Information commons

For the building at the University of Sheffield, please see Information Commons, Sheffield.

An information commons is an information system, such as a physical library or online community, that exists to produce, conserve, and preserve information for current and future generations. Wikipedia could be considered to be an information commons to the extent that it produces and preserves information through current versions of articles and histories. Other examples of an information commons include Creative Commons.


The concept of the "information commons" refers to the shared knowledge-base and the processes that facilitate or hinder its use. It also refers to a physical space, usually in an academic library, where any and all can participate in the processes of information research, gathering and production. The term commons refers to the land (or common grounds) that villagers shared for grazing purposes in simpler times. The issues that fall under this topic are varied and include:

Some believe that the increasing control and commodification of information restricts humanity's ability to encourage and foster positive developments in its cultural, academic, and economic growth.

The Internet

The internet took the information commons to another level. The internet age empowered consumers to become creators, producers, and distributors of information.[1] The internet facilitated a decentralized production and distribution of information. It bypasses the control of some of the more traditional publishing methods. These information are neither regulated by managers nor are they coordinated by price signals in the market. This result in a common-based production of knowledge that can be easily shared among individuals.

Software commons

The software commons consists of all computer software which is available at little or no cost and which can be reused with few restrictions. It includes open source software which can be modified with few restrictions.[2][3] However the commons also includes software outside of these categories - for instance, software which is in the public domain.

Many innovative programmers have and released open source applications to the public, without the restrictive licensing conditions of commercial software. A popular example is Linux, a open source operating system. The server computers for Google Search run Linux.[4]


Open-source programs started emerging in the 1960s.[5] IBM was one of the first computer companies to offer their products to the public. Most of these computers came with free software that was universal among similar computers, and could be altered by anyone with the software. This changed in the 1970s when IBM decided to take more control of their products, removing the source codes and not allowing the redistribution of their software.

In the 1980s and 1990s the software commons grew with the help of a bulletin board servers, accessed with dial-up modems. This expanded in the late 1990s with the growth of the Internet, which facilitated international cooperation and allowed individuals and groups to share their products more freely. The GNU Project was founded in 1983 to develop free software.

In 1998 Netscape Communications Corporation announced that all future versions of their software would be free of charge and developed by an Open Source Community (Mozilla). This included Netscape Navigator, then the most popular web browser.[6]

Licensing commons

Licensing is the process that copyright owners use to monitor reproduction, distribution, or other use of creative works. Many commercial licensing conditions are costly and restrictive. Licensing models used in information commons typically grant permission for a wide range of uses. The GNU General Public License (GPL), developed by Richard Stallman at MIT in the 1980s is one such license: "The GNU Free Documentation License is a form of copyleft intended for use on a manual, textbook or other document to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifications, either commercially or non-commercially." [7]

Scholarly commons

See also: Open access

“In the 1980s, many professional societies turned over their journal publishing to private firms as a way to contain membership fees and generate income.” [8] Prices of scholarly journals rose dramatically[9] and publishing corporations restricted access to these journals through expensive licenses. Research libraries had no other choice but to cut many of their journal subscriptions. European and American academic communities began to find alternate ways to distribute and manage scholarly information. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) was founded in 1998. “It is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system. Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries." [10]


  1. Kranich, Nancy. "The Information Commons." (2004): 6. Web. 6 May 2011. <>.
  2. "The Free Expression Policy Project". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  3. "A brief history of open source software". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  4. "Our history in depth – Company – Google". Retrieved 2013-09-30.
  5. Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. Anchor/Doubleday, New York.
  6. "Browser History: Netscape". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  7. <>
  8. Kranich, Nancy. "The Information Commons." (2004): 18. Web. 6 May 2011. <>.
  9. "The cost of journals". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  10. <>

Further reading

External links

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