Cornell Law Review Volume 95 Issue 4

Questioning Cultural Commons

In Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, Michael J. Madison, Brett M. Frischmann, and Katherine J. Strandburg offer an innovative and attractive vision of the future of cultural and scientific knowledge through the construction of “cultural commons,” which they define as “environments for developing and distributing cultural and scientific knowledge through institutions that support pooling and sharing that knowledge in a managed way.”   The kind of “commons” they have in mind is modeled on the complex arrangement of social norms that allocate lobstering rights among fishermen in Maine and extends to arrangements such as patent pools, open-source software development (e.g., Linux), and the modern research university.

In this Response, I will pose a series of questions about cultural commons.  The first set of questions will interrogate the structure, boundaries, and coherence of the idea of “cultural commons”: that is, I will ask, “What is a cultural commons?”  The second set of questions will explore the fundamental assumptions of the case for these institutions: I will ask, “What are the normative foundations for cultural commons?”  The third set of questions will inquire into the feasibility of the proposal for cultural commons as a method for governing information: I will ask, “Are cultural commons possible?”  These questions are intended to rigorously interrogate the foundational assumptions of the very intriguing proposal offered by Madison, Frischmann, and Strandburg.


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