Comments on related organizations

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Comments on related movements and groups will eventually have a WIFO perspective on dozens of movements and groupings somehow relevant (or should be) to the WIFO theory of change.

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

###Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom

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).

###Copia Institute

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.

###Knowledge Ecology International

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.
##(2) Exemplars
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
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. 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).

Since first comment, will add: agree nearly fully with the entire initiative and position and work so far for WIFO. Great stuff.

Open Street Map might be an initiative large enough to be considered alongside the other 4 major players. The whole world of GNU/Linux covers a ton of stuff, but it’s fine to sort of consider “Red Hat” as the exemplar institution for that. OSM is just distinct enough of an institution that isn’t referenced otherwise in the list…

Obviously OKFN should be referenced despite the pathetic situation with the acronym and connected (and unrelated) flaws with the name / branding / website situation.

There are tons of other institutions to reference, obviously, both those seen as truly aligned and those in the same topical space.

You probably are aware of all of them, but a reference to consider is (which is really just a draft / holding place for notes on this topic)

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OSM is great, but I didn’t think it big enough to include. It is competing directly with proprietary vendors but I don’t think any large organization or public policy advocacy has come of it yet. I’d be happy to be wrong about that.

I really don’t mean Red Hat to cover the world of GNU/Linux; I’ll address that eventually in comments on related movements and groups. The “exemplars” are all singular, and AFAICT RHAT is vastly larger than any other business with an across-the-board open source strategy.

It isn’t absolutely necessary for an entity to be huge to offer substantial competition to proprietary vendors and to dedicate resources to changing policy, but it helps a whole lot. Perhaps I should also include an example of a much smaller but highly motivated by direct competition and policy business. Kolab Systems might be a candidate.

OK[FN] is indirectly referenced in the text “free/open/commons ____ (fill in the blank) organizations” which I don’t want to comment on individually as I don’t think doing so sheds much might on what I want to do with WIFO. I’m in agreement with you on OK’s branding, including how such overly focuses on data, even though they and their community does/is interested in much more, but I’m not actually sure that we’re right. Focus is good, and having an organization like OK that is fairly committed to Open (not enough wrt software, but ignore for the moment) focusing on a field with as much fluffy hype as open data is probably a very good thing. I’m really happy to see OK involved in open trials for example.

I hadn’t looked at in awhile, there are actually four that I hadn’t heard of, though two of those seem to have non-functioning websites. I’ll comment over there.

I’m not sure where the project should live, but I’d love to see more coordinated effort to maintain and make the best info about FLO (to use your terminology) organizations available. Perhaps a Wikidata version of WikiProject Open. Of course one data source for US-based organizations is 990s. I’m not sure where bkuhn’s gitorious repository aggregating those is migrating to, but I’ll edit this to add a link when I find out.

To be precise, I wasn’t talking just about the OK data-focus but the general mild screwball situation exemplified by the lack of clarity around that and around the presentation of what it all is and around the acronym. I.e. if that stuff was all cleaned up one way or another, it would take the org to the next level.

Regarding other orgs, I know there are major democracy-on-the-internet type orgs that have no legit business not being all about FLO but which aren’t. I see that as a matter of culture / awareness / perspective / ignorance. This is the sort of thing where WIFO shows a need… It might be great to identify those orgs. Obviously, I’m speculating somewhat. I know some such orgs are too entrenched with some WIPO type bullshit, there’s no hope.

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There are indeed tons of other orgs, democracy-on-the-internet one genre, that really ought be all about FLO but aren’t. I “blame” existing FLO movements as much as I do those orgs. “We” have done a terrible job of positioning FLO as central to or at least an important part of policy toolset for addressing a whole range of issues. Fixing this is a major motivation for WIFO.