Governing Knowledge Commons

Governing Knowledge Commons, edited by Brett M. Frischmann, Michael J. Madison & Katherine J. Strandburg (Oxford University Press, 2014)


“Knowledge commons” describes the institutionalized community governance of the sharing and, in some cases, creation, of information, science, knowledge, data, and other types of intellectual and cultural resources. It is the subject of enormous recent interest and enthusiasm with respect to policymaking about innovation, creative production, and intellectual property. Taking that enthusiasm as its starting point, Governing Knowledge Commons argues that policymaking should be based on evidence and a deeper understanding of what makes commons institutions work. It offers a systematic way to study knowledge commons, borrowing and building on Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize-winning research on natural resource commons. It proposes a framework for studying knowledge commons that is adapted to the unique attributes of knowledge and information, describing the framework in detail and explaining how to put it into context both with respect to commons research and with respect to innovation and information policy. Eleven detailed case studies apply and discuss the framework exploring knowledge commons across a wide variety of scientific and cultural domains.



“Governing Knowledge Commons comes at the right time with the right mix of case studies for inferences on when, how, and for how long, commons institutions can provide production incentives while mitigating those for free riding. Increasingly, advances in knowledge, research, and solutions to economic and social problems occur where individual property rights are absent. Common property institutions can make productive cooperation possible, and this volume helps in understanding the linkages between the commons and creativity.”
-Gary D. Libecap, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management , Economics Department, University of California, Santa Barbara, and National Bureau of Economic Research

“The editors and contributing authors for this work are leaders in the movement to create a better understanding of knowledge commons governance, which holds the promise of leading to greatly improved innovation economics and processes. They are to be commended for creating this really excellent collection.”
-Eric von Hippel, T. Wilson Professor of Innovation Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

“Around 1985 Richard Stallman invented ‘copyleft’ to enforce sharing among dispersed computer programmers. Since then many other governed commons have evolved, or been recognized, using the tools of Elinor Ostrom and her co-workers. This valuable work unites structured analysis with case histories to further our understanding of how different sharing communities work. This is crucial information for societies hoping to resolve the dilemmas now afflicting the production, preservation, adaptation, and interplay of intellectual products.”
-Wendy J. Gordon, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Professor of Law, Boston University

“This book takes up the challenge of examining the governance of ‘knowledge commons’ involving the sharing and creation of data, information, and knowledge. It extends the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework developed by Elinor Ostrom to study natural resource commons and applies the adapted framework to study a set of very interesting cases. The result is a fascinating collection of cases studies of knowledge commons ranging from the Galaxy Zoo citizen science/crowd-sourcing project to Open Source Software and the Sourceforge repository.”
-Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research


Read about the framework and how to apply it – here.


  1. Governing Knowledge Commons by Brett M. Frischmann, Michael J. Madison, and Katherine J. Strandburg
  2. Learning from Lin: Lessons and Cautions from the Natural Commons for the Knowledge Commons by Daniel H. Cole
  3. Between Spanish Huertas and the Open Road: A Tale of Two Commons? Yochai Benkler
  4. Constructing the Genome Commons by Jorge L. Contreras & [4B.] Governing Genomic Data: Plea for an “Open Commons” by Geertrui Van Overwalle
  5. The Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network and the Urea Cycle Disorders Consortium as Nested Knowledge Commons by Katherine J. Strandburg, Brett M. Frischmann, and Can Cui
  6. Commons at the Intersection of Peer Production, Citizen Science, and Big Data: Galaxy Zoo by Michael J. Madison
  7. Toward the Comparison of Open Source Commons Institutions by Charles M. Schweik
  8. Governance of Online Creation Communities for the Building of Digital Commons: Viewed through the Framework of Institutional Analysis and Development by Mayo Fuster Morell
  9. Creating a Context for Entrepreneurship: Examining How Users’ Technological and Organizational Innovations Set the Stage for Entrepreneurial Activity by Sonali K. Shah and Cyrus C. M. Mody
  10. An Inventive Commons: Shared Sources of the Airplane and Its Industry by Peter B. Meyer
  11. Exchange Practices among Nineteenth-Century U.S. Newspaper Editors: Cooperation in Competition by Laura J. Murray
  12. How War Creates Commons: General McNaughton and the National Research Council, 1914–1939 by S. Tina Piper
  13. Labor and/as Love: Exploring the Commons of Roller Derby by David Fagundes
  14. Legispedia by Brigham Daniels
  15. Conclusion by Brett M. Frischmann, Michael J. Madison, and Katherine J. Strandburg