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Hedgerows in the Sky Concerning knowledge enclosures and how they may be truly leveled

  • Jamie Gaehring
  • May 1, 2024

When I tell people I make open source software for farmers, I'll occasionally hear some variation of the reply, "Why do farmers care whether their software is open source?" The precise response may differ in tone from the genuinely curious to slightly facetious or outright incredulous. "You don't actually expect farmers to read the source code or build the binaries themselves, do you?" I might have to concede on that last point, but it seems to me that, regardless of how they're expressed, responses of this sort all rely the same faulty premise. They assume that farming and information technology represent opposing world views, that their issues and concerns seldom correlate, and if they do it's by sheer accident.

Lately, I haven't heard this response quite as often as I used to. I attribute this in part to the rise of the closely aligned food sovereignty and data sovereignty movements here in North America. Apart from their shared naming conventions, these two movements and their adjacent tendencies share a belief that the resources we produce, consume, and depend upon each day should be controlled at the community level. That goes the same for food, software, hardware, agricultural inputs, or data. When it comes to what kind of software or farming practices the community employs, or how much food or data is imported into the community — or likewise exported — those decisions ought to happen locally, or at a regional scale appropriate to the task at hand. The power to choose should be decentralized as much as possible, but also more fairly distributed. Put another way, both movements are committed to stewarding common resources, and they don't necessarily put any restrictions on what those resources might be: common land and the knowledge commons are together just the commons, one and the same.

Unlike more right-leaning libertarian ideologies, which prevail among agriculturalists and technologists alike, proponents of food and data sovereignty do not insist that local control must devolve to the smallest possible unit of autonomy — that is, solitary individuals. Individual autonomy is an important component for food and data sovereignty, but these movements focus their efforts on achieving community control of resources, where social relations are grounded in trust and a shared sense of belonging. On this basis, clear parallels can be drawn between the two movements' practices. For example, you can compare collectivized farm management to cooperative data trusts. Mutual aid food programs, such as free fridges or group buying clubs, arguably have their counterparts in communally run social media networks, such as the open source Mastodon project or its derivative, Hometown, which is even more tailored to small, localized groups of friends.[1] Some food co-ops and farm CSAs offer sliding scale prices or solidarity shares in an effort to introduce more equity into their payment structures. In a similar fashion, open source software projects are commonly sponsored through Liberapay, OpenCollective, Ko-fi donate buttons, or other "pay what you can" mechanisms, while remaining free to use for everyone.

Though the concepts have only recently achieved notoriety in the U.S., food and data sovereignty can trace their origins to several earlier movements that preceded them. Some of their predecessors skew quite differently in ideology, while others do not; some are endemic to the U.S., yet others have gone largely unnoticed here until quite recently, having gained momentum first in the majority world. As I've tried to understand their convergent histories, a few of their forerunners stand out because of their significance to my own journey. I was introduced to food sovereignty by way of my earlier connections to the local food and farm-to-table movements in and around New York City during the 2000s and 2010s. Data sovereignty, also known as information or technological sovereignty, is a comparatively new trend I have seen emerging from older free and open source software (FOSS) communities and the free culture movement.[2]

It could be argued that each of these earlier movements reached their apex sometime in the two decades straddling the turn of the millennium. Yet the affinities that are visible today between food and data sovereignty weren't nearly as apparent in their antecedents back then. While notions of collective autonomy can be insinuated from the earlier movements, it wasn't their primary concern, nor was it commonly associated with the political milieu that either of them inhabited. The small farming and local food movements of that era fixated on what was near-at-hand, low-tech, organic, provincial and professedly slow. Meanwhile, the free-culture and open source movements set their gaze on global streams of non-rivalrous information liberated by cutting-edge technology. By virtue of their abstractness alone, these bits of data and code were free to move across borders without restriction, effortlessly and instantaneously. With so little in common, there was rarely any dialogue or collaboration between the two camps.

Strangely enough, the metaphor of "the commons" was only adopted by the technologists of that earlier era, not by the so-called foodies and locavores. This is in spite of the term's origin as a form of communal land tenure, practiced widely by peasant farmers. It was this apparent contradiction that first got me looking more critically about the relationship between farming and technology. And it only got more puzzling the deeper I looked.

I've clocked far too many hours digging through the relics of early internet subculture and hunting down pay-walled citations on Sci-Hub.[3] I've finally resigned to the fact that I'm never going to reach any definitive conclusions, perhaps not even a satisfactory understanding of all this. The more I learn, the more I realize just how my own perspective on these issues has been narrowed — possibly even distorted — by circumstances of time and place. Over the last twenty years, I have alternated between enthusiasm, loathing, and apathy for the cultures that surrounds both food and tech. Here on America's Eastern Seaboard, at the Heart of Empire, the food and tech scenes are never dull; neither their adherents nor their detractors are shy with their opinions; I've certainly clung to a few of my own for too long. But I'm becoming increasingly aware how my very subjectivity has been molded by political narratives that far exceed this moment in both time and place. The conceptual linkages joining food, technology, land, and knowledge run far deeper into history, before human beings even learned to farm. Food, technology, land, and knowledge: they are the prime constituents of culture, are they not? Does a day or even an hour go by when we don't feel their effects?

The Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology

About a year and a half ago, I sat with a dozen or so engineers, agronomists, designers and soil scientists, clustered around a couple hastily arranged tables. It was an "unconference"[4] session titled "Justice for Nature."[5] Across the wide, high-ceilinged hall and its adjoining patios, three or four similar groups convened on topics ranging from semantic data formats to climate resilience. Two or three people would periodically split off to pursue a tangent idea before rejoining the larger group, while others hung in loose orbit between the scattered tables, occasionally leaning in to pick up the main thread of one conversation or another. Two days earlier we had all converged on the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY for the second ever large-scale Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology, or GOAT 2022 for short.

I had been there for the first such gathering in 2018. It had a profound effect on me, the kind of "found my people" moment you're lucky to have only once or twice in a lifetime. Back then, our talk centered around how best to convince farmers of the benefits of open source software, along with perennial issues like interoperability and design methods. When I arrived this time, I didn't expect a second life-altering event, but in those three days I had witnessed a new shared awareness emerging about the role of the commons in both agriculture and technology. Four years of accelerating climate change, ongoing police violence, supply chain disruptions, housing shortages, and a global pandemic had clearly shifted our attentions.

It was during the Justice for Nature session that Samuel Oslund, an independent researcher then at the CAPÉ[6] farming cooperative in Île de Montréal, directed the conversation towards the Amish Ordnung. In essence, Ordnung is a code of conduct or rules each community formulates for itself. It does not ban technology outright, but prescribes a selection process that may include evaluation by community elders, probationary trial periods, and group consensus.[7] From our superficial understanding, we saw it as a means of socializing technology adoption, with localized control and intent. The entire community took ownership of any externalities (if they could still be called that), and through collective action they could adjust course at any time. Sam's comments yielded the following prompt from our facilitator, Dr. LaKisha Odom, Scientific Program Director at FFAR:[8] "Could GOAT develop a technological assessment framework to help developers consider the impacts of their technologies on nature?"

