Nonprofit Organizations and the Intellectual Commons

Nonprofit Organizations and the Intellectual Commons

Jyh-An Lee

Over the past twenty years, a number of nonprofit organizations (NPOs), such as Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Free Software Foundation have laid essential building blocks for intellectual-commons as a social movement. Through a detailed description of these NPOs and a series of in-depth interviews with their officials, this book demonstrates that NPOs have provided the social structures that are necessary to support the production of intellectual commons.

Chapter 3: Nonprofit organizations and the commons environment

Jyh-An Lee

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


This chapter introduces the concept of the nonprofit organization (NPO) and the roles of different institutional forms in the proprietary and commons environments. The second section provides an overview of three primary institutional forms in two intellectual arenas, thus situating the study within current scholarship. Finally, a section will focus on NPOs’ social function in the commons environment NPOs, sometimes collectively referred to as the ‘voluntary sector,’ are private organizations that are restricted from distributing any profit to anyone associated with the said organizations. Scholars have regarded such a non-distribution constraint as NPOs’ most important institutional characteristic and developed NPO theories based on that characteristic. As a result, NPOs do not seek to maximize financial profit for distribution. Nonetheless, an NPO can still earn surpluses, and use them for its own purposes or for other charitable purposes. The U.S. law encourages NPOs by exempting them from certain taxes and by subsidizing them based on the belief that NPOs provide outputs that are not obtainable from proprietary firms.

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