Open source software is considered by many to be a novelty and the open source movement a revolution. Yet the collaborative creation of knowledge has gone on for as long as humans have been able to communicate. CODE looks at the collaborative model of creativity—with examples ranging from collective ownership in indigenous societies to free software, academic science, and the human genome project—and finds it an alternative to proprietary frameworks for creativity based on strong intellectual property rights.
Intellectual property rights, argues Rishab Ghosh in his introduction, were ostensibly developed to increase creativity; but today, policy decisions that treat knowledge and art as if they were physical forms of property actually threaten to decrease creativity, limit public access to creativity, and discourage collaborative creativity. "Newton should have had to pay a license fee before being allowed even to see how tall the 'shoulders of giants' were, let alone to stand upon them," he writes.
The contributors to CODE, from such diverse fields as economics, anthropology, law, and software development, examine collaborative creativity from a variety of perspectives, looking at new and old forms of creative collaboration and the mechanisms emerging to study them. Discussing the philosophically resonant issues of ownership, property, and the commons, they ask if the increasing application of the language of property rights to knowledge and creativity constitutes a second enclosure movement—or if the worldwide acclaim for free software signifies a renaissance of the commons. Two concluding chapters offer concrete possibilities for both alternatives, with one proposing the establishment of "positive intellectual rights" to information and another issuing a warning against the threats to networked knowledge posed by globalization.
"CODE is a mature and sophisticated exploration of the most important issues related to creativity in the digital age. The broad mix of scholars, offering extraordinarily insightful perspectives, makes this collection essential for understanding this critically important set of questions."
—Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School, author of Free Culture
"We hear much these days of the 'knowledge society.' The usual implication of the phrase is that knowledge is something to be owned. Yet it is well known, indeed obvious, that creativity and innovation happen only when nurtured by large areas of common knowledge. The contributors to this book document the current erosion of the commons, and show ways to move forward by reconciling conflicting demands in a collaborative manner. Profound, thoughtful, pragmatic, and very readable, the articles range from historical perspective to practical advice, bringing fresh air to discussions around intellectual property and revealing how contingent are the 'norms' of today. They give answers and hope to those who sense that something is amiss with the system but are unsure about the alternatives."
—John Sulston, The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (2002)