The response that stood out to me most came from Genna Fudin, an OpenTEAM Fellow working with Quivira Coalition and Point Blue Conservation Science.[9] She proposed that technology should seek to expand access to nature and never restrict it. That did not mean access solely for the individual user, or even all humanity, but for every living thing on the planet. Her remarks struck me like a bolt, catalyzing an array of ideas that had been swimming around my head over the last three days, finally snapping them into place. I struggled to articulate it, so I asked to read aloud some antiquated English folk poetry, which I'd been mulling over earlier in the week.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.[10]

I'd first heard these anonymous lines in an interview with historian Peter Linebaugh, commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.[^flanders] He was discussing its lesser known companion, the Charter of the Forest, which protected the peasantry's rights to forage and graze their animals on common lands. It was the first time I'd heard the longer history of the English commons, how it was enshrined in the English constitution and only phased out by a gradual process called enclosure that took centuries to complete. Enclosure is exactly what it sounds like: closing off common pasture or forest by means of fences, hedges or by blocking roads so that it's no longer accessible to the common peasantry. More recently I was reminded of the poem when Linebaugh recited it once again in an interview with David Bollier, a fact I would soon come to realize was no coincidence.[11]

Genna's comments fused together the final conceptual links between enclosure and the more erudite legal and socioeconomic theories I'd been reading about recently. There is a strain of communitarian thought, often associated with Murray Bookchin's theory of social ecology, that draws upon the legal principle of "usufruct" as an alternative to absolute property rights. It was a concept I was still struggling to grasp, particularly how the rights of usufruct were distinguished from real property rights (jus in re propria). How I understood it was that usufruct grants the rightsholder two distinct rights: first of all, the free use of an asset as they saw fit, and secondly, any profits or other material gains that may arise from it, the so-called "fruits" of the asset. These are termed usus and fructus in civil law, respectively, hence usufruct. Real property ownership grants all of that plus the right to the disposal (abusus) of the asset. That can include consuming, selling, irrevocably altering or destroying it.[12]

What I struggled with most was this: If someone is entitled to use an asset and its produce however one saw fit, how did that differ substantially from the right to sell or consume it? Weren't those just other ways to use it? It seemed redundant. Perhaps abusus meant the right to "transfer" the other two rights, ususus and fructus, or to otherwise fundamentally alter their terms — was that it? If so, it seemed an unnecessarily roundabout way to formulate it. Was it then some kind of "meta-right," if the right to the asset was not held directly but instead merely the right to the rights to the asset? That made even less sense.

Now when I thought about it in the light of universal access to nature, I remembered the other term for this third right: alienation. In a strictly legal sense, to alienate an asset carries little further significance than to "dispose of" it. In a sociological context, however, or merely in plain parlance, alienation carries a deeply psychological quality. That sense seems all the more acute when the thing you are alienating is nature itself, even if just a part of it. There is reciprocity between us and nature, a two-way subjectivity that transcends the mere owner/asset duality. I belong to nature as much as (or even more than) nature belongs to me, and to sever that tie would constitute a terrible injury. A free-market economy, however, requires that elements of nature be made fungible and comply with the rules of commodity exchange. To enclose nature, therefore, means to fundamentally set it apart. Nature becomes an asset or commodity. It is demoted to an insensible object and is no longer an equal or true subject. Meanwhile, anyone tied to that chunk of nature is in essence commodified too. It is a process that cuts both ways, alienating one from the other. This was certainly the experience of English peasants who were driven off the commons by enclosure. They were forced to move to urban centers and sell their labor for a wage in the emerging industrial economy. So not only was the ecological value of the land commodified and sold, but the very social value of the peasantry was itself made into a commodity, measured out by the punch clock, and made divisible as wage shares. Wherever the commons was enclosed, the commoners were duly confined, if not to the factory yard then invariably to the prison yard.[13]

And Geese Will Still a Common Lack...

While the plight of peasants hundreds of years in the past may seem remote to our modern sensibilities, I think we can still empathize with their position when we consider how the enclosure of digital spaces has been used to alienate us from our social relations and the natural world. The natural world is not limited to the merely physical, but includes things like knowledge, cultural practices, mental abstractions, and emotional affect states. When these parts of nature are enclosed by Big Data corporations or the aptly named "walled gardens" of social media conglomerates, we feel alienated. This alienation, at least according to one interpretation, can be attributed to the mechanism James Muldoon calls data commodity fetishism, defining it as "the perception of certain digital relationships between people [...] as having their value based not on the social relationships themselves but on the data they produce."[14] But it goes further than that. Digital enclosures certainly alienate us from our social relations, but that is just one aspect of the larger process of our alienation from the natural world as a whole.[15] This extension of data commodification, as applied to nature, could not be more relevant to agriculture and technology. It gets to the heart of what I think Genna meant when she suggested farming technology should not restrict "access to nature."

The enclosure of the commons in centuries past was made legal by acts of Parliament, but it could not have been fully accomplished without physical deterrents. State-sanctioned violence, seldom spared, may have represented the bloodiest end of that spectrum, but its most visible and pervasive manifestation lay in the hedgerows that hemmed in the former commons. Many of those hedgerows even persist to this day, emblematic of the English countryside and the imagined idylls of yesteryear. In their own time, however, they were at once a symbol of class hierarchy and a physical line of defense. They formed a very real and necessary barrier, keeping the commoners off their erstwhile commons, thereafter the exclusive property of a rising class of wool barons. Hedgerows represented the alienation of common people from their land, from their social relations, and from their traditional ways of farming and husbandry. Intellectual property, or IP, is essentially a legal mechanism for enclosing knowledge today, analogous to the enclosure acts of the 18th century. Since the 1990s, these enclosures have rapidly extended their lawful reach through the corresponding expansion of copyright and patent protections. But the most effective means of enclosing knowledge in our time, I would argue, is to consolidate it in vast data centers and server farms owned by just a few tech monopolies. Property rights can be legislated and service contracts agreed to, but their final implementation is only achieved in these physical constructs. Digital enclosure comprises all the silicon, cables, metal, and concrete of those facilities, just as much as the abstract services and data they carry. Only then can access be effectively commodified in the form of subscriptions or advertising fees. The IP owner retains maximum control, with the ability to revoke access or modify the terms of service at any time, often outpacing legal authority to do so. This practice goes by many names. The industry jargon is Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, while it is marketed to lay users in more poetic terms: the cloud. Opponents of cloud computing and proprietary software have quipped that this is just a euphemism for "someone else's computer." I propose that — trading one grandiose metaphor for another — we instead rebrand the cloud as the modern form of enclosure it truly is: hedgerows in the sky.

The hedgerows that enclosed the English commons of the 16th through 18th centuries did not go unopposed but were actively resisted over many generations. The Levellers were among the earliest dissidents for whom any records survive. They earned that name during the Midland Revolt of 1607 by "leveling" hedgerows in protest. Though some were drawn and quartered for their actions, they were never entirely suppressed. Some 40 years later, they were revived as the True Levellers, or Diggers, led by Gerrard Winstanley to establish a commune on St. George's Hill in the waning years of the English Revolution. Winstanley's pamphlets and tales of the Diggers would in turn serve as inspiration to social movements for centuries to come. The anonymous bard I quoted above, whoever they might have been, surely knew something of this struggle, and perhaps even participated in it. Therefore, it's not hard to hear both a warning and a call-to-arms in their final stanza:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.

If we were to heed their call, how would we begin leveling today's hedgerows?

From Rhinebeck to Durham

I was a bit surprised to realize my ignorance of the parallels between modern software commons and premodern agricultural commons, but after speaking to others at GOAT, it became clear I was not alone. This was doubly true with the concept of enclosure. What was especially embarrassing to me was how many of us had carved out niche careers straddling both open technology and small-scale agriculture, spanning decades in some cases, yet few of us had more than a cursory knowledge of the history of the commons predating the Information Age.

