Free-riding, cooperation, and ‘peaceful revolutions’ in copyright (post-print draft)

I have a new article in press with the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology. I’m interested in comments on the post-print draft. Abstract:

Modern copyright law is based on the inescapable assumption that users, given the choice, will free-ride rather than pay for access. In fact, many consumers of cultural works – music, books, films, games, and other works – fundamentally want to support their production. It turns out that humans are motivated to support cultural production not only by extrinsic incentives, but also by social norms of fairness and reciprocity. This article explains how producers across the creative industries have used this insight to develop increasingly sophisticated business models that rely on voluntary payments (including pay-what-you-want schemes) to fund their costs of production.


Ruth Okediji: IP rights and the African innovation paradox (Global Congress 2013, Cape Town)

Ruth Okediji makes an argument that we need to resist and avoid consenting and legitimising a system of command and control in IP. Okediji’s starting point is that the essence of the fourth wave of IP geopolitical change is not about harmonisation: it’s about fundamentally de-anchoring IP from the public interest. It’s about a unilateral effort to supra-design an IP system that works for some interests and regions and not others.

Peaceful revolutions: crowdfunding the commons (podcast)

Today I presented an outline of my research at QUT Law School‘s lunchtime research seminars. This project examines new models for producing knowledge and cultural goods – books, films, and music – through collective action. For a long time, copyright scholars have assumed that apart from some limited public subsidies, a private property right in Read more about Peaceful revolutions: crowdfunding the commons (podcast)[…]

Crowdfunding the commons

Cross-posted from the CC Blog. What do Amanda Palmer, a book on storytelling in Africa, and particle physics have in common? That’s what I’d like to find out. I have just spent two weeks in the Creative Commons offices in Silicon Valley, kicking off a research project that seeks to understand the role of voluntary Read more about Crowdfunding the commons[…]

Social norms and licence choice: What motivates free software developers to choose between copyleft and permissive licences?

Free software licences can be divided into two broad categories: copyleft licences (like the GPL), which require derivatives of the software to be licensed under the same terms; and permissive licences (like the MIT/X11 licence), which allow the software to be reused in any project, even closed-source projects. There are variations, of course – the Read more about Social norms and licence choice: What motivates free software developers to choose between copyleft and permissive licences?[…]

Commons-based models of Cultural Production, Presentation at Rutgers RIIPL, 8 April 2013

Here is the video of my presentation of at a Rutgers faculty lunch series seminar for the Rutgers Institute of Information Policy and Law. Thanks to Greg Lastowka for inviting me. You can view my slides here and access a podcast of the talk at the RIIPL site. The quality is not superb – I’m Read more about Commons-based models of Cultural Production, Presentation at Rutgers RIIPL, 8 April 2013[…]

Agreeing on a fair price for free and open works

If a group of buyers of a book can get together, how much would it cost to buy the rights to make it free for everyone else?

One of the really interesting things I’m finding in this ongoing research about commons is that it is really difficult to agree on a price to release a work to the public for anyone to download for free. Approaching publishers with an offer to buy the right to publish a work for a certain amount of money, with no provision for future royalties, is a really tough process. As Eric Hellman from explains, for publishers:

there’s no upside to setting a price. Because if they get their price, then they worry that they’ve set it too low. And if they didn’t – well…

Because “nobody knows” how successful any creative work is likely to be, it is hard for a publisher seeking to maximise revenue to agree on an up-front price that might displace future royalties. Of course, we might expect risk-averse publishers to prefer the certainty of an up-front price, but the very fact that people are willing to pay that price might suggest that there is demand for the work, and more revenue might be available on the market. I have heard from a few authors how difficult it is to get conventional publishers to agree on a price to make a work available in an open access due to this fundamental uncertainty of demand.

Interview with Eric Hellman, founder of is a crowdfunding platform that allows users (‘ungluers’) to contribute to the costs of publishing open access books. So far, the site has ‘unglued’ three books. The most influential of these is Ruth Finegan’s “Oral Literature in Africa“, a classic research monograph first published in 1970, which has had significant scholarly impact. The other Read more about Interview with Eric Hellman, founder of[…]

Drake IP 2013: Nic Suzor, Crowdfunding the Commons

At the Drake IP Roundtable 2013, I presented about my current research, looking at examples of collective action in free and open cultural production across the creative industries (see more detail). Slides available here. I noted that consortia-based open access are examples of ‘peaceful revolutions’ (Suber) that challenge the assumptions of copyright law. These models Read more about Drake IP 2013: Nic Suzor, Crowdfunding the Commons[…]