The Internet is a Semicommon

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by James Grimmelmann*


As my contribution to this Symposium on David Post’s In Search of Jefferson’s Moose and Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet, I’d
like to take up a question with which both books are obsessed: what makes the Internet work? Post’s answer is that the Internet is uniquely
Jeffersonian; it embodies a civic ideal of bottom-up democracy and an intellectual ideal of generous curiosity. Zittrain’s answer is that the
Internet is uniquely generative; it enables its users to experiment with new uses and then share their innovations with each other. Both books tell a story about how the combination of individual freedom and a cooperative ethos have driven the Internet’s astonishing growth.
In that spirit, I’d like to suggest a third reason that the Internet works: it gets the property boundaries right. Specifically, I see the Internet as a
particularly striking example of what property theorist Henry Smith has named a semicommons. …More

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