A recurring challenge for people working on open networks is to find ways to prevent businesses from treating the shared resources of commoners – code, information, images, videos, product design, etc. – as “free” feedstock for their proprietary market machines. For-profit corporations can mobilize enormous capital and other resources to convert socially generated wealth into marketable products and service, essentially privatizing the shared community wealth or at least its market rewards.
This is a concern to participants in various digital commons, which include free and open source software, Wikipedia in dozens of languages, more than 10,000 open access scholarly journals, the open educational resources movement (OpenCourseWare, open textbooks, etc.), the open data movement, various open design and manufacturing commons, and others. A variety of legal and technological innovations are now starting to address the structural limits of open platforms as vehicles for commoning.
The entries below, a brief review of these new commons-friendly legal innovations in digital spaces.
Among the more prominent initiatives:. One example of the latter are new systems that democratize the ability of collectives to authenticate digital identity without having to rely on Google, Facebook, and other tech giants who use their power to data-mine people’s personal information. Other examples include digital currencies that enable communities to capture and manage the value that its members create; “smart contracts” that enable self-executing contractual agreements on networks; a system of open-source modules of legal boilerplate that can be used on open platforms to minimize the need for expensive lawyers; and data-sharing commons that allow only stipulated usage of shared pools of data.
Types of Digital Commons
Licensed based on copyright ownership of a work have a long and respected history in digital spaces. The most notable licenses are probably the General Public License that enables countless free software (especially Linux) to remain freely usable by anyone; and the Creative Commons licenses, created in 2003, which are used in an estimated 85 million digital works around the world. To deal with the corporate appropriation of work from open platforms, the P2P Foundation, working with Primavera De Filippi, Lionel Maurel and others, are seriously exploring the idea of “commons-based reciprocity licenses.” . These licenses would allow no-cost sharing among members of a commons, but require payment by any commercial users of the community’s work. . Unlike the Creative Commons NonCommercial license, which absolutely stops commercial development of a line of information or creative work, the CopyFair  license would allow commercialization, but on the basis of mandatory (monetized) reciprocity.
The Blockchain Ledger
The blockchain ledger solves a particularly difficult collective-action problem in an open network context: How do you know that a given digital object -- a bitcoin, a legal document, digital certificate, dataset, a vote or digital identity asserted by an individual – is the “real thing” and not a forgery? Blockchain technology can help solve this problem by using a searchable online “ledger” that keeps track of all transactions (i.e., bitcoins). The ledger is updated about six times an hour, each time incorporating details of the latest transactions (the “block”) into the ledger – a record that is shared by everyone on the network using the Bitcoin software. The ledger acts as a kind of permanent record maintained by a vast distributed peer network, which makes it far more secure than data kept at a centralized location. The authenticity of a given bitcoin is assured because it’s virtually impossible to corrupt a ledger that is spread across so many nodes in the network.
Distributed Collaborative Organizations Based on the Blockchain
A recently released report suggests that blockchain technology could provide a critical infrastructure for building what are called “distributed collaborative organizations” (sometimes “distributed autonomous organizations”). These are essentially self-organized online commons. A DCO could use blockchain technology to give its members specified rights within the organization, which could be managed and guaranteed by the blockchain. This set of rights, in turn, can be linked to the conventional legal system to make those rights legally cognizable.
Solar Power Commons Using the Blockchain
One rudimentary example of how the blockchain might be used to facilitate a commons: former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt in the US has proposed using blockchain technology to create distributed networks of solar power on residential houses coordinated as commons. The ledger would keep track of how much energy a given homeowner generates and shares with others, and consumes. In effect the system would enable the efficient organization of decentralized solar grids and a “green currency” that could serve as a medium of exchange within solar microgrids or networks, helping to propel adoption of solar panels. The blockchain amounts to a network-based architecture for enabling commons-based governance.
A more generic aspect of this field of blockchain-related experimentation is Smart Contracts. These are dynamic software modules that may soon enable new types of group governance, decisionmaking and rules-enforcement on open network platforms. We are already familiar with rudimentary – and corporate-oriented versions – of this idea, such as Digital Rights Management (DRM), an encryption/authentication system that attempts to constrain how users may use their legally purchased technologies (DVDs, CDs, etc.). Based on the power of collaborative networks, some tech innovators have realized that the challenge is not how to lock up and privatize digital artifacts, but how to assure that they can be shared on open platforms in legally enforceable ways. Hence the many active efforts now underway to devise technical systems that would act as “smart” digital software agents whose transactions would also be enforceable under conventional law. The “transactions” could, of course, be used to invent new types of markets, but they also could be used to create new types of commons; ultimately, the two realms may bleed into each other and create social hybrids that conjoin community commitments and market activity.
Additional Blockchain Ledger resources
Terms of Service Contracts for Peer Production
Many websites use self-serving “contracts of adhesion” in their Terms of Service (ToS) as a way to impose their own one-sided terms of usage while formally abiding by the premises of contract law (a mutually negotiated set of legal terms that bind both parties). But what if a ToS, instead asserting strict proprietary rights for business purposes, legally authorized and required peer sharing among users of the website? Such a ToS would assert legal terms for automatic access, use and sharing of collectively “owned” digital resources, perhaps with customizable options for specific needs. This Peer Production ToS is now being developed by Intrinsic,  a startup company that is building an open-source architecture for online collaboration.