The metaphor of "the commons" has become so pervasive in technology today. The first time I recall encountering it was from the Free Culture Movement of the early and mid-2000's. Its most prominent manifestation came in the form of Creative Commons, but the commons had also become a familiar means of characterizing crowd-sourced projects like Wikipedia, Flickr and the World Wide Web itself. The Free Culture Movement first gained momentum in the wake of the US Copyright Term Extension Act (aka, the Sonny Bono Act) and Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), both enacted in 1998. These drew immediate outcry from a clique of law professors at Duke and Harvard Universities, who specialized in intellectual property. The outcry became more public and vociferous when the DMCA was used first to pull the plug on Napster in 2001. The furor rose further as Napster's file-sharing successors fell one by one in a decade-long game of whack-a-mole with the RIAA and MPAA, the deep-pocketed trade associations and main litigants for the major music labels and film studios, respectively. This was the heyday of the Free Culture Movement.[16] Its unofficial motto, "Information wants to be free," resonated with anyone who got a cease-and-desist letter from their Internet provider (myself included) or who merely saw the futility of police raids on sites like The Pirate Bay, when they'd just be back up and running within a day or two.[17]

Among the Free Culture Movement's coterie of legal scholars, Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler were arguably its most visible champions, both hailing from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. In the first few years their reputations stemmed primarily from the numerous amicus briefs they filed in support of defendants in copyright infringement cases. Later on, their published books and several widely viewed TED Talks extended their reach to a larger audience. For a few short years, concepts like "remix culture" and "network neutrality" enjoyed a glimmer of popular recognition. In the first decade of the new millennium, their work certainly raised public awareness of "the commons" and why it was important. This was particularly true among the more technologically savvy, but not exclusively. On the other hand, it does not seem that enclosure enjoyed any wider awareness during that period, at least not commensurate with the commons. Speaking for myself, I remained oblivious to the term until I learned it from Linebaugh in 2015. That was a decade after Lessig co-founded Creative Commons and Benkler had popularized the notion of "commons-based peer production." For his part, Benkler put both the commons and enclosure front and center in his earliest essays on the topic, such as "The Commons As A Neglected Factor of Information Policy" and "Free as the Air to Common Use: First Amendment Constraints on Enclosure of the Public Domain," from 1998 and 1999, respectively. I haven't found anything more than passing references to enclosure in Lessig's works. Regardless, it didn't seem to make as many inroads with technologists the way the commons had.[18]

There were other figures, however, who I don't personally recall from the Free Culture Movement's highpoint of popularity, and who didn't receive as much limelight, but who nevertheless turned out to be consequential to the history of the knowledge commons. First was James Boyle, one of the Duke Law professors specializing in IP and building on the work of his colleagues at Duke, such as David Lange and Jerome Reichman. I don't believe I'd encountered Boyle's work until after GOAT 2022, when I went looking for a deeper understanding of how the language of the commons came to be embraced by free culture and open source advocates of the last two decades, while enclosure went comparatively ignored. As early as 1996, Boyle penned a pivotal work in the study of information commons, Shamans, Software, and Spleens, but it was a later title that jumped out to me from all the rest: "The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain." The paper began with the epigraph:

The law locks up the man or woman [...][10:1]

Now the pieces were starting to fall into place. I tracked the discourse of enclosure through Boyle's footnotes, where he acknowledges that "the analogy to the enclosure movement has been too succulent to resist," and proceeds to give a laundry list of names from that scholarly milieu who had used it too. Yochai Benkler was listed there, of course, along with a few more names I was hitherto unaware of, like Hannibal Travis, whose 1999 Pirates of the Information Infrastructure is the best combined survey of the pre-industrial enclosure movement together with this "second enclosure movement," as Boyle calls it.

Boyle also names the aforementioned David Bollier, who would eventually reintroduce me to Peter Linebaugh's work, but who was also quite active in the early days of the "blogosphere" and advocating for Internet freedom. He was not an IP lawyer but rather a co-founder of the Public Knowledge and Commons Strategies Group. He continues that work at the Schumacher Center for New Economics where today he directs their Reinventing the Commons Program. In these roles, he has advanced a much broader vision for the commons, not just for information but for the commons in all its forms.[19] Accompanying this, he has articulated a thorough critique of enclosure, in all its manifestations. A slightly different version of "stealing the commons from off the goose" shows up as the epigraph to Bollier's Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth in 2002, the same year Boyle published an early draft of his own essay featuring the poem. As it turns out, Peter Linebaugh also found it "too succulent to resist" and recycled it once more in the introduction to his 2014 book Stop, Thief![20].

Apart from being the object in this game of epigraphic hot potato, it's not surprising that the poem rose to the surface as a shared metaphor in such an atmosphere of cross-disciplinary collaboration. Looking at the participants list from the Conference on the Public Domain that was held at Duke Law School in 2001,[21] I can't help but speculate who might have first quoted the goose poem there, and how I may have unwittingly parodied that scene two decades later in Rhinebeck. Bollier or Boyle were both listed among the participants, but if it wasn't them there was no shortage of usual suspects. The list also include Elinor Ostrom, Charlotte Hess, Eben Moglen, John Perry Barlow, Yochai Benkler, "Larry Lessig," and even Mark Hosler of the band Negativland, who facilitated a round-table discussion titled "Art Crime / Crime Art." Yet I doubt it was either Benkler or Lessig who first brought the goose poem to the others' attention.[22] In those heady post-Cold War days, even liberals like Lessig and Benkler took Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" as practically axiomatic, at least in any serious political discourse. With its distinctly revolutionary tone and the memory of bourgeois enclosures it chronicled, I suspect the poem may have seemed either too radical or too ridiculous to many in attendance. In any event, the more celebrated proponents of free culture seem to have shied away from the metaphors of enclosure, let alone any notion of the commons as actual communal land tenure. Enclosure never gained a foothold in the popular imagination like the commons did at the height of the Free Culture Movement, no matter how "irresistibly succulent" it may have first appeared.

As Bollier points out in Silent Theft, by omitting enclosure from the metaphor of the commons, the adversarial role of markets is conveniently ignored:

It is important to speak of market enclosure because it reframes the economic narrative of the market. What the market considers incidental externalities (toxic waste, species extinction, safety hazards), the narrative of the commons regards as an assault on the community. Marketeers presume an entitlement to privatize clean air and water, public spaces, and even shared images and words.[23]

I would go even further to say that this subtle omission obscures the tangible character of the commons and, with it, the acts of violence and sheer physical force that is required to enclose it. Skipping over that transgenerational struggle not only does an injustice to those who fought and died for the commons, but also limits our imaginations for what is possible in our own time.

I want to be clear that neither Benkler nor Lessig were arguing that these physical aspects did not matter. In The Wealth of Networks, Benkler provides a truly insightful table that breaks down different forms of enclosure in terms of its physical, logical, and content layers, explicitly borrowing from the OSI Model for computer networks. And it was Lessig's arguments for the end-to-end architecture of the Internet, in both physical and logical terms, which first led me to Boyle's essay on enclosure.[24]

Free as the Air to Common Use

Nevertheless, today's advocates for free culture and open source software are still mostly concerned with commoning what is abstract and ephemeral, though there are significant exceptions I will address later on. This is best summed up in another favorite quote of that era, from none other than Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

The general rule of law is, that the noblest of human productions — knowledge, truths ascertained, conceptions, and ideas — become, after voluntary communication to others, free as the air to common use.[25]

It forms the titular reference in a seminal paper from Benkler,[26] which is in turn cited by Boyle's "The Second Enclosure Movement" and elsewhere. Again, I don't mean to imply that it was their intent to privilege more substantial forms of property over the airy ones like information and molecular oxygen. But that's clearly the attitude that open source advocates took away from these statements.

