Romance of the Public Domain and Early, “Occupy Everything” Sightings

Weird.  I was going through some old posts I had written on student debt and higher-education privatization and found an image in a link that surprised me.  There were two posts I wrote while guest blogging for Ezra Klein in May 2010, centered around a multi-blog critical review of Anya Kamenetz’s book DIY U, that I’m going to re-up for discussion, since they are relevant for other current topics.

The first post was about the “Romance of the Public Domain“, riffing off a paper of the same name by law professors Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder.  There are new commons centered around zero-marginal cost goods, especially in the digital and information realm, can be distributed according to need with no loss.  This is a boom for progressives, if only because it addresses many conservative concerns about commons, ranging from overuse to a lack of formal property rights.  From the paper, “The public domain is now the cause célèbre among progressive intellectual property and cyber-law scholars, who extol the public domain as necessary for sustaining innovation.”

But the romance kicks in because it assumes equal access and ability to use the commons.  Chander/Sunder: “They presume a landscape where every person can reap the riches found in the commons. This is the romance of the commons — the belief that because a resource is open to all by force of law, it will indeed be equally exploited by all. But in practice, differing circumstances — including knowledge, wealth, power, access and ability — render some better able than others to exploit a commons.”  From Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to DIY U, not everyone can access the digital/informational commons equally.  This reintroduces all kinds of distributional concerns.  I was happy with how it turned00 out, and it’s relevant for recent discussion on Anti-Star Trek Four Futures and the freeness of “free parking.”

The second post was a series of links to other reviews, including Ed from Gin and Tacos and Aaron Bady from zunguzungu.  But I also included a link and a blockquote from the SDS Womyn’s Caucus Blog on how empowering a person there found the 2009 University of California Protest.  I still find this image and description of the protests important:

See a difference? yeah, that’s right, there are ACTUALLY WAY MORE students of color who are being radicalized, standing up, and fighting back. they’re not all caught up in the trappings of white anarcho-punk subculture (look! they wear colors! and no bandanas! and they’re also wearing their college sweatshirts, oh dear god, SCHOOL SPIRIT!) – instead, they’re caught up in the fact that their tuition is going up by 32%, that their classes are regularly cancelled due to lack of funding, that this is the ONLY WAY THEY CAN GO TO SCHOOL and it’s being taken away from them. they aren’t fighting back against bourgeois ennui and problems with authority and they aren’t checking to make sure their black bandanas are hanging out of their ass pocket, just so, before they go out to march.

Heh.  This made me realize how big the stakes were, and how this issue wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.  It’s a great post and I’ve often brought up this point to others, but haven’t reread the linked-to post since then.  I bring it up because, re-reading it, this image from UCSC in ’09 was at the end of their post:

Well look at that.

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One Response to Romance of the Public Domain and Early, “Occupy Everything” Sightings

  1. Dilettante says:

    On the UC protests: I recall as a UC undergrad in the early 90s the pervasive, dismissive attitude that minorities of necessity had a more grounded, real experience than white kids like me. (Minorities meaning all non-whites, women, gays, etc: most of the student populace, in fact.) I wasn’t preoccupied with “fighting back against bourgeois ennui and problems with authority,” or the “trappings of white anarcho-punk subculture” as the section quoted above claims, and I doubt that’s what the white Occupy-affiliated students are really about now either. Sure it’s fun to mock rich protesters, but the idea that all whites are rich is weird, offensive, and self-defeating. I had a great time at university. But I learned quickly that the US is class-blind and obsessed with racial stereotypes. It didn’t matter that I was poorer than the bulk of my classmates; somehow possession of minority status conferred a strange authority on comfortable middle-class kids that I lacked. Economic disadvantage in itself was never discussed. Mostly, I concluded that the US left was going to be divided for an awfully long time. I was right; and this kind of thinking is a big reason why. It’s great that someone felt empowered by the UC Occupy movement, and great that there was a diversity of protestors. But the stereotyping of white leftists and the casual assumption that minorities have more genuine reasons for protesting are both typically myopic and off-putting.

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