Common Accord is a fledgling project that is attempting to apply open source principles to the inefficiencies and costs of conventional lawyering. The goal is to decentralize the writing of legal documents and empower users by developing a massive global inventory of standard legal forms, libraries of legal clauses and specific use-cases in civil law. The many modular elements can then be mixed-and-matched by users to apply to their specific needs. Specific legal modules would be rated, annotated and commented up by recognized legal experts, in an open-source fashion, helping to provide a measure of credibility and trust in the legal draftsmanship of legal documents.
While the system would not necessarily eliminate the need for a real lawyer in a given situation, it could automate, simplify and reduce the legal costs for many standard commercial and civil transactions. Common Accord is also involved in devising machine-readable legal consent forms for contributors to peer production projects, such as open source software projects, data sharing by municipalities, patients who share their genetic information with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, and musicians eager to collaborate on collective pieces of music. Such collaborations are often plagued by legal terms that favor the data-using institutions and by incompatibilities among national legal systems and digital technical standards.
See also the P2P Foundation wiki: : “The goal is to make the documents so modular that much of the text disappears, leaving parties with only specific deal points and clear relationships. These relationships can be ‘rendered’ at any time into full legal documents, for verification and enforcement. Technically, this is a data-model for text, an extremely simple and expandable data-model that consists of a series of nested lists that render into texts. The texts can be improved, extended and forked by the community. As such, CommonAccord is expected to play the same role in facilitating and accelerating collaboration on legal texts as git has played for code.” The three active contributors to Common Accord are James Hazard]], an American lawyer based in Paris; Primavera De Filippi of the Harvard Berkman Center and CERSA/CNRS; and Marc Dangeard of Be-Bound.com.
New Software Platforms To Enable Participatory Online Deliberation
There are a wide variety of software platforms that are experimenting with better ways to facilitate group deliberations and decisionmaking. These programs could have important implications for new types of governance. The more notable experiments include Loomio , DemocracyOS  and Liquid Feedback . The point of such systems is to enable direct, sustained and somewhat complicated discussions that can then clarify group sentiment and foster commitments that participants see as legitimate and meaningful.
Ubiquitous Commons  is a project, headed by Italians Salvatore Iasconesi and Oriana Persico,  is attempting to overcome impediments to data-sharing in cities and develop better ways to use data to improve social research and governance. Ubiquitous Commons is trying to develop new systems that can creatively use enormous flows of data on social networks and public databases for public purposes, especially via maps of urban spaces. The idea is to enable citizens, city governments, scientists, health researchers and others to use dynamic data flows to understand actual social behaviors and design appropriate services and policies, while protecting individual privacy rights. Prototypes have been launched in Rome, Sao Paulo, and New Haven, Connecticut. The project has obvious implications for improving the quality of self-governance and participation.
FairCoop  is a recently founded project closely related to the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC), an “omni-commons” based in Barcelona. The CIC is attempting to build a new set of free economic tools that will “promote cooperation, ethics, solidarity and justice in our economic relations.” FairCoop was founded by some CIC members (along with other partners) and it has taken over and improved on an existing cryptocurrency , FairCoin, a descendent of an earlier digital currency, Peercoin . The basic idea of FairCoop is “to hack the foreign exchange market” by developing a new currency that fosters cooperation over private competition. (Faircoin relies less on “mining” new coins than on “minting” them in more ecologically responsible ways and distributing them to those who want them.)
FairCoop's system aims to be “fractal” in character, meaning that “from the experience in the root platform, it can be moved and replicated at different regional and local scales around the globe, with interoperability at different levels for the entire fair.coop ecosystem….,” as CIC founder Enric Duran has explained . While the project is unabashedly ambitious, FairCoop correctly recognizes that the existing monetary system and private banks pose insuperable barriers to reducing inequality and ensuring productive work and wealth for all. The only “realistic” alternative to existing fiat currencies and foreign exchange is to invent a new monetary system! FairCoop intends to use FairCoin to help build a larger ecosystem of economic institutions, which will include Faircredit, a worldwide mutual credit system for exchanging goods and services via FairCoin; and FairFunds, a group of FairCoin donation vehicles for various types of projects.
New State Policies to Enable Digital Commoning
Formal government policies to assist digital commoning remain mostly on the margin of mainstream politics and policymaking. However, a significant initiative in this area was the 2013-14 research project of the FLOK Society – Free/Libre Open Knowledge Society – in Ecuador. This project, headed by P2P Foundation founder Michel Bauwens, sought to “envisage an economy that would no longer be dependent on limited material resources, but on infinite immaterial resources.” The project developed a policy framework to promote online commons-based peer production in its many diverse forms, resulting in more than eighteen legislative proposals including a dozen pilot projects, which were validated in the Buen Conocer Summit at the end of May 2014.
The FLOK project’s detailed research paper addresses the many challenges of building commons-oriented productive capacities (sustainable agriculture, distributed manufacturing and energy), social infrastructure and institutional innovation (the social economy, the partner state, open government), open technical infrastructures (free software, free hardware, cybersecurity), and policies to protect traditional and ancestral knowledge and biodiversity, among other topics. The general FLOK Society agenda, which has larger implications beyond Ecuador, is now continuing under the auspices of the Commons Transition Initiative, headed by Michel Bauwens and Stacco Troncoso.
See also Bauwens’ assessment of post-FLOK priorities. 
A notable new form of commons-based peer production, Open Value Networks, is described below in #8, “New Organizational Forms.”