Types of Commons

Traditional examples of commons include forests, fisheries, or groundwater resources, but increasingly the term commons is used for a broader set of domains, e.g. knowledge commons, digital commons, urban commons, health commons, cultural commons, etc. The study of governing shared resources is therefore not restricted to the original domain of natural resources; the IASC brings together scholars from all those different application domains to exchange experiences and solutions.

Underneath you will find some examples of commons the IASC works on. This list is just an example and not exhaustive.

Common Land

Common land is land owned and governed collectively by a number of persons. It may also concern land owned by one person, institution, or a number of persons, over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel. Those entitled to those rights are called commoners. Common land can be found in many different forms; in some areas, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, common land as such has almost completely disappeared in the course of the nineteenth century. In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, in Italy, but also in Eastern-European countries, commons still exist until the present day: in England, for example, there are still over 7,000 registered commons.

Urban Commons

Urban residents share access to a number of tangible and intangible resources in which they have a common stake. These resources range from local streets and parks to public places to a variety of shared neighborhood amenities. The management and governance of these collectively shared urban resources or ‘urban commons’ face the same challenges as there rural counterparts: How to create sustainable ways of managing these resources? How to avoid free-riding? In present-day society, urban commons nonetheless seem to offer a solution both regular governments and market parties are incapable of offering. In some cases, city governments, therefore, embrace this development and form coalitions with its citizenship to co-create the city as a common.

Knowledge Commons

The term ‘knowledge commons’ refers to information, data, and content that is collectively owned and managed by a community of users, particularly over the Internet (e.g. Wikipedia). What distinguishes a knowledge commons from a commons of shared physical resources is that digital resources are non-subtractable; that is, multiple users can access the same digital resources with no effect on their quantity or quality. A main principle of the knowledge commons is that the traditional copyright is abandoned: no permission is required and no license has to be acquired to study, use, change and redistribute an improved work again—under the only condition that all future works building on the license are again kept in the commons. The most popular applications of the ‘copyleft’ principle are the GNU Software Licenses (GPL, LGPL, and GFDL by Free Software Foundation) and the share-alike licenses under creative commons.

Movie ‘Knowledge Commons’
This movie was created as part of the joint ‘Commons in action’-program by the IASC and the Elinor Ostrom Award.
The animation was created by Viumasters.

Creative Commons-Licentie

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