This post looks at several specific organizations, further explaining “why a new organization?” Some of these are tiny, some large. Currently WIFO is merely an aspiration relative to any of them. These organizations were chosen for
(1) bearing similarity to WIFO aspirations on multiple dimensions out of (a) strong ‘think’ and public policy component, not primarily creator/developer/maker or end user focused; (b) calling for IP abolition or at least radical reform; and © not being limited to any fields of practice or geographies
(2) exemplifying trends that WIFO aims to accelerate.
Organizations fitting in (1) are obscure relative to the many well established digital rights and free/open/commons ____ (fill in the blank) organizations, these being covered in related groups and movements rather than individually here. The relative obscurity of knowledge policy think+do tanks taken together with the tremendous impact of knowledge policy and the structure of the knowledge economy on the future may indicate an opportunity.
Hopefully this list’s utility can outweigh its inherent presumptuousness; often the easiest way to understand something new is for it to be compared and contrasted with things one already knows about. If you don’t know about any of the organizations on this list, please follow the links and learn about them too; all are recommended.
This list is not at all intended to be exhaustive. Suggestions and corrections wanted.
##(1) Knowledge policy thinking
dedicated to building public awareness of the manner in which laws and policies impede innovation, creativity, communication, learning, knowledge, emulation, and information sharing. We are for property rights, free markets, competition, commerce, cooperation, and the voluntary sharing of knowledge, and oppose laws that systematically impede or hamper innovation, especially those enforced in the name of defending “intellectual property,” such as patent and copyright; these should be radically reformed or entirely abolished.
Coming from an Austrian economics/market libertarian perspective (but most of its materials are useful to anyone interested in hard-hitting analysis of IP), C4SIF is the most purely “think” organization on this list. It is not clear how C4SIF sees its call for abolishing IP being realized; building awareness of bad policy is rarely enough to end bad policy. Some pro-commons policies WIFO is interested in exploring may or would clash with C4SIF’s libertarian principles (open mandates contingent on tax funding, translation of copyleft to transparency regulation).
a new, digital-native take on a think tank from Mike Masnick and the team behind Techdirt.
It’s not very clear from their new website yet, but given the name (which means abundance) and background (Techdirt covers most IP news stories of note, consistently taking position contra the IP industry), Copia’s output will probably be very agreeable. Copia will probably focus on how businesses, particularly those with a Silicon Valley perspective, can leverage abundance for their own ends. In contrast, WIFO’s emphasis is on how commons-based production restructures the knowledge economy to produce freedom, equality, and security.
searches for better outcomes, including new solutions, to the management of knowledge resources. KEI is focused on social justice, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, including low-income persons and marginalized groups.
KEI is deeply involved in efforts to reform WIPO and other IP institutions, and in researching alternative arrangements (though not particularly commons-based ones), including for drugs (which alone makes KEI invaluable). Among organizations listed here, KEI’s remit may be the most similar to WIFO’s aspirations, but approach most dissimilar, seeking to “attend and mend the knowledge ecosystem” from within IP institutions rather than upending the IP regime by restructuring the knowledge economy.
an international organization focused on studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices in a very broad sense”
Commons are central to the P2PFoundation universe – which includes almost all social phenomena (usually from a non-hierarchical left perspective). See their commons transition plan for an overview. Their wiki has organized summaries and links for almost any commons or P2P topic and is an excellent resource. P2PFoundation knows and covers knowledge commons topics well, including crucially critiques of free/open and other knowledge commons theory and practice. One of their resulting initiatives, the Peer Production License is well motivated but non-free/open and incompatible (and deserving of further critique, forthcoming). In contrast WIFO focuses exclusively on knowledge and with regard to commons-based production, on existing free/open norms (why in forthcoming FAQ).
dedicated to expanding the range of acceptable public debate about copyright, and to reframing the way people – especially artists and those who work with them – think about copyright.
QCO’s background essay, The Surprising History of Copyright and The Promise of a Post-Copyright World gets a lot right that copyright reformers usually don’t, including the importance of competition from the commons:
The proprietary stream cannot survive forever, in the face of such competition. The abolition of copyright law is optional; the real force here is creators freely choosing to release their works for unrestricted copying, because it’s in their interests to do so. At some point, it will be obvious that all the interesting stuff is going on in the free stream, and people will simply cease dipping into the proprietary one. Copyright law may remain on the books formally, but it will fade away in practice, atrophied from disuse.
The problem is there’s a very high bar for “such competition” to be effective. With the Sita Sings the Blues distribution project QCO is probably the only entity to ever make any attempt to compete with the proprietary movie industry in distribution and marketing, i.e., the only attempt to compete at all. While this is only a beginning, movies must be tackled, and QCO deserves tremendous credit for starting.
WIFO’s perspective is a bit different in a few ways: there is no question about copyright, property is the wrong regime for all forms of knowledge (as opposed to being the wrong word for various forms of IP), and convincing artists and those who work with them that it is in their interest to free “their” works is Sisyphean, so changing the incentives through increasing user and policy demand for freedom is paramount. These are quibbles however: QCO’s contribution is hugely positive.
These four entities which exemplify trends that WIFO aims to accelerate each put their core products in the commons and are big enough to directly compete with proprietary industry, achieve substantial success in doing so, and big enough to overcome collective action problems and dedicate some resources to pro-commons policy.
PLOS (for Public Library of Science) is a large Open Access publisher. It has not yet destroyed the proprietary competition, but has held its own with traditional (but fully OA) journals such as PLOS Biology and established the world’s largest journal by article count, PLOS ONE. At a glance its advocacy team (blog) seems focused on issues such as OA mandates and metrics which would broadly help commons-based production of OA.
Mozilla, through the Firefox browser, has been and is essential to keeping the web relatively open. Some of its (relatively new) open policy & advocacy (blog, wiki, forum) activities could directly favor its own commons-based production, depending on the approach taken.
Red Hat, the only for-profit organization on this list, is by far the largest nearly pure play commons-based production (open source) organization. If only as a result of selling to governments, they apparently have a “Global Public Policy” department, though little information about it is on the web. OpenSource.com posts by Red Hat’s VP of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs, Mark Bohannon, and Public Policy Manager, Melanie Chernoff, may give some indication. Speculation: If there were even larger businesses with a competitive advantage in delivering commons-based solutions, at some point it would be in their interest to use public policy to exclude proprietary competition, completely turning the tables on procurement policy, and sealing the proprietary gravestone with product regulation.
Wikimedia is a movement that includes many individuals and organizations (by far the largest being the Wikimedia Foundation, followed by Wikimedia Germany), but with much more cohesion than for example the free software or open access movements, perhaps because all components of Wikimedia are in some way contributing to a single set of web sites all run by the Foundation. Wikimedia movement explicit public policy advocacy (wiki, mailing list) started with opposition, but especially in the EU, has moved on to advocate for copyright reform which would directly help Wikimedia – such as ensuring “freedom of panorama” and demanding “orphan works” reform which would make such works usable in commons-based projects (most orphan works proposals would not help).