Comments on related movements and groups

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A future document should get right to impersonal WIFO comments on and recommendations for related movements and groups. This one starts with several paragraphs of personal explanation and ends with a list of movements and groups, to be expanded with comments on each, one at a time.


Existing organizations do good work, but none are as cross-sectoral, seeing commons-based production as the most potent instrument of reform, and explicitly calling for freedom and equality to be the dominant objectives of knowledge policy as WIFO aims to be. If all WIFO does is to nudge the “Overton window” of polite political discourse away from sectoral silos, commons as victims rather than protagonists, and freedom infringing monopoly incentives as the core feature of knowledge policy, the effort will be a success, giving pre-existing organizations more headroom. WIFO aims for free/open access/data/education/hardware/innovation/research/seeds/software as well as legal reformers and extralegal actors to envision themselves as all part of a grand struggle for intellectual freedom, and to make commons-based production the most urgent avenue of reform and action, leading to the abolition of copyright, patents, etc., and the long-term suppression of these and other potential freedom infringing regimes.

What’s missing?

Corresponding to the previous three points: (1) the leverage of knowledge policy for shaping the future is under-appreciated; (2) usual reforms calling for balance are inadequate: they challenge neither the wisdom of trading off freedom, equality, and security for spectacle nor the structure of knowledge production aligned with this trade; and (3) commons-based knowledge movements’ ambitions to survive as private carve-outs from property regimes rather than to be the primary mechanisms for reform, are also inadequate. Therefore there is an urgent need for interventions that explain the criticality of knowledge policy, of making freedom, equality, and security the dominant objectives of knowledge policy, and of activating commons-based knowledge production as the most important mechanism for reforming knowledge policy.

Move the goalposts:

I’m a huge fan of free and open source software, open access, open data, open education, open hardware, wikis, etc. These movements have achieved great things within their fields, increasingly including policy wins.

I’m starting WIFO to move the goalposts: to position open as a direct challenge to IP and as the primary mechanism for reform period, not only within specific fields, and to figure out how open can take on new fields, including the ones that really matter – movies and drugs – the signal cases for IP.

Also from the last link:

I’ve been thinking about the idea for a very long time – I registered the domain name in 1998! I’ve taken the common advice to try working with other organizations in your field before starting a new one very seriously.

In 1998 and years before in which I was already convinced that knowledge policy would be the most leveraged issue toward a good future, I didn’t have a clue about how to start something beyond registering a domain name (perhaps I still don’t; you be the judge). Also I naively believed that the net and peer production would shortly radically alter the knowledge economy and knowledge policy debate. It’s remarkable how shallow and narrow their impact has been. Only some developer-oriented software industry segments and encyclopedias have been totally disrupted (and frankly they would’ve been significantly if not totally without peer production: see Microsoft), and debate has barely budged.

(Commons-based production has still been hugely impactful; without it over the past 20 years the knowledge economy would likely be much more concentrated, and policy imagination tilted even more radically towards property and conflict – commons-based production may have delayed the first significant trade war or even shooting war stemming from knowledge disputes!)

In other words, the WIFO theory of change (commons ⇄ freedom, equality, security ⇄ good future) has not been recognized nor activated in the past 20 years. One way of evaluating the prospects of WIFO in 2015 is to consider a counterfactual: had it existed starting in 1995 (by no means am I implying here that I had more than a gut feeling for the theory of change back then; just pretend that someone did and acted), what is the probability it would have made a difference? I’ll leave that exercise for another time.

In 2015 commons-based production of knowledge is well established and some movements are making it a matter of public policy, even if somewhat timidly and seemingly without a global theory of change. Do these make activation of the WIFO theory of change more likely? Make WIFO unnecessary? You be the judge.

There are many relevant movements and groups and subdivisions thereof, and thousands of organizations. Hopefully comments on several can serve to shed light further light on “Why WIFO?”, “What’s missing?”, and what “Move the goalposts” means. As noted at the top, the below list will be expanded with comments, one at a time, with additions noted on this topic and social media. Many of the entries in the list arguably should include the word “movement”; I’ll try to note aspects of overall group or movement and certain organizations where appropriate. Please suggest additions and better names. Finally, an end to preliminaries.


Access to medicine.

Appropriation art.



Copyright reform.


Digital freedom.

Economists. (nearby category)

Fan fiction.

Free culture.

Free/libre/open source software/software freedom. (category)

Free speech.

Futurists. (category)

IP scholars.


Librarians. The phrase intellectual freedom is probably most strongly associated with libraries (example). Use of the term in the WIFO name is intended to be provocative not only respect to WIPO, but in positioning private deputized censorship (i.e., IP) as a paramount issue; of course state and religious censorship (see: banned books) is still very bad. Indeed, the two have gone together since the beginning of copyright. Though society holds them in very different esteem (good, unlawful) and dedicates resources accordingly (salaries, prosecution), the librarians and pirates have similar impacts: increasing unquestioned gratis access to, cataloging, and preserving materials, and fostering community (indeed, “pirate libraries” are a thing, drastically increasing access to academic literature around the world). They each also provide gratis marketing, customer retention, and price discrimination services to freedom infringing industries (publishers, studios, labels, etc). Further (though not universally) they are desperate to show that they are not decreasing publisher profits, and beg to partner with or be customers of those industries. Librarians face a collective action problem, but one which could be overcome: relative to pirates, librarians are highly concentrated publisher customers, and librarians have organizations that are used for policy coordination. One obstacle to librarian coordination for policy that would help commons-based production is that free-as-in-freedom materials undermine librarians’ role as an intermediary, providing gratis access to scarce materials, now licenses. But protecting this role undermines the broader one of promoting intellectual freedom and leads to pathetic behavior (for example, begging to be allowed to buy DRM-encumbered e-books: 1, 2, 3). Librarians play an important role in several other fields on this list, open access in particular. Through engaging with such movements which are more directly aligned with commons-favoring policy and thinking ahead about what is required to further intellectual freedom and universal access to all knowledge going forward, perhaps librarians will both become the potent force for activating the WIFO theory of change that they ought be, and secure their long-term future by providing indispensable access to physically scarce and socially fragile resources.

Open access.

Open agriculture.

Open data.

Open educational resources.

Open hardware.

Open government.

Open philanthropy.

Open science.

Open standards.

Media criticism.

Patent reform.


Piracy. (category)

Pirate parties.


Progressives. (nearby category)

Public domain.

Silicon valley.

Social justice oriented reform of IP institutions.

Technology skeptics.

Traditional knowledge.