The Value of the Public Domain


I just read an intriguing paper from the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain. Written by Rufus Pollock, The Value of the Public Domain surveys a number of studies that have attempted to measure the increased value which a common resource approach to information delivers over a privatized approach.

Pollock surveys several parts of the economy where the value of the public domain might be measurable: the current use of information and artwork that are already in the public domain; online file-sharing services; the open source software movement; the Internet; and public sector information. Much of what he found was new to me and completely fascinating.

To give just what one example, Pollock looks at the difference in value of public sector information between the European Union, where the results of government research are often treated as government property and made available only for a fee, versus the situation in the United States where there is a tradition of making the results of government research freely available to the public. These contrasting approaches have allowed some excellent studies to be made of the value that is gained by treating this information as a commons.

Here’s one case concerning meteorological data:

For example, the EU’s own study, Commercial Exploitation of Europe’s Public Sector Information …. found that although US governmental expenditure was only approximately twice as much as for the EU (9.5 vs. 19 billion Euros) the economic value generated was more than ten times as much (750 billion vs. 68 billion Euros). Though a rough and ready calculation, and allowing for the benefits of a unified market, this suggests a net value of a public domain approach to public sector information in the region of tens or hundreds of billions of euros – an enormous sum.

This is great stuff, and I can’t wait to read some of the studies mentioned in here. This is the kind of support we need for a campaign to expand fair use and roll back copyright.


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