Institutional Entrepreneurship, Wikipedia, and the Opportunity of the Commons

Journal of Institutional Economics, Forthcoming

24 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2015 Last revised: 26 Apr 2016

Date Written: April 16, 2016


Copyright laws traditionally attempt to incentivize expression and minimize free rider problems through legal restrictions, at the expense of closing off access to cultural history. However, entrepreneurial changes to institutions and the creation of alternative governance structures can allow for spaces that facilitate expression without resorting to the copyright approach. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, stands as a highly visible example of such institutional entrepreneurship, leveraging copyright law against its intended purpose. This paper uses the Bloomington School’s IAD framework to explain the success of Wikipedia’s alternative model of managing a common resource of free encyclopedia articles, and suggests a roadmap for understanding the role of institutional entrepreneurship in crafting alternative governance structures to foster expression.

Keywords: Wikipedia, intellectual property rights, copyright, public goods, institutions, commons

JEL Classification: H41, K29

Suggested Citation

Safner, Ryan, Institutional Entrepreneurship, Wikipedia, and the Opportunity of the Commons (April 16, 2016). Journal of Institutional Economics, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Ryan Safner (Contact Author)

Hood College ( email )

401 Rosemont Avenue
Frederick, MD 21701
United States

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