Reinventing the Law

ORGANIZATION NAME: The Schumacher Center for New Economics

SUMMARY: Self-organized social collaboration commoning-- is unleashing enormous participatory creativity in eco-friendly resource management around the world, but these solutions are often stymied by conventional law. This initiative will build upon diverse hacks on the law and catalyze a new field of legal inquiry and activism, Law for the Commons.

PROBLEM SPACE: "The collusion between businesses and the state in privatizing and commodifying shared wealth is a serious problem of our time. Often known as an enclosure of the commons, this process marketizes shared resources that were previously managed successfully through self-organized social systems known as commons. An enclosure occurs when industrial agriculture displaces household farming, for example, or when pharmaceutical companies patent ethnobotanical knowledge or mining companies seize community lands to extract minerals.

Fortunately, a burgeoning Commons Sector around the world is developing effective, ecological alternatives to market and state management. From farmland, fisheries and forests managed as commons to alternative currencies, online cooperatives and beyond, the Commons Sector relies not on markets or bureaucracy but on inclusive participation, collaborative innovation (often via digital platforms), equitable sharing, open processes, and self-enforcing accountability.

However, these alternatives face significant barriers from conventional state law, which tends to privilege individual property rights, market exchange and economic growth, and even criminalize commoning. People are often forced to devise piecemeal workarounds to the law, as possible, to protect their community stewardship of seeds, water, farming, and much else. This problem urgently requires that we develop new forms of commons-based law."

SOLUTION: "The goal of this project is to bring together key legal thinkers and activists from around the world and diverse resource domains, to develop effective legal mechanisms to help incubate, maintain and defend commons. Untold livelihoods and fields of innovation could flourish as a result. For example, legal recognition for open design and manufacturing communities (and their energy-efficient, locally replicable products) could facilitate financing for such production, avoiding the need for patents as collateral. Open source licenses for agricultural seeds could foster seed-sharing by thwarting private appropriation. New types of multistakeholder co-ops and platform co-operatives could proliferate if given due recognition by law.

A shared forum is needed to help develop legal solutions to disparate enclosures of commons, and to collectively develop a new body of law for mutualized assets and social cooperation. Attached is a survey by David Bollier of more than 60 commons-oriented legal initiatives and 60 key legal thinkers and activists experimenting in at least nine major clusters: 1) Indigenous peoplesäó» commons; 2) subsistence commons in the global South; 3) digital commons; 4) stakeholder trusts; 5) co-operative law; 6) urban commons; 7) local self-determination; 8) new organizational forms; and 9) efforts to re-imagining state policy to empower commons.

These initiatives are attempting to transform the prevailing legal paradigm and carve out new protected zones of enforceable rights for commoning. The Schumacher initiative seeks to leverage the energies of these legal innovators (enumerated in Question #7 below) by giving their work a larger, more collaborative and systemic framework for action. It will consolidate commons-based initiatives into a new field of discourse; identify strategic opportunities for effective legal creativity; and issue a major report. It will also host online platforms for ongoing coordination; ad hoc collaborations to intensify specific initiatives; and public education to popularize Law for the Commons."

CONTACT: [email protected]

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