The hardware and infrastructure required to store, process and move information around are treated as mere accidents or technical details. If they're considered at all they're taken as inconveniences to be worked around in policy, possibly subsidized, but never as substantive elements of the knowledge commons in their own right. Information acquires a supernatural character in this formulation. It is beyond the encumbrances of the physical world. Even the Swedish police who raided The Pirate Bay in 2006 had to concede that there were limits to what could be done to physically impede the flow of information. Information, after all, wants to be free.

Stewart Brand is often cited as the originator of this maxim, that "information wants to be free." He is the hub connecting two spokes of the baby boomers' cultural history: first their quest in the 1960s and 70s to discover new forms of consciousness through autonomous communities, then their seemingly disparate pursuit of free markets and tech-infused neoliberalism that climaxed in the 1990s and 2000s. Fred Turner connects all these dots in his Counterculture to Cyberculture. He makes a compelling argument that while the 60s counterculture can be viewed as a hotbed of radical politics (e.g., the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the New Left), it also produced a deeply apolitical tendency that he dubs the New Communalism. Rather than seeking to change society for the better, New Communalists sought to drop out of civilization entirely. They forsook the comforts of their middle class, suburban upbringings, seeking to build whole new communities out on America's rural hinterlands. It would be a fresh new start for society, a place to take refuge while the old society sank beneath the tide. Required reading for many of these "back to the land" communards was The Whole Earch Catalog, which Stewart Brand edited and published. The communes seldom lasted more than a year or two, but their utopian dream of intentional communities persisted into the 1980s, when it re-emerged in the guise of the earliest virtual communities. It was in 1985 that Brand, once counted among Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, co-founded one of the earliest Internet startups called The WELL, together with some former members of a Tennessee commune known only as The Farm. Similar to its forerunner, Usenet, The WELL was a simple online bulletin board system, or what was commonly referred to as a BBS. It incubated a number of virtual communities that would eventually give rise to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Wired magazine, Craigslist, and, just to name a few. The utopian dream had become a reality, albeit virtual. Their success entrenched a growing sense of technological determinism. When that tech-positive optimism was combined with the laissez faire spirit of the post-history 1990s, it gave rise to a new brand of techno-libertarianism, which was a hallmark of the first dotcom boom and still prevails in Silicon Valley today. As is quite clear to many of us now, however, this optimism was misplaced. Problems like economic scarcity and social stratification don't just vanish with one wave of the magic wand of virtualization, as Turner warns:

The rhetoric of peer-to-peer informationalism, however, much like the rhetoric of consciousness out of which it grew, actively obscures the material and technical infrastructures on which both the Internet and the lives of the digital generation depend. Behind the fantasy of unimpeded information flow lies the reality of millions of plastic keyboards, silicon wafers, glass-faced monitors, and endless miles of cable. All of these technologies depend on manual laborers, first to build them and later to tear them apart. This work remains extraordinarily dangerous, first to those who handle the toxic chemicals required in manufacture and later to those who live on the land, drink the water, and breathe the air into which those chemicals eventually leak.[27]

The cost of disregarding information's earthly trappings is further borne out today by the way private streaming platforms have nonetheless managed to enclose the knowledge commons, quite thoroughly and in relatively short time. Jump ahead twenty years from when it seemed like Napster and torrenting would spell the death of copyright, we see subscription rates for platforms such as Netflix steadily rising every year, while fewer titles are available outside premium plans and mid-roll ads become longer and more frequent. This is how today's big platforms rake in more revenue than the premium cable channels of yesteryear ever dreamed was possible. It's also how our common cultural heritage continues to be enclosed. The DMCA, takedown notices and high profile raids played their role in all this, of course, but the commons was not lost due to licensing and regulation alone. In many ways it was precisely because the call for a knowledge commons stopped there. Beyond the fiber lines and standards like TCP/IP, it fell short of demanding any kind of public infrastructure that might have held such enclosures in check. Even the FCC's classification of Internet service providers (ISPs) as "common carriers," thereby subject to net neutrality regulation, has been stripped away in the last decade. Meanwhile, physical servers, databases, and most of all the considerable administration required to maintain those systems have largely been taken for granted, almost as a fact of nature.

From Uttar Pradesh to Seattle

Designating something a fact of nature may just as readily cast disdain as demonstrate reverence. There is no paradox or dialectic at play here, just a double standard, which is precisely why it has been a favorite rhetorical device of colonialist projects throughout history. The weaponization of nature in this way, with dire consequences for property rights, technology, land use, and agriculture, has been established most conclusively in the writing and activism of Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Nearly a decade before Benkler, Boyle and Bollier drew the comparison between copyright expansion and enclosure — reacting as they were to the passage of the DMCA and Sonny Bono Act of 1998 — Shiva cited the history of enclosure in response to an even more sweeping expansion of IP rights. Between 1989 and 1993, a whole suite of international laws, treaties, and free trade agreements were negotiated that would expand IP rights across borders and around the world. This was the legal and financial framework that created the World Trade Organization (WTO), heralding a new era of globalization and unfettered neoliberalism. Shiva represented the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology (RFSTE), an organization comprised of scientists, conservationists, feminists, and peasant farmers from Uttar Pradesh, India. They resolutely opposed the environmental degradation and capitalist appropriation the WTO was poised to accelerate, as the effects were already apparent in their cities and villages. Among the agreements was a treaty obligation to uphold IP rights granted by other signatory nations. This was of particular concern to Shiva because chemical companies were seeking patents that would privatize the genotypes of plants that Indian farmers had previously bred and cultivated.[28]

The threat was first revealed in the case of neem, a plant endemic to Southeast Asia. The neem seed produces an oil that can be used as a natural and highly effective insect repellent, potentially replacing synthetic pesticides. Having already wreaked ecological havoc upon India, from the Bhopal Disaster to pesticide-resistant bollworms, U.S. chemical companies now wanted to patent this plant-based alternative (with active support from the USDA, I might add). When W.R. Grace & Co. applied, the European Patent Office was only too happy to oblige and upheld the corporation's claim to the innovation. Despite 2,000 years of independent seed development by Indian plant breeders, the U.S. conglomerate monopolized the right to sell it back to them like coals to Newcastle. In the process, Grace & Co. would enjoy a hefty profit while offsetting any decline in revenue from the sale of chemical pesticides due to environmental regulations or competition from safer alternatives like neem. The patent was eventually revoked, but only after ten years of relentless legal battles and grassroots campaigning by Shiva and Navdanya, the successor organization to the RFSTE.[29]

Shiva did not mince words in her denunciation of this new form of enclosure and the global policy regime that protected it. In her 1997 book, Biopiracy, she decried the inherent hostility to life that hid behind globalization's facade of free trade, free enterprise, and free markets:

The freedom that transnational corporations are claiming through intellectual property rights protection in the GATT agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) is the freedom that European colonizers have claimed since 1492. Columbus set a precedent when he treated the license to conquer non-European peoples as a natural right of European men. The land titles issued by the pope through European kings and queens were the first patents. The colonizer's freedom was built on the slavery and subjugation of the people with original rights to the land. This violent takeover was rendered "natural" by defining the colonized people as nature, thus denying them their humanity and freedom.[30]

I draw attention to this episode and Shiva's analysis for several reasons. It's an early instance of the enclosure metaphor being applied to IP rights; that much is clear:

Patents on life enclose the creativity inherent to living systems that reproduce and multiply in self-organized freedom. They enclose the interior spaces of the bodies of women, plants, and animals. They also enclose the free spaces of intellectual creativity by transforming publicly generated knowledge into private property. Intellectual property rights on life-forms are supposed to reward and stimulate creativity. Their impact is actually the opposite — to stifle the creativity intrinsic to life-forms and the social production of knowledge.[31]

The fact that this enclosure lies at the intersection of agriculture and technology, settler colonialism and IP rights should also banish any residual notion that small-scale farming and open source software are unrelated concerns. The ideological connection between food sovereignty and technology sovereignty turns out to be nothing new. We may be just now rediscovering that here in America's coastal cities, but in some parts of the world, and perhaps in farming communities not so far from our urban centers, that understanding was never lost.

