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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2006 (Index of presentations)

200 Years of Collaborative Ownership: From Open Source Steam Engines to Free Genetics, Linux and Wikipedia

Author Rishab Aiyer Ghosh
License Heckert GNU.png GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Rishab Aiyer Ghosh first developed and sold free software in 1994. He switched from writing in C and assembly to English, and has been writing about the economics of free software and collaborative production since 1994.

He is Founding International and Managing Editor of First Monday, the most widely read peer-reviewed on-line journal of the Internet, and Senior Researcher at the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT) at the University of Maastricht and United Nations University, the Netherlands. In 1997, he co-authored tools to measure contributions by free software developers by analysing source code, pioneering now widely used research techniques. In 2000 he coordinated the European Union -funded FLOSS project, the most comprehensive early study of free/libre/open source users and developers; the follow-on FLOSSPOLS project on government policy support; and the on-going FLOSSWorld project conducting comparative studies worldwide. He is involved in government policy initiatives on free software and open standards, and conducts research funded by the European Union and the US National Science Foundation. He was a co-author and initial signatory to the Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO and involved in the early drafting of the Access To Knowledge (A2K) Treaty. In 2005, he published CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy with MIT Press. Rishab was elected a board member of the Open Source Initiative, which maintains the Open Source Definition.

Rishab speaks on free software, access to knowledge and collaborative production at several events each month.

The phenomenal recent popularity of Wikipedia and the success even in commerce of Linux, Apache and other free software seems incredibly new, even revolutionary. Yet the collaborative creation of knowledge has gone on for as long as humans have been able to communicate.

I look 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. I start with the example of the late 18th century steam engines, where the battle between patent-protected monopolists and collaborative community development bears a striking resemblance to today's discussion around software. I look at why collaborative ownership works, show data on why people write free software, and how collaborative communities self-organise to form sustainable governance structures. I discuss how these methods can be applied to Wikipedia, and how a reputation network can help manage the trust needed for collaborative work.

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