National Record Store Day was April 18. In case you missed it, there’s still time to celebrate these distinctive businesses whose mission is often to bring music lovers together as much as to sell CDs.
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As never before, state governments are plunging ahead with new experiments in privatizing public roadways. The deals offer investors huge profits from the large toll increases they will charge on highways they control. But for the tax-paying public and drivers, it’s a bad bargain. Over the long term, the public will not receive the full value of the higher tolls that drivers pay. Private operators will manage major highways in ways that maximize tolls and minimize their costs rather than to serve the public interest.
The Grateful Dead donated a collection of memorabilia worth millions to the University of California-Santa Cruz rather than selling it. This fits perfectly with the communal ethos of the pioneering rock band and its famously devoted fans.
The Free Software Foundation has launched a campaign to get the Boston public radio station, WBUR, to provide an audio stream of its transmissions using a free software application, Ogg Vorbis. The idea is that a commons resource such as public broadcasting should not be locked into proprietary technologies that can inhibit the public’s ability to access and use the audio streams.
What happens when video, music and information can be distributed for free, or nearly so? Well, we’re about to find out—and many of our largest, most capitalized institutions are going to feel the repercussions. Many barriers that once kept information artificially scarce—things like copyright law, digital rights management, and limited bandwidth and computing power—are under siege, if not collapsing. Some people are predicting that copyrighted works will experience a “Bear Stearns moment” in the future, when prices of copyrighted works plummet. An IP bubble, as it were.
In the cover story of this week’s Time, author Bryan Walsh discusses the economic woes of any strong climate policy. The solution? Cap-and-dividend.
The following essay is adapted from remarks that David Bollier gave on April 12, 2008, at a conference, Economies of the Commons: Strategies for Sustainable Access and Creative Reuse of Images and Sounds Online sponsored by the De Balie Centre for Culture and Politics, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Let me start with a bit of wisdom I once picked up from Thomas Berry, an historian of cultures, who has said, “The universe is the communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”
A proposal to build a children’s museum in Grant Park creates storm of controversy about a place long deemed “a common.”
As early as 1836, farsighted Chicago citizens refused to sell the village’s lakefront to build a shipping canal, even under pressure from the state of Illinois. They deemed the land: “Public Ground—a Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of Any Buildings or Other Obstruction Whatever.”
The world’s museums are stewards of millions of images that constitute our cultural patrimony. But are museums willing to share the images that are legally in the public domain? Canadian legal scholar Michael Geist, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, notes that many museums are exploiting their control over public-domain images to limit public access to them and make money. The National Gallery of Canada, for example, charges a “permission fee,” over and above any administrative or reproduction fees, to requesters of copies of public-domain artworks.
As Earth Day rolls around, people usually think of protecting wild treasures like rainforests, coral reefs, old growth woods, and wetlands. But look at how most people actually celebrate Earth Day—cleaning up a local park or forest preserve. The truth is that urban parks are way that people get in touch with nature.
The wireless commons is more vulnerable than you may think. Wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Alltel are arguing that they have the right to block any text messages whose content they consider unacceptable. Incredible, but true.
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On the Commons Fellow Chuck Collins delivered this sermon at First Church at Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist last month.
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Dear Fellow Commoners:
I’m Jay Walljasper, the newest member of the OntheCommons.org editorial team. We’re excited to share all the changes to our website, now filled with more inspiring stories and probing commentary on issues related to the commons. You’ll also find new opportunities to become involved in this emerging global movement, in which people are coming together to rethink how modern society relates to nature, culture, and the future.
Take a look at the image that appears here. We believe it conjures a wide range of feelings, ideas and actions associated with the commons. Tomales Bay Institute (now known as On the Commons), working with designer Jeff Berg, came up with this symbol, which can designate a wide array of commons work.
Unlike corporate logos, which are fiercely guarded by battalions of lawyers, this mark will not be treated as the private property of just one organization.
The commons is an evocative phrase, but not understood the same way by everyone who hears it. Some think of grazing land, as in the enclosure of the commons in pre-industrial England. Others think of open spaces, like the Boston Common. Or of the many other things described these days as commons: shopping centers, university lounges, housing developments etc.
Microsoft has prevailed in its campaign to get an international technical body to accept its so-called open document standard, Office Open XML, as the international standard. The decision has been bitterly opposed by open-source advocates and consumer groups for strengthening Microsoft’s dominance over computer desktop software and impeding consumer choice, innovation and competition.
For many people, it seems only natural to locate the commons somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum. After all, it’s an idea that challenges right wing declarations that private property and the market are the only adequate method of organizing human endeavor.
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Plastic pollution is an even bigger problem than you think it is. In the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California, lies the Pacific Trash Vortex—a Texas-sized accumulation of floating plastic rubbish. This is a sad symbol of what’s wrong with our out-of-control addiction to plastic, reports the Canadian publication This Magazine.
In an attempt to avoid paying disability claims, private insurers are increasingly requiring policyholders to file disability claims with the Social Security system first, even when they don’t qualify for benefits. The practice is clogging the Social Security bureaucracy with a flood of dubious claims that is not only costing taxpayers more, it is making it harder for claimants who are truly disabled from getting Social Security benefits.
For anyone in Alaska, or wanting to visit Alaska in June, check out the upcoming symposium, Gifts of Nature, Gifts of Culture: Who Owns the Commons?]
which the Island Institute of Sitka, Alaska, will host on June 18-22, 2008.
The symposium will explore “the remarkable features of the commons, the forces that work against the concept and the innovative approaches being taken by individuals, groups and communities to ensure that these shared assets are held as our common wealth for generations to come.”