The precise framing of her analysis, however, carries an insight far more profound, far more ontological in character, than anything subsequent commentators on free culture were ready to claim. Shiva certainly acknowledges the value of the natural world and humanity's ties to it, but she also highlights Western colonialist forces have appealed to nature as the authority granting them to right to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land and resources all across the globe. This "conquest by naturalization," as she calls it, can be observed as far back as the Papal Bulls of Donation in 1493. To settle colonial disputes between the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and the King of Portugal, Pope Alexander VI drew a longitudinal line running down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just slicing off the Nordeste region of modern-day Brasil. He then "donated" all non-christian peoples and their lands on the left and right sides of that line to Spain and Portugal, respectively. The papal bulls, the treaties later negotiated between European courts, and the charters they granted to private joint stock companies were all the direct predecessors to the patents and other IP rights recognized by GATT and TRIPs, as Shiva points out.

The contempt European colonialists held for non-christian and indigenous peoples is abhorrent enough, but Shiva's analysis delves even deeper still. She examines the metaphysical assumptions, held both then and now, which underpin the moral arguments used to justify such wide-scale dehumanization. Not only were the people of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania relegated to mere things of nature, but nature itself was demoted to an unensouled object, to be set apart from and dominated by Christ-fearing white men.[32]

To an extent, this Cartesian dualism was quite rigid, with the dividing line between subject and object hewn razor-thin, but that is not to say it was immovable. Just like the lines of longitude demarcating colonial holdings were redrawn over time, from the Bulls of Donation in 1493 to the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529, the bounds of what can be deemed insensate nature have shifted ever since. Today those lines are being redrawn to encompass knowledge and the code of life itself:

The assumption of empty lands, terra nullius, is now being expanded to "empty life," seeds and medicinal plants. The takeover of native resources during colonization was justified on the ground that indigenous people did not "improve" their land. [...] The same logic is now used to appropriate biodiversity from the original owners and innovators by defining their seeds, medicinal plants, and medical knowledge as nature, as nonscience, and treating the tools of genetic engineering as the yardstick of "improvement." Defining Christianity as the only religion, and all other beliefs and cosmologies as primitive, finds its parallel in defining commercialized Western science as the only science, and all other knowledge as primitive.[^terra-nullius]

Compare this with James Muldoon, writing in 2022, starting from the very next line I cited above where he defines his concept of "data commodity fetishism:"

When we understand data as a natural resource we mystify the true source of its value in the human activity required to produce it. [...] Data is often thought of as an unclaimed good ‘out there’ in a digital terra nullius – an empty space in which tech entrepreneurs can assert their rights over this seemingly free resource.[33]

Shiva's and Muldoon's observations are divided by a quarter century of technological development, including the advent of "Big Data" and multibillion-user social media networks. They address disparate facets of IP rights, too, from biotech patents to data use agreements. Yet they both identify these as clear instances of enclosure. Muldoon again:

There is a historical analogy between the early capitalist enclosure of the commons and the digital enclosure of the internet by venture capitalists. [...] In the case of the digital sphere, Facebook claims ownership over the data produced from the daily interactions of our social lives. This data, which is co-created by communities of individuals on the social network, becomes the exclusive property of Facebook to be analysed and sold as advertising commodities. Facebook takes unfair advantage of their position by capturing this resource from a digital commons. At the time of the digital enclosure, the loss of public goods that would occur was not immediately obvious. But as these networks have grown within a privatised system of commodification, the extent of the theft is becoming more apparent.[34]

What brings these two perspectives into alignment is a willingness to critique the neoliberal assumptions underlying these two forms of capital accumulation. Shiva was a prominent anti-globalization activist. The history of this movement, sometimes called counter-globalization, was partially obscured after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, despite being so recent, but for roughly a decade it was perhaps the largest worldwide movement on the left, filling the breach between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the so-called "War on Terror." Shiva was in Seattle on November 30, 1999 when the movement ostensibly reached its high-water mark. It was certainly the largest upwelling of anticapitalist sentiment in the U.S. during that decade, the likes of which would not be seen again until Occupy Wall Street.[28:1] Muldoon, for his part, is writing from a distinctly Marxian and autonomist perspective, informed by the several major financial crises that have taken place since then, as well as the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. He argues to revive the principles of guild socialism, as formulated by G.D.H. Cole roughly a century ago, and apply them to modern technology in what Muldoon calls Platform Socialism, which is also the title of his book.

For the 1999 Seattle WTO Protests, Shiva and the RFSTE were joined by a wide array of supporters for organic food, small farming, and peasant rights, all marching to halt the WTO Ministerial Conference. The diversity of agricultural concerns represented is noteworthy. U.S.-based groups like the Pure Food Campaign and Family Farm Defenders were mobilized against GMO foods while also championing small family farms from the Midwest and coastal exurban farming communities. La Via Campesina was also there in force, demanding equitable land distribution, fairer wages, and safe working conditions. They were joined by other groups from the Global South, like the Food and Allied Workers Union of South Africa, and a few from the American South, like the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.[35] These last three groups were far more concerned with issues of social justice, rather than the previous groups' interests in consumer protections and agrarianism. Nevertheless, they presented a united front against the powers of global capital and trade. Shiva herself was uniquely poised to represent a broad spectrum of those interests, as she did the night after the first day of protests in a packed Seattle Town Hall. She sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Ralph Nader as they debated against David Aaron, then White House Under-Secretary of Commerce, and Scott Miller, Director of Global Policy for Procter and Gamble. The event reached a national audience by means of a live broadcast on C-SPAN, re-aired periodically over the following days. This is where many organic food advocates in the U.S. were first introduced to Shiva's work, as she fired a cascade of withering rebukes at these grandees of government and industry, all to thunderous applause.[36]

Open Source Meets Open Publishing

The 1999 Seattle WTO Protests also stand as a critical inflection point where the interests and organizing base of farming and technology activists momentarily fused into a single, coherent political force that acted decidedly against further enclosure of the global commons. While Shiva and Nader were setting up at Seattle Town Hall, a group of independent journalists, media activists, hackers, and free speech advocates were setting up shop as the Independent Media Center (IMC) in a donated storefront at 1415 3rd Avenue.[37] On the web, they made their home at While news coverage coming from major U.S. newsrooms was either non-existent or heavily biased against the protesters, the IMC was critical in disseminating reports of what was actually taking place. They shed light on the very real concerns shared by this diverse coalition of environmentalists, trade unionists, and civil liberty activists, presenting them as the working class people they really were, rather than the rioters and provocateurs portrayed in 5-second clips that aired on the nightly news. IMC had an unmatched vanage point. Tear gas seeped into their ground level offices during the most intense street battles, and at one point armoured police pounded on their door, demanding (without warrant) that IMC hand over the demonstrators who took refuge inside.[38] As a result, received more web traffic than at its peak, with 1.5 million unique visitors in its first week.[39] The legacy of the IMC would live on in the influence it had on the digital media tactics of later movements, and the IMC itself would continue as an activist hub in Seattle for several years. Arguably its most lasting influence, however, was in the establishment of sister IMCs in cities and regions around the world. This was the birth of the Indymedia network, which at its peak in 2010 comprised as many as 175 centers.[40] They shared some common open source publishing tools and many locales were provided with subdomains, such as, but otherwise they were largely autonomous projects run by local activists in those regions.

