Sunday, September 9, 2007

The concept of "Source Freedom"

The concept of "Source Freedom" is one in which the users of an object gain "at cost" access to the sources of those objects.

Pure information such as ideas, plans, intellect, software, video, audio, genetics, or any design of any kind is not rivalrous, so does not need owners. But each copy must be "hosted" by the rivalrous land and capital needed to store, copy and express it. It is this inescapable connection to the physical world that makes bread and software both infinite in potential, but always limited immediately by the current number of copies in existence, and into the future by the Physical Sources and labor needed to make more copies.

We can think of information as the 'Virtual' sources of production, while 'Physical' sources are the material aspects of reality such as space, mass and energy. Examples of physical sources include land, water, sunlight, seeds/eggs/spores, buildings, tools, computers, electricity, gas, food, etc.

Information is non-rivalrous in and of itself, but it cannot be utilized, and will often even cease to exist without Physical Sources for storage and expression.

The design of a car, the data and code composing a software program, the genetics of a living organism, a picture, an email, a video or song, etc. always requires physical space, mass and energy to store and express it. Information is not infinite ONLY because it is permanently anchored to the physical world through this requirement of hosting. For instance, when you copy a program, the new copy must be stored on optical, magnetic or 'flash' media which itself requires space; and the entire operation requires electricity. Even if the program is so small that you can just memorize it, and type it in at another terminal, it still must reside in your grey matter until transfered through a keyboard or microphone or other input device to the RAM and then hard-drive of the computer you work at.

So, while the GNU General Public License can be used to free any information, we are still at the mercy of those that own the physical sources required for hosting and manufacturing.

Small-time hosting is fairly cheap and easy for an individual, but some things are too expensive to be held by a single person, or are only meaningful in a group setting.

For instance, the machinery and buildings needed to manufacture cars and computers are terribly expensive and out of reach for a single individual. Settings such as a "community center" and the physical infrastructure of a network are usually only meaningful if more than one person is participating.

So it is useful to be able to "share" or "co-own" resources, but this organization is typically left to those that intend to extract profit from the users that need the outputs of those facilities.

As a community of users grows around that hardware, it becomes more and more clear that the owners are in control even if the virtual sources being used are free.

The GNU General Public License is a trade agreement originally between the copyright holders (the developers/programmers/artists), and finally between all object INSTANCE owners (those owning the media used to host their own copy) that share with others.

When such trade occurs, the INSTANCE owner is required to allow that new user "at cost" access to the Virtual Sources of that information. This is fairly trivial for Virtual Sources, as the costs are quite small (though never zero). But what can we do for the User to gain control of the Physical Sources of production?

The kernel of my idea is to write a contract that causes any price paid above cost (what would usually be called profit) to become an investment *from that payer* in more physical sources. The consumer that paid "price above cost" is given a receipt that shows how much he invested (how much profit he paid) and is also "Title of Ownership" for the small amount of beef cattle, wheat and tomato fields, milk dairy, chicken farm, etc. he now owns after paying for lunch.

This is different in at least one respect from for-profit or even non-profit corporations that use that value to 'grow' the business.

The difference is that the property owner of that new investment is the consumer who paid.

The investment is made on behalf of the paying consumer so he incrementally begins to have real property (co)ownership in the physical sources required to insure that objective continues to be hosted in the future under the direct but collective control (limited by the agreement of the owners of each realistically divisible sub-group) of that very same user. In this way hosting can be large-scale while remaining under consumer control.

The contract would then be used by any group of consumers that buy physical sources for the purpose of "at cost" product instead of attempting to keep price above cost hoping to collect profit as some sort of 'reward'.

This perpetuates user freedom through dynamic allocation of physical sources as real property ownership. New users thus gain ownership when the profit they pay becomes their own investment toward more physical sources - so that price approaches cost as competition approaches perfection.

1 comment:

Sepp said...

In analogy to the GNU General Public License, we should develop a GNP Physical Sharing License.

GNP would stand for General Non Profit and of course the Physical Sharing part would specify that we are talking about the distributed ownership, without intention of extraction of profit, of physical resources, as opposed to ideas, which are the subject of GNU.

The concept would be that ownership of physical resources can be shared and those resources be made productive and kept available in time, by those interested in using them.

We should avoid calling a price above cost a profit, as a matter of fact, there is no sense to even talk about price above cost. There is no compelling reason to break down the price a user pays into cost and above cost.

In the context of the GNP Physical Sharing License, any payment that must be made for the use of the resource is calculated to pay the cost of maintaining that resource to keep it in good working order and, if needed, of expanding the commonly owned physical resource to meet the demands of all its users.

Once this is institutionalized by providing a framework legal basis for this type of common ownership, I predict we will see many physically productive entities move from the profit-centered type of ownership prevalent today, to the shared ownership as expressed in the GNP Physical Sharing License.