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Michael Madison, law professor

University of Pittsburgh

Interviewed by Elizabeth Townsend Gard

Date January 2018



Michael Madison is a very well known intellectual property professor.  He's going to walk us through one framework for the larger study.   His work focuses on the Knowledge Commons.  We will look at what this is, and if the research framework might be helpful.  Here is a link.

There is a knowledge commons in quilting -- the common blocks, techniques, etc.  The question is how to understand the $5 billion industry that draws on the commons.  


Can we have a knowledge commons, a best practice, look at negative space?  That is, can we look at the various tools to see how to use them to understand quilting and the role of law in creativity and innovation?


Madison, Frishmanna nd Strandburg's approach


1.  The Background Environment

a.  Defining the "Natural" Cultural Environment:  baseline

b.  Default Proprietary Environments


2.  Basic Characteristics of the Constructed Cultural Commons:  start with a series of nested questions, or "baskets" of research questions


a. Resouces and Community:  

particular subject matter, resources pooled, and so forth

- What resources are pooled and shared?  Ideas?  Techniques?

- The identity of community members.  Who is included in the community?

    Identify each of the constituents and describe their specific role


Cultural commons: spectrum - identify


b.  Identifying Goals and Objectives

identify the particular problem or problems a given commons is constructed to address. 

What is the core purpose?

How do you define the cultural commons of this field?


c.  Degrees of Openness and the Character of Control

i.  Openness as applied to resources.  barriers to possession or use.

ii.  Openness as applied to a community


d.  Governance or "Rules-in-Use"

i History and narrative

ii. Entitlement Structures and Resource Provisions

iii.  Institutional Setting

iv.  Legal Structures that affect the pool itself

v. Governance Mechanisms


3.  Patterns and Outcomes Emanating from a Particular Action Arena

a. Solutions and Benefits

b. Costs and Risks Associated with a Cultural Commons


4.  Others (from reply)

a.  Sources of the commons

b.  The role of individuals

c.  Types of knowledge resources

d.  Importance of discipline, including sanctions and types of governance



What is the knowledge commons?

How did the project begin?

Concepts from "Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment" 

  • ​Defining "commons": institutionalized sharing among members of a community

  • case study-based approach

  • the initial framework for evaluating and comparing the contours of different commons arrangement

  • consider rules pertaining to membership criteria, contribution and use of pooled resources, internal licensing conditions, management of external relationships, and institutional forms, the degree of collaboration among members, sharing of human capital, the degree of integration among participants, and any specified purpose to the arrangement.

  • Public goods problem; IP rights

  • conventional functionalist approach

  •  the public domain

  • moving away from oversimplification

  • the importance of descriptive account: "the set of baseline premises that underrid the legal and social institutions that structure the cultural environment and shape normative outcomes."

  • "semi-commons"

  • "Spillovers"

  • levels: macro (right to exclude) v. micro-level

  • cultural production as a social phenomenon

  • "the legal facilitation of innovation and creative production is not--and can not--be confined to a simple set of property rules to incentivize individual innovation and creative efforts." (p. 669)

  • a functionalist account and a metaphorical or narrative approach

  • No one-size fits all

  • Ostrom: three-pronged approach

    • a broad range of case studies to form a basis of bottom-up practice-based taxonomy

    • a framework based on case studies

    •  adapted and revised framework 

  •  general framework, theories and models under Ostrom's approach






      - particular activities undertaken and the actors who perform them 

     - goals and objectives of the cultural commons

     - degree of "openeness" of the cultural commons

     - governance of "rules-in-use" of the cultural commons




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