Intellectual Commons, Commodification and Open Business Models

Slides for a presentation at the Right Livelihood College's Fall Academy. Bonn, 2012

13 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2015

Date Written: September 18, 2012


This research project analyses the possible relations between intellectual commons and commodification, attempting to determine if they are incompatible and whether commodification can arise in or from within a commons. Also, on a more practical level, it assesses how emerging business models affect that possibility.

It explores Elinor Ostrom’s institutionalist approach to commons theory, evaluating its merits (for instance, the empirical refutation of Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons”), as well as limitations (reliance on methodological individualism and absence of more systemic considerations) that can lead to blind spots. This approach is confronted with others, such as those found in works by Hardt & Negri and Peter Linebaugh; while not as systematic and easy to operationalize as Ostrom’s approach, they appear to address some of its limitations. The challenges in the application of these theories to intellectual goods are considered: the research proposes a dialectical reading of the economic concept of rivalry (as opposed to an essentialist reading, frequent in “techno-utopian” approaches), suggesting that intellectual goods always depend to some extent on material goods, and vice-versa.

The concept of commodification is borrowed from Polanyi and Marx: a commodity is something produced mostly in order to satisfy a market system (and therefore, a profit imperative); this is contrasted with production in a commons, geared to satisfying a community’s needs. The 20th century saw a sharp rise in the commodification of intellectual goods (aided by the worldwide stiffening of intellectual property laws); but the same technologies that made it so profitable to reproduce and disseminate such commodities also made it easier to share them in commons. The research argues that this curtails direct commodification; but that in some of the new, “open” business models that help sustain these commons (such as those based in advertising), commodification can mutate and reappear in unexpected forms.

Keywords: intellectual commons, commodification, open business models

JEL Classification: D7, O3, P16

Suggested Citation

Said Vieira, Miguel, Intellectual Commons, Commodification and Open Business Models (September 18, 2012). Slides for a presentation at the Right Livelihood College's Fall Academy. Bonn, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Miguel Said Vieira (Contact Author)

Federal University of ABC (UFABC)


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