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March 9, 2009

The Law of the Commons

A conference in Seattle explores the legal framework of a commons-based society

This Friday will see a welcome development: an entire conference devoted to “The Law of the Commons.” Organized by the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Seattle University School of Law will host a wide-ranging series of speakers about “popular impulses toward ‘common’ stewardship of resources in contrast and reaction to political, economic and legal pressures to enclose, privatize or commercialize the commons.”

Photo by Joe Gratz under a Creative Commons License, no commercial use or alterations

Here’s how the day is previewed:

“A dominant concept of British and American civil law is that everything is based on property rights, and it is the lawyer’s job to protect and exalt those rights. This program will offer attorneys a different set of glasses through which to view the traditional property-based legal structure. Although legal concepts of ‘property,’ overlaid on fundamental concepts of ‘common law,’ have antecedents that long predate the U.S. Constitution, in the 21st Century, these ‘common law’ antecedents, together with science and computer technology, have developed along a new legal trajectory that many attorneys and judges still do not have the experience or knowledge to appreciate.”

The program will focus on such themes as personal and communal property as it plays out in science, technology, culture, natural resources and civil rights. Among the distinguished speakers planned: Peter Linebaugh, a history professor at the University of Toledo and author of the Manga Carta Manifesto talking about “Magna Carta and the Commons: the Ultimate Stare Decisis”; Eben Moglen, a law professor at the Columbia School of Law and the long-time general counsel of the Free Software Foundation and founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center, talking about “Free & Open Software: Paradigm for a New Intellectual Commons”; Beth Elpern Burrows “Research, Technology Transfer and the Theft from the Commons”; and Laura Nader, an anthropology professor at the University of California Berkeley, talking about “The Law of the Commons, or Lawyers against the commons.”

For the full program, visit the conference website here.