Thursday, 11 April 2013

3. P2P in the Economic Sphere

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3. P2P in the Economic Sphere
3.1.A. Peer production as a third mode of production
3.1.B. The Communism of Capital, or, the cooperative nature of cognitive capitalism
3.1.C. The Hacker Ethic or ‘work as play’
3.2 Explaining the Emergence of P2P Economics
3.3 Placing the P2P Era in an evolutionary framework
3.4 Placing P2P in an intersubjective typology
3.1.A. Peer production as a third mode of production
There are two important aspects to the emergence of P2P in the economic sphere. On the one hand, as format for peer production processes (called ‘Commons-based peer production' or CBPP by Y. Benckler ) it is emerging as a 'third mode of production' based on the cooperation of autonomous agents. Indeed, if the first mode of production is free-market based capitalism, and the second mode was the now defunct model of a centrally-planned state-owned economy, then the third mode is defined neither by the motor of profit, nor by any central planning. In order to allocate resources and make decisions, it is neither using market and pricing mechanisms, nor managerial commands, but social relations.

The second aspect, as the juridical underpinning of software creation, in the form of the General Public License, or as the Creative Commons license for other creative content, it is engendering a new commons-based intellectual property regime. Taken together the GPL, the Open Source Initiative and the Creative Commons, together with associated initiatives such as the Art Libre license, may be seen as providing the 'legal' infrastructure for the emergence and growth of the P2P social formation. Peer production proper covers the first aspect: freely cooperating producers, governing themselves through peer governance, and producing a new type of universal common goods. The second aspect, mostly as free software and open sources, is the result of that process, but not necessarily. It is possible that corporations would produce free software (accessible and modifiable for free), in a more traditional way, or in a hybrid way, now that many large corporations are embracing open sources, this is increasingly the case.
But what is important for us is the following: worldwide, groups of programmers and other experts are engaging in the cooperative production of immaterial goods with important use value, mostly new software systems, but not exclusively. And as we will see later, peer production is much broader than software, it emerges thoughout the social field. The new software, hardware and other immaterial products thus being created are at the same time new means of production, since the computer is now a universal machine ‘in charge of everything’ (every productive action that can be broken down in logical steps can be directed by a computer). Access to computer technology is distributed, and thus widely affordable given a minimum of financial means, and technological literacy. This means that the old dichotomy, between workers and the means of production, is in the process of being overcome for certain areas of fixed capital, and that the emergence of the viral communicator model, technological meshworks, is extending this model of distributed access to fixed capital assets, to more and more areas. Important to note is that software is 'active text' which directly results in 'processes'. In other words, software is not just an immaterial pursuit, but can actively direct material and industrial processes. As a cooperation format, we will discuss it in more detail in the section 'Advantages of the peer production model'. Peer governance models will also be discussed elsewhere.
A further important aspect of peer production is the creation of universal public goods, i.e. the emergence of new common property regimes. As creation of a new type of commons, it takes the form of either the Free Software Movement ethos , as defined by Richard Stallman (Stallman, 2002 ), or in the form of Open Source projects, as first defined by Eric Raymond (Raymond, 2001). Both are innovative developments of copyright that significantly transcend the implications of privaty property and its restrictions. However, the ethos underlying both initiatives is different, While the Free Software Foundation insists that its production is not for exchange on the market, and not to be converted into private property, the Open Source Iniative aims to be compatible with the market and business thinking and stresses the efficiency argument which results from a public domain of software.
Free software is essentially 'open code'. Its General Public Licence says that anyone using free software must give subsequent users at least the same rights as they themselves received: total freedom to see the code, to change it, to improve it and to distribute it . There is some discussion as to whether Free Software must be 'free', in the sense of free beer . While its spokesmen, including Richard Stallman, clearly say that it is okay to charge for such software, the obligation of free distribution makes this a rather moot argument. The companies that sell software, such as Red Hat, which sells version of Linux, could be said to charge for the services attached to its installation and use, rather than for the freely distributable software itself. This is an important argument for those stressing, as I do, the essential non-mercantile nature of free software. But in any case, if in a for-profit enterprise software is developed so that it can be sold as a product, in the case of free software, if it is sold by non-commercial entities or the programmers themselves, it is most often as a means of producing more software, to strengthen the community and obtain financial independence to continue further projects.
FS explicitely rejects the ownership of software, since every user has the right to distribute the code, and to adapt it and is thus explicitely founded on a philosophy of participation and 'sharing'. Open Sources is admittedly less radical: it accepts ownership of software, but renders that ownership feeble since users and other developers have full right to use and change it . But since the OS model has been specifically designed to soften its acceptance by the business community which is now increasingly involved in its development , it generally leads to a lot more control of the labor process, including the use of traditional corporate processes. OS licenses allow segments of code to be used in proprietary and commercial projects, something impossible with pure free software. But even free software projects have become increasingly professionalised , and it now generally consists of a core of often paid professionals, funded by either nonprofits or by corporations having an interest in its continued expansion; they also use professional project management systems, as is the case for Linux. Despite their differences or essential likeness – a matter of continuous debate in both FS and OS communities -- I will use both concepts more for their underlying similarity, without my use denoting a preference, but on a personal level would be probably closer to the free software model, which is the 'purer' form of commons-based peer production.
