Property, Commoning and the Politics of Free Software

    Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


    Short version:

    This is a manual in property hacking against a backdrop of social movements – with reference to the concept of commoning and the spirit of pirate rebellion – informed by a critical analysis of copyright, copyleft and the Free Culture movement. Based on a PhD thesis by John Martin Pedersen, it is divided in to four parts with a preface co-authored by Massimo de Angelis.

    Longer version:

    The enclosure of cyberspace constitutes a new frontier of capitalism. Yet the Internet continues to facilitate new forms of collaboration and co-creative social relations. Whether this tension will result in a consolidation of capital and its underpinning logic, or lay the foundation for a world of voluntary cooperation, will depend on how these novel phenomena are conceptualised and organised.

    This thesis argues that leading commentators on Free Software make two theoretical mistakes which threaten to have grave practical implications. First, they conflate private property (a particular form of property) with the concept of property in general. Second, they misconceive cyberspace – the intangible realm – as distinct from the material world – the tangible realm. Consequently, prevailing property relations in the tangible realm are left unquestioned, while the material underpinning of cyberspace is obscured. By contrast, the thesis aims to show the critical importance of recognising the materiality of the novel phenomena made possible by the Internet. In addition, an examination of concepts of private property in liberal jurisprudence reveals a number of distinct components and potential configurations thereof. It is argued that all relations between people with regard to things can in fact be understood in terms of configurations of these same components. This allows for an understanding of commoning – collective action based on shared values and self-organisation – in terms of property. Free Software, on this model, can be understood as an autonomous commons that has constituted itself through the reconfiguration of a private property right, namely copyright. Conceptualising the relational modalities of Free Software and commoning in terms of property thus feeds back into the concept of property. This understanding can in turn be mapped back onto the tangible realm, reanimating debate about the range of possible property relations more generally.

    Keywords: anti-capitalism; commoning; commons; copyleft; critical political economy, cyberspace; enclosure; Free Culture; Free Software; hackers; intellectual property rights, internet; jurisprudence; property.

    See also:
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages325
    JournalThe Commoner
    Publication statusPublished - 2010

    Bibliographical note

    PhD converted to a special issue:


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