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The Guardian: Can We Keep the Internet Mutual

Jul 06, 2000, 14:14 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bill Thompson)

[ Thanks to Richard Hillesley for this link. ]

"The internet is like common land which can be used by everyone. As long as nobody takes too much of the land, or grazes too many sheep or cows, then everyone can benefit. However, the first person to graze too many sheep gets an immediate advantage, for one year at least: their sheep grow faster and they make more money. The end result is that the commons are destroyed, and everyone loses out. But the certain knowledge of long term disaster may not be enough to deter the first mover who sees a large short term gain."

"We can see this happening already with Linux, one of the internet's big success stories. For eight years the open source operating system created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 was worked on by thousands of programmers who wanted to contribute to the public good. But while the source is free, corporate users want to buy technical support for it, and a number of companies offering Linux services, such as Red Hat, have gone public with massively inflated share prices."

"As a result, the thousands of programmers who have contributed to Linux over the years are now asking where their share of the money is. The move to demutualise Linux, just as the building societies were demutualised, is just around the corner. And, as with the building societies and the banks, it will be the current owners - the few who own Linux-focused companies or whose programming made it into the latest distribution - who will benefit. Those who contributed in the early days, who worked to build the commons in the first place, will be forgotten as virtual fences are erected."

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