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Own Nothing, Have Everything

- original Napster slogan

For social change, "ownership design is the most foundational".

- David Korten [1]

"Peer production, peer governance, peer property",

Excerpt of Article by Michel Bauwens - link :



"Peer to peer social processes are bottom-up processes whereby agents in a distributed network can freely engage in common pursuits, without external coercion. It is important to realize that distributed systems differ from decentralized systems, essentially because in the latter, the hubs are obligatory, while in the former, they are the result of voluntary choices. Distributed networks do have constraints, internal coercion, that are the conditions for the group to operate, and they may be embedded in the technical infrastructure, the social norms, or legal rules.

P2P social processes more precisely engender:

1) Peer Production: wherever a group of peers decided to engage in the production of a common resource [2]

2) Peer Governance: the means they choose to govern themselves while they engage in such pursuit [3]]

3) Peer Property: the institutional and legal framework they choose to guard against the private appropriation of this common work; this usually takes the form of non-exclusionary forms of universal common property"

See also: Common ; Commons ; Commons - Typology


= a clear distinction is to be made between resources owned in common (common property) and resources for which no property rights have been defined (open access).

G.G. Stevenson compares these three forms in terms of group limitation and extraction limitation. [4]

Typology of Commons Regulation

things Access Regulation
Res nullius all non-regulated
Res privatae owner market-regulated
Res publicae public state-regulated
Res communes community peer-regulated

The 3 Property Institutions:

Open Access Property:

- Limited: members only, unlimited extraction - Unlimited: open to anyone, unlimited extraction

Common Property: members only, extraction limited by rules

Private Property: one, extraction limited by individual decision

  • Stefan Meretz has produced, with his daughter, a very useful and clear taxonomy of common goods, according to five criteria. Pauline Schwarze and Franco Iacomella provided translation support, from the original German to English.

Graphic at

Typology of Generative Ownership Forms


Commons and government ownership:

Assets like the ocean, a forest, land, a park, or a municipal power plant are held or governed indivisibly by a community. This category includes, but is not limited to, government ownership.

Stakeholder ownership:

Ownership by people with a human stake in a private enterprise – including cooperatives, partnerships, credit unions, mutual insurance companies, employee-owned firms, and family-owned companies – where the central purpose is a life-serving one.

Nonprofit and social enterprise ownership:

Organizations with a primary social or environmental mission, which rely either on charity (nonprofits) or use business methods (social enterprise). This category, which includes hospitals, universities and non-governmental organizations, embraces nonprofits, subsidiaries of nonprofits, and certain private businesses.

Mission-controlled corporations:

Corporations with a strong social purpose that are owned in conventional ways (often with publicly traded shares), yet keep governing control in mission-oriented hands. These can include family-controlled firms, and the large foundation-controlled companies common across northern Europe." (

Introductory Articles

See also:

  1. Kevin Kelly: In a dematerialized economy, sharing is better than owning
  2. Dmytri Kleiner: The Modular Company, Open Capital, Venture Communism: How are they related
  3. The three modalities of Production Sharing, i.e. working together for a common pool, without individual exchange or barter: 1) Labor Quota System‎; 2) Fair-Share Labor System‎; 3) Anti-Quota Labor System‎
  4. Marjorie Kelly: Not Just For Profit: Emerging alternatives to the shareholder-centric model could help companies avoid ethical mishaps and contribute more to the world at large. Explores three new-style corporate designs: 1. stakeholder-owned companies; 2. mission-controlled companies; and 3. public-private hybrids.
  5. It is very important to distinguish the four different degrees of freedom], culminating in Triple-Free Software and peer production. An insight from Tere Vaden.
  6. The Property Taskforce is a good resource to learn about Property regimes

Special topic: Commons-oriented Software Licenses

  1. Richard Stallman argues forcefully, that we should not use the muddled concept of IP, and explains Why Software Should Not Have Owners.
  2. Patrick Anderson explains the difference (and deep similarity) between Ownership of Software vs. Ownership of Goods, and says open property models could be extended once we accept that the user (and not the worker) is the owner of the physical means of production. See also his proposal for User Ownership
  3. Karl Fogel explains how the General Public License uses Copyright to obtain the opposite effect of guaranteeing sharing: Stallman's Jiujitsu
  4. The Libre Labyrinth. Navigating the Maze of Free and NonFree Licenses. By Greg London, 2008: describes an objective way to understand how various FLOS licenses work, and how different FLOS licenses compare to one another
  5. A Comparative Ethical Assessment of Free Software Licensing Schemes. By S.Chopra and S. Dexter: how to choose between Free Software, Open Source Software, or proprietary software, from an ethical point of view
  6. Copyleft and the Theory of Property. Mikhaïl Xifaras (French)

Special topic: property and conflict in free culture communities:

  1. Play Struggle, excerpts of the book Hacking Capitalism by Johan Soderbergh.
  2. Klang, Mathias, "Avatar: From Deity to Corporate Property - A Philosophical Inquiry into Digital Property in Online Games
  3. Contrasting Proprietary and Free/Open Source Game Development, Alessandro Rossi & Marco Zamarian
  4. Moore, Christopher. 2005. "Commonising The Enclosure: Online Games And Reforming Intellectual Property Regimes." Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society 3(2): examine the potential for computer game studies to contribute to an understanding of an alternative intellectual property regime known as the commons
  5. Who Owns the Mods? by Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi. First Monday, Volume 15, Number 5 - 3 May 2010 [7]