Indymedia was not principally concerned with open source or free culture issues, but a few of the individual IMCs offered a glimpse of how the cross-pollination of free software and food sovereignty could yield unique outcomes. In 2005, software developers affiliated with the Portland IMC, the People's Food Co-op of Portland, and The Wedge Co-Op in Minneapolis released the open source code for a point-of-sale system dubbed Information Systems 4 Co-ops, or IS4C. As the Portland IMC reported at the time:

This past Saturday morning, a group of co-op geeks gathered at People's Food Co-op and successfully ran IS4C on a Linux box running Ubuntu using MySQL 5 and PHP 5. Stop the presses. History has been made.[41]

A fork of IS4C is still actively maintained to this day as CORE-POS, stewarded by the Tech Support Cooperative.[42]

From Davos to the Lacandon Jungle

Apart from forging more diverse alliances, Indymedia also represents an ideological alternative to the centrist political leanings of free culture, open source, and online privacy movements. April Glaser, writing for Logic(s) magazine in 2019, places Indymedia and its legacy in stark contrast to advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), co-founded by John Perry Barlow, a former Grateful Dead lyricist and later denizen of The WELL, who would also be in attendence for the 2001 Conference on the Public Domain alongside Lessig and Benkler.[21:1] Glaser points out how in the same year that Barlow penned his techno-libertarian manifesto, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, a very different vision for cyberspace would emerge from far more revolutionary environs. [43] This declaration would come straight from the balaclava- encircled mouth of Subcommandante Marcos, spokesperson for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).[44]

The political climate — to say nothing of the literal climate — surrounding these two manifestos could not have been more dissimilar. Barlow signed his declaration from Davos in the Swiss Alps on February 8, 1996, having ostensibly found inspiration in the World Economic Forum, which he attended two days before. Delivered a few months later on August 3, 1996, the Second Declaration of La Realidad was Marcos' valediction to the delegates from over 40 countries, plus anywhere from 3 to 5 thousand other activists, journalists, and intellectuals, who all journeyed to Chiapas, Mexico for the First Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. This 5-day encuentro, or gathering, was held deep in the Lacandon Jungle near the Guatemalan border. Many of the sessions took place in open-air clearings, tents, and lean-tos. There would be another intercontinental encuentro the following year in Spain, plus a few smaller, intra-continental gatherings across Europe and North America. Eventually, these encuentros would inspire the World Social Forum, named in conscious opposition to the World Economic Forum in Davos. The first WSF was held in Brazil in 2001, attended by many of the same participants from the first encuentro in 1996 and borrowing many of its methods.

On the final day of that first encuentro, however, Marcos called for "a collective network" of resistance against neoliberalism, using the nascent World Wide Web to link activists from all over the world. The EZLN had already shown itself so adept at mobilizing international support through the online publishing. Communiques such as the Second Declaration of La Realidad had been published online since the uprising began in 1994.[45] Glaser observes how "the organizers who went on to build Indymedia heard this call," some three years prior to the Battle of Seattle. She continues:

The Indymedia organizers would be the children of Marcos, not Barlow. While the two philosophies had points of contact, they came from different places of concern. Indymedia activists would agree with the techno-libertarians that politicians and police couldn’t be trusted in their networks. But they didn’t see cyberspace as an open frontier of individuals unhindered by governments. Rather, the activists saw cyberspace as a place for communities.[44:1]

Techno-libertarians, then and now, claim to be building political power from the ground up, but it's for the sole benefit of isolated individuals. The complete atomization of society into self-interested agents is not the same as bottom-up organization. It's a lie that merely enables the top-down exploitation of the many by the few. Coincidentally, it is the same alienated condition that the thought leaders at Davos tend to mistake for "freedom."

The anti-globalization organizers, on the other hand, came from small, localized bases of power, but they also knew that no individual could seriously challenge the centralized power of global capital alone. Instead, they leveraged their collective agency and organized their communities. They unequivocally championed autonomy for individuals at all levels of society, but they would not sacrifice the autonomy of the community just to preserve some rarefied ideal of absolute individualism. The activists in Seattle, Chiapas, and Uttar Pradesh wanted something more than individual freedom; they sought collective liberation, and that meant defending whatever commons still remained, while restoring any that had already been enclosed.

Tierra y Libertad

Although the commons had become a byword for free culture and open source software by the early 2000s, it was a hollow shell of the more ambitious program for the commons that persisted in other times and places. Perhaps it is to be expected that Silicon Valley privacy advocates and East Coast legal scholars dialed back their rhetoric, at least in comparison to the more radical vision of the commons espoused by anti-imperialist thinkers at the time. By omitting enclosure and all its antagonisms, however, this anemic account of the commons lost all its countervailing force and dynamism. The new digital commons was static, politically neutral, and devoid of material consequence. Immaterial as it was, it acquiesced so easily to the prevailing neoliberal order, essentially just another "free gift of nature," as Adam Smith might have called it.

There was surely no want of critical discourse on the commons in other fields at this time. One only needs to look at how Elinor Ostrom rose to prominence in those same years, beginning with her highly praised Governing the Commons in 1990, and culminating with the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics for her analysis of common-pool resources. In 2006 Silvia Federici's groundbreaking work, Caliban and the Witch, forever linked the history of the commons and enclosure to the Marxist feminist critiques of social reproduction and primitive accumulation. It should also come as no great shock that a wealth of contemporary literature on the commons emerged from the fields of social ecology and degrowth economics.

Conspicuously absent from this discourse, however, were the local food and organic farming movements that reached their zenith in the U.S. during this very same period. Although the free culture and open source movements' conception of the commons might have been some pretty weak tea, it was at least a vision. To find any mention of the commons or enclosure from self-proclaimed locavores of that time would have been a distinct challenge. There certainly wasn't anything like the rich historical commentaries or nuanced discourse that permeated the anti-globalization movement.

What's confounding about all of it is that the history of the commons is essentially an agrarian history, yet at the same moment when a revitalized image of agrarianism was emerging from the organics movement, it was the technologists, not the agriculturalists, who embraced the metaphor. It shouldn't be presumed that the proponents of organic food and agriculture lagged behind the technologists in political sensibility or acumen — far from it. Their political savvy and organizing ability is attested by the massive public awareness campaigns they launched[46] and significant legislative victories they achieved all throughout the 2000's[47]. It's debateable whether open source and free culture advocates could claim anything comparable in terms of legislation.[48]

This may be where the cognitive dissonance arises between these two seemingly sympathetic movements. In an era of tepid U.S. politics, predicated largely on consumer protection, both have been portrayed as more or less progressive movements. This broad assessment, however, smooths over their rugged political contours. Upon closer inspection, each was internally quite diverse, containing fractious constituencies who held disparate motivations that were sometimes directly opposed to one other. Situated amidst the broader context of contemporary geopolitics, it's even harder to ignore the diversity of ideology. For the technologists, we see this most evidently in the contrasts between Indymedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If the organic and local food movements correspond to one of these two fronts, it's undoubtedly the techno-libertarianism side of the schism. Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, the self-described "Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist" and darling of the local food world back then, makes an excellent stand-in for John Perry Barlow in this regard.

