One of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from the work of Benkler, von Hippel, Weber (my review of both is here), and many others is that the Internet has reminded us that we live not just in one economy, but at least two. One economy is the traditional “commercial economy,” an economy regulated by the quid pro quo: I’ll do this (work, write, sing, etc.) in exchange for money. Another economy is (the names are many) the (a) amateur economy, (b) sharing economy, (c) social production economy, (d) noncommercial economy, or (e) p2p economy. This second economy (however you name it, I’m just going to call it the “second economy”) is the economy of Wikipedia, most FLOSS development, the work of amateur astronomers, etc. It has a different, more complicated logic too it than the commercial economy. If you tried to translate all interactions in this second economy into the frame of the commercial economy, you’d kill it.
Having now seen the extraordinary value of this second economy, I think most would agree we need to think lots about how best to encourage it — what techniques are needed to call it into life, how is it sustained, what makes it flourish. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how to do it well. Those living in real second economy communities (such as Wikipedia) have a good intuition about it.
But a second and also extremely difficult problem is how, or whether, the economies can be linked. Is there a way to cross over from the commercial to second economy? Is there a way to manage a hybrid economy — one that tries to manage this link.
The challenge of the hybrid economy is what Mozilla, RedHat, Second Life, MySpace are struggling with all the time. How can you continue to inspire the creative work of the second economy, while also expanding the value of the commercial economy? This is, in my view, a different challenge from the challenge of how you call this second economy into being, but obviously, they are related. But this challenge too is one I don’t think anyone yet understands fully.
As I watch Creative Commons develop, I’ve been encouraged by the experiments that try to find a way to preserve this second economy, while enabling links to the first. I wrote before about Yehuda Berlinger who had set IP law to verse. In that post, I nudged him to adopt a CC license. He did, but he did so in a very interesting way. As his site now reads:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. Attribution should include a live link to this blog post, whenever possible; text link otherwise. License for commercial usage also available from the owner.
This idea is one we’re experimenting with at CC — a NC license that explicitly includes a link to another site to enable commercial licensing. It is one way to preserve the separation of these separate spheres. I’d be eager to hear about other ways you might think better.
But the important point to recognize is that this effort to preserve the separation is fundamentally different from the effort of many in the “free software” or “free content” movement who want all “free” licenses to permit any sort of use, commercial or not. Imho, they are simply ignoring an important reality about the difference between these two economies. Indeed, they’re making the opposite mistake that many in the commercial world make: Just as many commercial rights holders believe every single use of creative work ought to be regulated by copyright (see, e.g., the push to force what are plainly “fair uses” of copyrighted work on YouTube to pay the copyright owners), so too these advocates of “free content” would push everyone to treat everything as if it is free of copyright regulation (effectively, if not technically). Second economy sorts believe differently — that some uses should be free, and others should be with permission.
It is because I have enormous respect for those who make the latter mistake (and believe their motives are more likely pure) that I urge them to consider the radical simplification of social life they insist we push on the world. I like the dynamics of the second economy. Benkler has given it a theory. I think we should be working to support it, not pretending that it is not there.
The obvious reply (and the real puzzle for me) is FLOSS. I said at the start it effectively operated in the second economy. But the “free content” movement that I’m skeptical of is simply trying to push the norms of FLOSS into the content space. How could it then be any different?
In my view, the difference comes from the difference in nature of the stuff. Some cultural production can be collaborative in exactly the way FLOSS is — Wikipedia. But you need an argument to get from some to all. No doubt, I too need an argument that some is different from some. I don’t have that yet. But it is here that I think the really important discussion needs to happen.
Oh, and by the way, Yehuda has added Trademark Law to his verses.