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 5: Associating nonprofit organizations with the commons environment

Jyh-An Lee

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


In Chapter 4, I described both the application of current dominant theories to NPOs in the commons environment and the limitations of these theories. My analysis in Chapter 4 is unidirectional and explores how NPOs function as a private response to a variety of market and government failures in the information society. Nevertheless, this analysis does not provide an adequate explanation for the commons environment being more suitable for NPOs than for for-profits to flourish. Although in the F/OSS arena, scholars have argued that ‘a passion for the ideology behind [F]OSS seems to be what prevents many organizations from becoming profit-earning entities,’ most current literature has not provided a detailed explanation of the close links between the nature of the commons and NPOs. Therefore, in this chapter, I turn my attention to the commons environment and the distinctive traits that cause NPOs to proliferate in it. Roger A. Lohmann is probably the first scholar to identify the link between NPOs and the commons. Lohmann uses the term commons to refer to the entire nonprofit sector because he believes that NPOs are involved in a vast array of relationships between benefactors, intermediaries, and beneficiaries in which associative communities can operate freely. Linked to the Greek term koinonia, Lohmann uses the term ‘the commons’ to emphasize free participation, common purpose, shared goods, a sense of mutuality, and a commitment to fairness. Based on Lohmann’s theory, Dart further refers to the commons as ‘an organizational space containing activity focused on pro-social behavior, mutuality, voluntary labor, and production of collective goods.’

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