This still begs the question: was there a corresponding collectivist movement in food and agriculture during this period in the U.S., something analogous to Indymedia? And if so, where? I've given short shrift to the recent history of sustainable farming in this essay, and I will have to address those details in a subsequent essay, since this one is already three times the length I'd originally intended. For my own understanding, I needed to give a full account of these two movements before I could begin grappling with the more nuanced aspects of the commons and enclosure. Because I first encountered the commons through open source software, that's where it made the most sense to begin unravelling my own associations with the concept. The issue of the agricultural commons will have to wait. It also doesn't escape me that I've yet to rejoin my own earlier question, "How do we begin leveling today's hedgerows?" That, too, I leave to a separate piece.

At the moment, my personal exploration of the commons is situated within a certain community of practice, principally the Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology, but also Social.Coop and the Skywoman community. I think it's critical to acknowledge this, because my own understanding, and in fact the very content of this essay, has proceeded directly from the conversations I've shared with the people in those communities. Those conversations began long before the gathering in Rhinebeck in 2022, and have continued right up through the time of writing this. Whatever criticism I may have expressed regarding sustainable agriculture or open technology, they did ultimately bring me to this time and place where such a dialogue was possible. All navel-gazing aside, it's not lost on me that this environment, the set of social relations, professional ties, and the friendships of many years that comprise this network of practitioners, is just as much a part of the commons as anything that can be pushed to a public GitHub repository or licensed as free software under the GPL.

In the end, the substance of the commons — whether it is physical or abstract, rivalrous or non-rivalrous, information or land — plays far less a role in making it a commons than we might think. What matters more is the quality of our social bonds, how our obligations to each other also strengthen our commitment to preserve the commons. Enclosure, too, is more than just a simple barrier, boundary, or hedgerow: it is a severing of the ties that connect us to other people and to life more generally, while uprooting us from the land and our sense of place within it. The same is true with the enclosure of knowledge, which estranges us from the markers of culture and our shared ways of doing things.

The commons comes about wherever we collectively acknowledge that although we may use a thing, care for it, and maintain it, that does not give us sole dominion over it, nor over how others may wish to use it. Saying it like that, it comes across as a bit of a platitude, but there's a subtly there that eluded me when I first showed up at GOAT 2022, still struggling to make sense of such high concepts as usufruct and alienation. The commons is not ours to dispose of as we wish. We cannot alienate it from ourselves, nor us from it. We partake of the land or knowledge commons, but ultimately it is something we must give back to the whole.

  1. Hometown, a fork of Mastodon, evolved from a private social media network called Friend Camp, started by Darius Kazemi "for about 50 of my friends" in 2018. The project's wiki lists 13 topic-based servers, 3 geographic community servers, and 7 general servers running Hometown, a modest but extremely dedicated base of users. Kazemi documents its origins in, a guide for "How to run a small social network site for your friends." Mastodon itself stems from development of the ActivityPub W3C Recommendation. This standard allows Mastodon servers to connect or "federate" with one another, along with non-Mastodon servers like Pixelfed, PeerTube, or even Meta's Threads, so long as they also implement ActivityPub. I myself am one of a few thousand member-users on, a cooperatively managed Mastodon instance. ↩︎

  2. "Data sovereignty" is still a highly malleable term. There exist several distinct yet closely related definitions that can subtly shift the meaning from one context to the next. It seems the term was first picked up in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations of the United States' PRISM spy program, a global surveillance network that flouted national borders as well as international law. In this early sense, data sovereignty pertained mainly to the sovereignty of nation-states to govern the data that resided within or was transported across their own territories. Around the same time, discussions among indigenous peoples from North America and Oceania began to connect their broader struggles for tribal and national sovereignty with this post-Snowden discourse, as well as the need to govern their own data. This yielded the principle known as Indigenous Data Sovereignty, or IDS. Particularly in the First Nations of North America, IDS became imbued with a sense of collective sovereignty that held precedence over individual sovereignty but still struck a fair balance between them. This is clearly expressed in a discussion paper from The First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) titled "Exploration of the Impact of Canada’s Information Management Regime on First Nations Data Sovereignty":

    While being cautious to respect diversity, there are some generalizations that can be made about common differences between First Nations perspectives and those of Canada. For example, many First Nations philosophies of interconnectedness explain their relationship to their lands, cultures, and each other, a relationship of belonging and responsibility that are different from the philosophy expressed by the Crown. The concept of what is considered private is an additional example. [...] While it is important that Canada respect First Nation individual’s privacy in their information management regime, it is equally important that Canada recognize First Nations collective rights to privacy and data sovereignty.

    This is in stark contrast to the purely Westphalian sense of sovereignty that prevailed among European privacy advocates in the mid-2010s. Whether by direct influence from IDS or by independent development, the European Commission began to broaden its own definition of "data sovereignty," as evidenced in this glossary entry from a 2023 data policy paper:

    Data sovereignty involves enhancing control by organisations and individuals over data that they contribute to generating. It implies participation in data governance and allows individuals and organisations to self-determine how, when and at what price others may use their data across the value chain. It means that data holders can safeguard user data, and ensure that it is used only in accordance with strictly defined rules.

    For a comprehensive meta-analysis of the term's usage in academic literature, see Hummel, P., Braun, M., Tretter, M., & Dabrock, P. (2021). "Data Sovereignty: A review". Big Data & Society, 8(1). ↩︎

  3. Sci-Hub, Anna's Archive, and Library Genesis, are among the most prominent shadow libraries around today. ↩︎

  4. In short, an unconference is much like an industry conference, but instead of presentations, panels, and other prepared events, the participants collaboratively decide on the program on the first day. Facilitation is a shared task and the sessions are usually take the form of a seminar or round-table. ↩︎

  5. "Session: Justice for Nature", The notes and discussions for most of the sessions are mostly kept on the forum while the unconference is taking place, and then serve as an archive and a locus for follow-up conversations afterwards. ↩︎

  6. The Cooperative for Ecological Proximity Agriculture, or CAPÉ from the original French, Coopérative pour l’agriculture de proximité. écologique. ↩︎

  7. Lindsay Ems, Virtually Amish: Preserving Community at the Internet's Margins Virtually Amish (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2022), 27-28, ↩︎

  8. Professional bio for LaKisha Odom, Ph.D., Scientific Program Director for Soil Health at the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). ↩︎

  9. Fudin, Genna. "Genna Fudin, OpenTEAM Fellow, Shares Reflections Thus Far", OpenTEAM blog, 2023 Feb 23. ↩︎

  10. I'll borrow straight from James Boyle here that "Apart from being anonymous, the poem is extremely hard to date." Boyle gives the most thorough account of its provenance that I have yet found. He concludes in the first footnote to "The Second Enclosure Movement":

    The context makes it appear that the poem itself must date from the late 18th century. In other sources, the poem is sometimes dated at 1764 and said to be in response to Sir Charles Pratt’s fencing of common land.