Key Resources

Key Articles

  • Carol M. Rose, 1) The Several Futures of Property: Of Cyberspace and Folk Tales, Emission Trades and Ecosystems, 83 MINN. L. REV. 129 (1998) ; 2) PROPERTY AND PERSUASION: ESSAYS ON THE HISTORY,


Key Books

Chapter 11 focused directly upon your question about Ownership transfer mechanisms and what these look like including the roots of the idea in the 1820s with the insights of Thomas Spence the ingenious proponent of working land trusts (see chapter 4), the brilliant French Swiss political economist, Sismondi and working up from there through the Chartists, Ruskin, other co-operative commonwealth visionaries and practitioners through to Gandhi's trusteeship concepts, CLTs, Democratic ESOPs, the Co-operative Land Bank etc ... "

  • The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy. Berrett-Koehler, 2001. [10]. Key thesis: the corporation is a feudal structure ; one of those mind-opening books that deserves to be read by a large audience
  • Property Outlaws: How Squatters, Pirates and Protesters Improve the Law of Ownership. By Sonia Katyal and Eduardo Penalver. Yale University Press, 2010

"On Immaterial Property"

See also:

* PhD thesis - "Property, Commoning and the Politics of Free Software". J. Martin Pedersen. Thesis submitted January 2010, Department of Philosophy, Lancaster University. Examined by Massimo De Angelis.: The thesis is a philosophical and political inquiry into the material nature of immateriality and was published as the first of a two volume Special Issue of The Commoner and also presented on

Key Property Modalities

  • Fair Shares: this model of cooperative property makes a lot of sense

Short Citations


The difference between open access and defined property rights (private or common property), by contrast, is the difference between an unregulated and a regulated condition. The difference is fundamental.

- Achim Lerch [12]


For Stevenson, a “private property, common property, open access trichotomy” ultimately exists. He compares these three forms in terms of group limitation and extraction limitation. Characteristic of the common property form is that both the group and the extent of resource use are limited by the individual members.

- [13]

Source: STEVENSON, G.G: Common Property Economics. A General Theory and Land Use Applications. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.1991, p.58

Long Citations

"The commons breaks with the individualistic vision as conceived by the capitalist tradition, a vision that has progressively transferred the idea of rights to individual people. The commons take inclusion and everyone’s equal right to access as its starting point, while property and the idea of the state that upholds it is based on a rivalry of goods, and thus on exclusion and concentration of power in institutions that insure and protect it. The commons try to situate themselves outside the subject-object reductionism that would lead to their commodification. The commons cannot be commodified (because they cannot be transferred, or alienated), and they cannot be the object of individualised possession. And so they express a qualitative logic, not a quantitative one. We do not ‘have’ a common good, we ‘form part of’ the common good, in that we form part of an ecosystem, of a system of relations in an urban or rural environment; the subject is part of the object. Common goods are inseparably united, and they unite people as well as communities and the ecosystem itself."

- Joan Subirats [14]

"Imagine a world where property is owned because it is being well stewarded rather than ownership being a priori to stewardship. Much of the worst behavior we see in the economy would be impossible, because the second any firm stopped stewarding their properties for the benefit of the larger community, they would no longer own their properties (intellectual or otherwise). In this world ownership is derived from good stewardship, rather than the other way around."

- Alan Rosenblith [15]

"Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase "proceeds of labor", objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning. … labor [will] become not only a means of life but life's prime want

- Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme [16]

At the center of the digital revolution, with the executable bitstreams that make everything else possible, propertarian regimes not only do not make things better, they can make things radically worse. Property concepts, whatever else may be wrong with them, do not enable and have in fact retarded progress. In the network society, anarchism (or more properly, anti-possessive individualism) is a viable political philosophy … because defection is impossible, free riders are welcome, which resolves one of the central puzzles of collective action in a propertarian social system.

- Eben Moglen, in his essay Anarchism Triumphant [17]

"In Roman law, property, or dominium, is a relation between a person and a thing, characterized by absolute power of that person over that thing....Human beings can have relations with one another. But what would it mean to have a 'relation' with a thing?....[But,] Imagine a man trapped on a desert island. He might develop extremely personal relationships with, say, the palm trees....and, if he's there too long, he might well end up giving them all names and spending half his time having imaginary conversations with them. Still, does he 'own' them? ....Clearly, then, property is not really a relation between a person and a thing. It's an understanding or arrangement between people concerning things."

~ David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years [18]

"As long as we focus on types of ownership, we seem to be leaving out all who are not owners. That is one reason I argue for a civic based economy rather than a property-based economy.

I am certainly for employee ownership and worker co-ops. One needs to remember, however, that property and ownership are legal concepts, or civic concepts. In "Civilizing the Economy]] I tried to develop a civic view of ownership and of property.

The civic is about membership and the rights of members to control their lives, rather than have their lives control by owners. Ownership, in my view, should rest on a civic foundation."

- Marvin Brown (email, August 2013)


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