AbstractThis essay reviews the history and theory of information commons along with the various conceptual approaches used to describe and understand them. It also discusses governance, financing, and participation in these commons. Today’s digital technologies offer unprecedented possibilities for human creativity, global communication, innovation, and access to information. Yet these same technologies also provide new opportunities to control—or enclose—intellectual products, thereby threatening to erode political discourse, scientific inquiry, free speech, and the creativity needed for a healthy democracy. Advocates for an open information society face an uphill battle to influence outcomes in the policy arena; yet they are developing information commons that advance innovation, stimulate creativity, and promote the sharing of information resources. Designers of these new information resources can learn from those who have studied other commons like forests and fisheries. What are needed are multidisciplinary research efforts that go beyond rejecting enclosure to assessing whether alternatives are viable. This requires applying a framework for analysis to determine whether information commons are sustainable as a fundamental information structure for the 21st century.
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