Skip to main content

More Than Ownership: How Open Source's Contribution to the Commons Goes Beyond Licenses

Democratic control is fundamental to cooperative values: it's the second item of the ICA/Rochdale Principles1 , after being open to all. For most cooperatives, however, democracy means coop members can submit resolutions and vote on these at an AGM (Annual General Meeting) under the principle of one member one vote.

Much of the discussion on open source's relevance to cooperatives has focused on open, permissive licenses that represent a 'digital commons' (possibly at risk of appropriation). But debate over licensing misses an essential and unique quality of open source: its democratic toolset which is much more sophisticated than resolutions and AGM. Understanding how successful open source tools are built by vast, distributed, often volunteer teams with few or no middle managers, could help unlock a more democratic and collaborative type of organisation. The opportunity for platform cooperatives – and any democratic group - in doing this, is to not only better engage members, users and workers, but to get the best of a community's insight and skills to improve the collective’s work.

"The ultimate question of human history, as we’ll see, is not our equal access to material resources (land, calories, means of production), much though these things are obviously important, but our equal capacity to contribute to discussions on how to live together.”
~David Graeber & David Wengrow, A New History of Humanity