outside of these categories – for instance, software which is in the public domain.

Many innovative programmers have and released open source applications to the public, without the restrictive licensing conditions of commercial software. A popular example is Linux, an open source operating system. The server computers for Google Search run Linux. [4]


Open-source programs started emerging in the 1960s. [5] IBM was one of the first computer companies to offer their products to the public. Most of these computers came with free software that was universal among similar computers, and could be altered by anyone with the software. This changed in the 1970s when IBM decided to take more control of their products, removing the source codes and not allowing the redistribution of their software.

In the 1980s and 1990s the software commons grew with the help of a bulletin board servers, accessed with dial-up modems. This expanded in the late 1990s with the growth of the Internet, which facilitated international cooperation and allowed individuals and groups to share their products more freely. The GNU Project was founded in 1983 to develop free software.

In 1998 Netscape Communications Corporation announced that all future versions of their software would be free of charge and developed by an Open Source Community (Mozilla). This included Netscape Navigator, then the most popular web browser. [6]

Licensing commons

Licensing is the process that copyright owners use to monitor reproduction, distribution, or other use of creative works. Many commercial licensing conditions are costly and restrictive. Licensing models used in information commons typically grant permission for a wide range of uses. The GNU General Public License (GPL), developed by Richard Stallman at MIT in the 1980s is one such license: "The GNU Free Documentation License is a form of copyleft intended for use on a manual, textbook or other document to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifications, either commercially or non-commercially." [7]

Scholarly commons

“In the 1980s, many professional societies turned over their journal publishing to private firms as a way to contain membership fees and generate income.” [8] Prices of scholarly journals rose dramatically [9] and publishing corporations restricted access to these journals through expensive licenses. Research libraries had no other choice but to cut many of their journal subscriptions. European and American academic communities began to find alternate ways to distribute and manage scholarly information. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) was founded in 1998. “It is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system. Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries." [10]

Related Research Articles

Free software software licensed to preserve user freedoms

Free software or libre software is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price: users—individually or in cooperation with computer programmers—are free to do what they want with their copies of a free software regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed free if they give users ultimate control over the software and, subsequently, over their devices.

Open content creative work that others can copy or modify

Open content describes any work that others can copy or modify freely by attributing to the original creator, but without needing to ask for permission. This has been applied to a range of formats, including textbooks, academic journals, films and music. The term was an expansion of the related concept of open-source software. Such content is said to be under an open licence.

Open-source software Software licensed to ensure source code usage rights

Open-source software (OSS) is a type of computer software in which source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration.

Science Commons US-based Creative Commons project for efficient web-enabled scientific research, 2005-2009

Science Commons (SC) was a Creative Commons project for designing strategies and tools for faster, more efficient web-enabled scientific research. The organization's goals were to identify unnecessary barriers to research, craft policy guidelines and legal agreements to lower those barriers, and develop technology to make research data and materials easier to find and use. Its overarching goal was to speed the translation of data into discovery and thereby the value of research.

Free and open-source software software whose source code is available and which is permissively licensed

Free and open-source software (FOSS) is software that can be classified as both free software and open-source software. That is, anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright licensing and the source code is usually hidden from the users.

<i>Gratis</i> versus <i>libre</i> distinction between concepts

The English adjective free is commonly used in one of two meanings: "for free" (gratis) and "with little or no restriction" (libre). This ambiguity of free can cause issues where the distinction is important, as it often is in dealing with laws concerning the use of information, such as copyright and patents.

In the 1950s and 1960s, computer operating software and compilers were delivered as a part of hardware purchases without separate fees. At the time, source code, the human-readable form of software, was generally distributed with the software providing the ability to fix bugs or add new functions. Universities were early adopters of computing technology. Many of the modifications developed by universities were openly shared, in keeping with the academic principles of sharing knowledge, and organizations sprung up to facilitate sharing. As large-scale operating systems matured, fewer organizations allowed modifications to the operating software, and eventually such operating systems were closed to modification. However, utilities and other added-function applications are still shared and new organizations have been formed to promote the sharing of software.

