Nonprofit Organizations in the Digital Commons Environment

2010-12-15 10:00 - 10:40
Jyh-An Lee

Institutions are among the structures through which a society seeks to deal with its various problems; therefore, it is important to understand the effectiveness of alternative forms of institutions, such as the government, for-profit businesses, and nonprofit organizations (NPOs). By the same token, in any discussion of preserving and strengthening the intellectual-commons environment, it is crucial for researchers to understand how different institutions affect this environment. Over the past twenty years, the creation of institutions and organizations, such as Creative Commons (CC), the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Free Software Foundation), and Public Knowledge has laid essential building blocks for intellectual-commons as a social movement.

This talk focuses on the role of NPOs that occupy an increasingly critical and visible position in the intellectual-commons environment in recent years. By organizing effective institutional arrangements to enhance the production, access, use, search-ability, and preservation of diverse intellectual commons, various NPOs have emerged to perform public functions in public-goods provision, and, perhaps more importantly, their influence sometimes extends beyond the market firm and the state agency. I argue that NPOs have provided the social structures that are necessary to support the production of intellectual commons, and yet differ from the structures supporting the production of proprietary information. Based on current commons and NPO scholarship, I propose that the intellectual-commons environment has provided an “environmental niche” in which NPOs thrive. That is, the nature of NPOs is more consistent with commons-environment culture than that characteristic of for-profits or the government.

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