Cultivating The Commons

Private IP rights are often seen to conflict with the larger public interest in accessing knowledge and the “commons”. Justice Prabha Sridevan recently penned a powerful piece on the commons, framing it not just through an IP lens but through a wider perspective involving the environment etc. Here are some excerpts:

 ‘Even after man felt that there was need for fences and certificates of ownership, he still recognized that some lands must be kept in common for use by all or for the sake of all. In medieval England they were called commons, a resource to be enjoyed by all.’

She then laments the appropriation of these commons:

‘’….But commons are being fenced with grim determination not just by private encroachers but even by the state with its irresistible might…”

IP and Commons

And with respect to IP and the commons, here is what she states:

 “In the other-worldly world of intellectual property too, shrinking open spaces harm the public well-being. Creative Commons is a concept which enables and facilitates sharing of knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world within the framework of law…. As SpicyIP, a repository on Indian intellectual property law, commented in its blog, the entire exercise of this endeavor is “to place a book in the hands of every child”…”

As covered by our blog here, here and here, the rise of the creative commons (CC) have given a great fillip to the culture of the commons. Creators have a wide array of CC licenses to choose from, with the basic philosophy being that of propagating a culture of openness without sacrificing the creator’s rights.

Two examples of successful open licensing come to mind; that of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails (NIN). While Radiohead had promoted its album ‘Rainbow’  by releasing the video of its song ‘House Of Cards’ under a Creative Commons license, NIN released both its new albums under a Creative Commons license, which allowed the use of its music for any noncommercial purpose. Both bands benefitted from a larger consumer base due to the created content being freely available, also receiving several Grammy nominations.

SpicyIP has covered the issue of the “commons” extensively on this blog; also holding a panel discussion in the National Law School, Bangalore discussing the interlinkages between IP and commons. It also released a music video on “commons right”, the audio of which is available here.

Education and Commons

Justice Sridevan ends her piece by narrating an exchange that took place between our own Professor Basheer and a young girl in a remote tribal village in India; she had just created a new dance step. I reproduce this in its entirety.

“Do you know that it is something new you have created?”


“Do you want to be known as the one who created the step?”

‘It is ok.’ (She does not care either way.)

“If your classmate passes it off as her innovation, would you mind?”


“Would you fight with her?”

‘Why should I?’

“If she had created a new step, would you pass it off as yours?”

‘Why should I?’

This conversation fits in within the larger theme of education and the commons i.e. access to education as a public good and how many are being excluded. IDIA, a movement founded by Prof Basheer aims to redress this at least in the context of legal education. More specifically, IDIA aims to empower underprivileged communities by creating leading lawyers from within. To this end, IDIA volunteers and others travel to remote parts of India to identify hidden gems, and then train them for admissions to the leading law schools in India. This exchange between Prof basheer and the girl in a village close to wild life sanctuary Bandipur is part of that enterprise. Her views no doubt reflect a rare sagacity and wisdom.

And shows once again the truth of Prof CNR Rao’s sentiment: “Our Einsteins are in our villages.” IDIA has adapted this sentiment to “Our Harts are in our Villages!”. HLA Hart, as many of you may know, is one of the foremost legal thinkers and jurists of all times.

As Justice Sridevan rightly notes in an earlier piece published on this theme at Livelaw:

 “Access to education is not ancestral property, it is common property.”

Image from here.


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