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition the international alliance of academic libraries promoting open access to scholarship

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is an international alliance of academic and research libraries developed by the Association of Research Libraries in 1998 which promotes open access to scholarship. The coalition currently includes some 800 institutions in North America, Europe, Japan, China and Australia.

Free content Work or artwork with few or no restrictions on how it may be used

Free content, libre content, or free information, is any kind of functional work, work of art, or other creative content that meets the definition of a free cultural work.

Companies whose business center on the development of open-source software employ a variety of business models to solve the challenge of how to make money providing software that is by definition licensed free of charge. Each of these business strategies rests on the premise that users of open-source technologies are willing to purchase additional software features under proprietary licenses, or purchase other services or elements of value that complement the open-source software that is core to the business. This additional value can be, but not limited to, enterprise-grade features and up-time guarantees to satisfy business or compliance requirements, performance and efficiency gains by features not yet available in the open source version, legal protection, or professional support/training/consulting that are typical of proprietary software applications.

Free-software license license allowing software modification and redistribution

A free-software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and redistribute that software. These actions are usually prohibited by copyright law, but the rights-holder of a piece of software can remove these restrictions by accompanying the software with a software license which grants the recipient these rights. Software using such a license is free software as conferred by the copyright holder. Free-software licenses are applied to software in source code and also binary object-code form, as the copyright law recognizes both forms.

Copyleft Practice of mandating free use in all derivatives of a work

Copyleft, distinguished from copyright, is the practice of offering people the right to freely distribute copies and modified versions of a work with the stipulation that the same rights be preserved in derivative works created later. Copyleft software licenses are considered protective or reciprocal, as contrasted with permissive free-software licenses.

The open-source model is a decentralized software development model that encourages open collaboration. A main principle of open-source software development is peer production, with products such as source code, blueprints, and documentation freely available to the public. The open-source movement in software began as a response to the limitations of proprietary code. The model is used for projects such as in open-source appropriate technology, and open-source drug discovery.

Peter Suber American philosopher

Peter Dain Suber is a philosopher specializing in the philosophy of law and open access to knowledge. He is a Senior Researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, and Director of the Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP). Suber is known as a leading voice in the open access movement, and as the creator of the game Nomic.

Software categories are groups of software. They allow software to be understood in terms of those categories. Instead of the particularities of each package. Different classification schemes consider different aspects of software.

Open science data is a type of open data focused on publishing observations and results of scientific activities available for anyone to analyze and reuse. A major purpose of the drive for open data is to allow the verification of scientific claims, by allowing others to look at the reproducibility of results, and to allow data from many sources to be integrated to give new knowledge. While the idea of open science data has been actively promoted since the 1950s, the rise of the Internet has significantly lowered the cost and time required to publish or obtain data.

A free license or open license is a license agreement which contains provisions that allow other individuals to reuse another creator's work, giving them four major freedoms. Without a special license, these uses are normally prohibited by copyright law or commercial license. Most free licenses are worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, and perpetual. Free licenses are often the basis of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding projects.

The digital commons are a form of commons involving the distribution and communal ownership of informational resources and technology. Resources are typically designed to be used by the community by which they are created.

Software relicensing is applied in open-source software development when software licenses of software modules are incompatible and are required to be compatible for a greater combined work. Licenses applied to software as copyrightable works, in source code as binary form, can contain contradictory clauses. These requirements can make it impossible to combine source code or content of several software works to create a new combined one.

Open source products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. It most commonly refers to the open-source model, in which open-source software or other products are released under an open-source license as part of the open-source-software movement. Use of the term originated with software, but has expanded beyond the software sector to cover other open content and forms of open collaboration.


  1. Kranich, Nancy. "The Information Commons." (2004): 6. Weborn 6 May 2011. <>.
  2. "The Free Expression Policy Project". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  3. "A brief history of open source software". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  4. "Our history in depth – Company – Google" . Retrieved 2013-09-30.
  5. Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. Anchor/Doubleday, New York.
  6. "Browser History: Netscape". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  7. <>
  8. Kranich, Nancy. "The Information Commons." (2004): 18. Weborn 6 May 2011. <>.
  9. "The cost of journals". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  10. < Archived 2011-05-13 at the Wayback Machine >

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