    For the last claim he points to a rather obscure "poster paper" on land surveying by independent researcher Dana A. Freiburger, who in turn cites T.H. Worth's The Anstey Enclosures: a study of Anstey based on a close scrutiny of the 1761 Acts of Enclosure, and a lifetime spent in walking over the fields of Anstey, self-published in 1978. Boyle cites a few other sources, but I myself have had no success tracking them down any further than the Freiburger paper. ↩︎ ↩︎

  11. David Bollier, "Peter Linebaugh on What the History of Commoning Reveals", 2021 May 01. ↩︎

  12. In civil or Roman law, the Latin terms would translate: jus in re propria, "right to [one's] own thing"; jus utendi, "right to use" or literally "the using"; jus in fructu, "right to the fruit [of a thing]"; jus abutendi, "right to use up" as in "to expend." ↩︎

  13. It cannot be overemphasized that this migration was anything but voluntary. Already faced with poverty and imminent starvation, landless peasants were further compelled into the cities and factories by a series of laws known as the Vagabonds Acts (later the Vagrancy Acts). These laws, passed in lockstep with enclosure between the 14th and 19th centuries, found persons guilty for the crime of "idleness" if they had no deed of property, no employer who would vouch for them, and if they could not present any other proof of lawful income. Their stipulated punishments ranged from imprisonment to whipping, branding, and even death for repeated offenses, though prison or execution sentences might be commuted if they agreed to a period of indentured servitude. As enforcement became increasingly difficult through the course of the Industrial Revolution, they were a significant factor contributing to the creation of modern police forces in England and elsewhere in Europe, wherever similar legislation prevailed. Marx provides a thorough but concise overview in Chapter 28 of Capital Volume I, 896-99. ↩︎

  14. Platform Socialism (Pluto Press, 2022), p. 18. Muldoon explicitly refers to the Marxian concept of commodity fetishism, and I am also drawing heavily on Marx's theory on the alienation (or estrangement) of labor. The "Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844" are especially ripe for application to today's forms of digital enclosure, and I hope to provide a more thorough exploration of those themes in a subsequent essay. ↩︎

  15. Social ecologists like Murray Bookchin would contend, and I agree, that nature does indeed comprise both society and technology, though it may seem less and less a part of nature today. The introductory chapter, "The Concept of Social Ecology," in his classic Ecology of Freedom provides a solid introduction to the idea that human nature and social relations are but mere aspects of nature in its entirety. He refers to the social part and the larger whole as second nature and first nature, respectively. Further analysis of how this extends to technology specifically can be found in Chapter 9 of the same, "Two Images of Technology." ↩︎

  16. For a thorough telling of these legal battles, see the sections "The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998" and "The Battle over Peer-to-Peer Networks" in Chapter 11 of Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, pp. 413-29. ↩︎

  17. Bowman, John (9 June 2006), "The Pirate Bay", Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. ↩︎

  18. See the Benkler's "Publications" and Lessig's "Published Writing" for full bibliographies and links to their open access articles and books. ↩︎

  19. Professional bio of David Bollier, Reinventing the Commons Program Director at the Schumacher Center for New Economics. ↩︎

  20. David Bollier, Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (New York: Routledge, 2002), 14. David Bollier, "Reclaiming the Commons"Boston Review, 2002 Jun 01. Peter Linebaugh, Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2014), 12. ↩︎

  21. The Conference on the Public Domain. ↩︎ ↩︎

  22. Nor do I suspect it was John Perry Barlow, but more on that later. ↩︎

  23. Bollier, Silent Theft 49. ↩︎

  24. Yochai Benkler, "Table 11.1: Overview of the Institutional Ecology" and Chapter 11, n. 4, The Wealth of Networks, 2006, pp. 395, 488. Lawrence Lessig, "The Architecture of Innovation", Duke Law Journal, Vol. 51:1783, 2002. ↩︎

  25. Int’l News Serv. v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215, 250 (1918) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). ↩︎

  26. Yochai Benkler, "Free as the Air to Common Use: First Amendment Constraints on Enclosure of the Public Domain", 74 N.Y.U. Law Review 354 (1999). ↩︎

  27. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 260. ↩︎

  28. Democracy Now!, "20 Years After the Battle of Seattle: Vandana Shiva & Lori Wallach on Historic 1999 WTO Protests", 2019 Nov 27. ↩︎ ↩︎

  29. Navdanya, "Biopiracy Campaign". See also BBC News, "India wins landmark patent battle", 2005. ↩︎

  30. Vandana Shiva, Biopiracy: the Plunder of Nature and Knowledge (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1997), 2-3. ↩︎

  31. Ibid., 7. ↩︎

  32. Varying forms of moral dualism such as this have underpinned Western ethics and epistemology since at least the Enlightenment, but it is not particular to Christian theology or any other faith system for that matter. Known in antiquity as Manichaeism, today it is a common tendency among proponents of New Atheism as much as it is among Christian or Hindu nationalist sects. On the other hand, a more concordant view of Christian society's relationship to both nature and non-believers can be traced from the Brethren of the Free Spirit of the High Middle Ages through to Latin American liberation theology and the closely related Dalit theology of the Indian subcontinent. It has also been expressed by modern European theologians, such as Paul Tillich and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. ↩︎

  33. Muldoon, Platform Socialism, 18. ↩︎

  34. Ibid. ↩︎

  35. The WTO History Project, "Organizations Opposed to the WTO" ↩︎

  36. C-SPAN's video recording and transcript of the 30 Nov 1999 debate at Seattle Town Hall, moderated by Paul Magnusson, correspondent for Business Week. ↩︎

  37. "Independent Media Center (Seattle) Mission Statement", (archived 2000 Aug 16). ↩︎

  38. Showdown In Seattle, documentary made in collaboration by Paper Tiger TV, Independent Media Center, Media Island Int'l et al. ↩︎

  39. "“Don’t Hate the Media, Be the Media”: Reflections on 20 Years of Indymedia, a Radical Media Movement" ↩︎

  40. Eva Giraud, "Has radical participatory online media really ‘failed’? Indymedia and its legacies", Convergence, 20(4), 419-437. ↩︎

  41. Portland Independent Media Center, "Co-ops making history! World's first open-source POS system at People's Food Co-op." ↩︎

  42. Co-operative Operational Retail Environment, IS4C (source code repository), ↩︎

  43. John Perry Barlow, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace", The Electronic Frontier Foundation. ↩︎

  44. April Glaser, "Another Network is Possible", Logic(s) (3 Aug 2019) ↩︎ ↩︎

  45. "Closing Words of the EZLN at the Intercontinental Encounter- 2nd Declaration of La Realidad" (archived English translation); see also the original in Spanish. The First Declaration of La Realidad (Spanish orig.), published January 1996, was essentially the announcement for the encuentro to be held later that summer. As Monty Neill recalls in "Encounters in Chiapas" (Midnight Notes #13), Marcos expressed his doubts that anyone would show up. It was the first such attempt to convene their supporters outside of Mexico, the majority of whom had just communicated online until then. The response exceeded most expectations. ↩︎

  46. Between 2001 and 2009, Fast Food Nation and Omnivore's Dilemma both ranked in the top 10 on the NY Times Best Sellers for Non-Fiction while their respective film adaptations each enjoyed a major theatrical release. ↩︎

  47. Looming large among these victories at the dawn of the millennium, the USDA's National Organic Program was entered into the Federal Register on December 21, 2000, with its full suite of regulatory measures becoming effective law on February 20, 2001. While it displeased many grassroots organic activists for its concessions to Big Ag, it was undeniably a win. There were also modest achievements in various Farm Bills during this time, though also some setbacks in court, such as the multiple rulings in favor of Monsanto's seed patents. ↩︎

  48. Apart from the antitrust ruling against Microsoft in 1998, which was something of a Pyrrhic victory for open source in the Browser Wars, the most significant successes for FOSS were achieved not in Washington, but on Wall Street. Red Hat's fabled IPO in 1999 was a bellweather for the eventual dominance that Linux would achieve in the realm of cloud computing and other technologies deployed at-scale and industry-wide. It's also debateable whether free culture made significant gains beyond generally raising awareness. Despite a modicum of publicity, the majority of their legal battles were still losses. ↩︎