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Surprising Commons

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Document pages: 28 pages

Abstract: “Tragedies of the commons” due to overuse and underinvestment have long been known to affect open access resources. Yet decimation of open access commons often catches everyone by surprise. Why the surprise? Among other reasons, overuse may occur in very small increments, or may be an accidental byproduct of seemingly unrelated technology; more generally, a resource’s common status undermines investment in learning about it. Open access to intellectual achievements does not destroy physical resources, but may undermine creative effort — but, in a happy surprise, may instead enhance creativity. An interesting surprise is that the drive to privatize creative achievements has generated a counter-movement to defend open access to these achievements. Scholars following Elinor Ostrom study common resources that are not left in open access but rather limited and managed; here surprises also show a mixture of attractive and unattractive features both in physical and intellectual domains, but they also generate lessons for such modern day developments as crowdsourcing and citizen science.

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