Despite it rootedness as a modification of intellectual property rights, both do have the effect of creating a kind of public domain in software, and can be considered as part of the information commons . However, the GPL does that by completely preserving the authorship of its creators. Free software and open sources are exemplary of the double nature of peer to peer that we will discuss later: it is both within the system, but partly transcends it. Though it is increasingly attractive to economic forces for its efficiency, the profit motive is not the core of why these systems are taken up, it is much more about the use value of the products. You could say that they are part of a new 'for-benefit' sector, which also includes the NGO's, social entrepreneurs and what the Europeans call 'the social economy', and that is arising next to the 'for-profit' economy of private corporations. Studies show that the personal development of participants are primary motives, despite the fact that quite a few programmers are now paid for their efforts . Whatever the motives though, in a sense 'it doesn't matter' since in the open and global environment create by the internet, there is always a sufficient number of people willing to cooperate on any given project. Open Sources explicitely promotes itself through its value to create more efficient software in the business environment. It is even being embraced by corporate interests such as IBM and other Microsoft rivals, as a way to bypass the latter's monopoly, but the creation of an open infrastructure is clearly crucial and in everyone’s interest. But through the generalization of a cooperative mode of working , and through its overturning of the limits of property, which normally forbids other developers and users to study and ameliorate the source code, it is beyond the property model, contrary to the authoritarian, bureaucratic, or 'feudal' modes of corporate governance; and beyond the profit motive. We should also note that we have here the emergence of a mode of production that can be entirely devoid of a manufacturer . In the words of Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux magazine, we see the demand-side supplying itself .
In conclusion:
Seen from the point of view of capitalism or private for-profit interests, commons-based peer production has the following advantages : 1) it represents more productive ways of working and of mobilizing external communities to its own purposes ; 2) it represents a means of externalizing costs or of lowering transaction costs ; 3) it represents new types of business models based on 'customer-made production', such as eBay and Amazon; 4) it represents new service-based business models, where by free software is used as the basis of providing surrounding services (Red Hat); 5) it represents a common shared infrastructure whose costs and building is taken up largely by the community and which prohibits both monopolistic control by stronger rivals as well as providing common standards so that a market can develop around it. In all these senses FS/OS forms of peer production are 'within the system'.
We should also stress the dependence of the peer production community to the existing system. Since producers are not paid for their services, they have to work within the mainstream economy: for the government or academia, for traditional corporations, running their own individual or small business, or moving from project to project. Thus, despite its growth, peer production is still relatively weak. Though it outcompetes its for-profit rivals in efficiency, though it increases the welfare of its producers, though it creates important use value, it only covers part of the economy, mostly immaterial processes, while the mainstream, capitalist economy, functions as a full system. In this sense, peer to peer is immanent in the system, and productive of capitalism itself, as we have shown in the first chapter. But it is also more than that, a transcendent element that goes beyond the larger system of which it is a part. It is a germ of something new: it still goes 'beyond' the existing system.
To summarise the importance of the 'transcending' factors of Commons-based peer production: 1) it is based on free cooperation, not on the selling of one's labour in exchange of a wage, nor motivated primarily by profit or for the exchange value of the resulting product; 2) it not managed by a traditional hierarchy, but through new modes of peer governance; 3) it does not need a manufacturer; 4) it's an innovative application of copyright which creates an information commons and transcends the limitations attached to both the private (for-profit) and public (state-based) property forms. It creates a new type of universal common property.
How widespread are these developments? Open-source based computers are already the mainstay of the internet’s infrastructure (Apache servers); Linux is an alternative operating system that is taking the world by storm . It is now a practical possibility to operating system that is taking the world by storm . It is now a practical possibility to create an Open Source personal computer that exclusively uses OS software products for the desktop, including database, accounting, graphical programs, including browsers such as Firefox . It is recognized as its main threat by the current operating system monopoly Microsoft . As a collaborative method to produce software, it is being used increasingly by various businesses and institutions . Wikipedia is an alternative encyclopedia produced by the internet community which is rapidly gaining in quantity, quality, and number of users. And there are several thousands of such projects, involving at least several millions of cooperating individuals. If we consider blogging as a form of journalistic production, then it must be noted that it already involves between 5 and 10 million bloggers, with the most popular ones achieving several hundred thousands of visitors. We are pretty much in an era of ‘open source everything’, with musicians and other artists using it as well for collaborative online productions. In general it can be said that this mode of production achieves ‘products’ that are at least as good, and often better than their commercial counterparts. In addition, there are solid reasons to accept that, if the open source methodology is consistently used over time, the end result can only be better alternatives, since they involved mobilization of vastly most resources than commercial products.
Open source production operates in a wider economic context, of which we would like to describe ‘the communism of capital’, with ‘the hacker ethic’ functioning as the basis of it’s new work culture.
Figure – Choosing for a Open Source Desktop: NOT AVAILABLE IN WIKI VERSION

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