Subject: Re: Chaordic Commons
From: "Benjamin J. Tilly " <>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 02:39:41 +0800

L Jean Camp <> wrote:
(in response to Stephen Turnbull)
> It is unfortunate that you find the theoretical description of property
> rights including patent, licensing,  and copyright hard to understand. She
> has a few papers that explain it, Weinstock's work on democracy and copyright
> disagrees with her assertions in a way which might clarify them for you.

I find her hard to understand because I am not an economist, let alone
one who has accepted the paradigm that she is working within. :-)

> Yeah, Wendy's work can be pretty theoretical and if you haven't read her
> stuff it is hard to get the core of what she is saying. Try to address it as
> the infrastructure theoretical work that it is, and not put each little chunk
> in boxes and it will make sense.

There is an old saying, "In theory, theory and practice are the same
thing.  In practice they are not."  That happens because theories are
always based at some point on simplifications of reality made because of
a belief that those simplifications do not matter.  In practice they
tend to have unexpected consequences.

In particular where I found myself diverging from the theoretical
foundation pretty fast was the idea of the concept of property working
as it becomes increasingly fine-grained.  There are transaction costs
associated with noticing and enforcing property rights.  When
transaction costs (eg lawyers, getting enough information to make an
informed decision) pass the value of the right enforced, the system
breaks down.  Attempting to cheapen enforcement (eg through DRM) will
avoid one set of costs, but will not avoid, for instance, the cost of
understanding the value of many small property rights, or the cost to
consumers of understanding what they will be paying for.  A relevant
article is

I would need to read her in more detail to decide whether or not I think
that she is agreeing with my criticism of that foundation.  I suspect
that she might be.

> In the neoclassical framework (from whence this forwarded discussion came)
> "weakening property rights" IS intervention in the market. As I am sure we
> have all noticed the Chicago school has dominated the legal discussion about
> copyright for decades. According to the Chicago School weakening property
> rights IS intervention because it is the government undermining the optimal
> use of property by limiting the incentive of the owners. The neoclassic
> argument also reject, btw, moral rights as interference with the market.

Is the Chicago school behind everything I dislike about current economic
thinking? /duck

To see my above criticism demonstrated in spades for copyright, see,
in particular the description from library associations of how much it
costs them to try and figure out what copyrights apply when.  (And how
much those copyrights are worth to the actual owners.)

> The extensions beyond the life term of the
> author/inventor are based not only - or even not primarily - on the concept
> of incenting the author BUT ALSO on the neoclassical assumptions that
> increased property rights will in fact lead to optimal use of property in all
> cases. Here, I share Wendy's belief as shown in these assertions that this is
> not always the case.  In my  opinion open source is a strong rejection of the
> neoclassical assumption that stronger property rights yield optimal use of a
> good or set of good (code). And this can be explained in theory by the
> endowment concept  but not by the consumptive concept.

I guess I don't need convincing that stronger property rights are not
always desirable... :-)


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