projects aimed at developing material goods
the material goods sector, projects have been developed producing
free information documents such as circuit plans or construction
plans necessary for the production of goods.
projects deal with the development of electronic elements on
different levels. The range now covered includes anything from
structures on chips (Free IP Project7) and electronic chips
themselves (OPENCORE.ORG8), to free CPUs (Freedom CPU9) and
electronic circuits (OpenCollector10). The most ambitious project
is the OSCar-Project11, whereby a free car is to be developed.
At the moment they are working on the basis that construction
plans, which may be used or modified under a licence similar
to a GPL, may be used by a company in the commercial sector
to produce cars. The ensuing product would be cheaper than commercially-developed
ones. The producer doesn't have to pay for development, which
means these costs are not passed on to the consumer. This trend
towards free material goods means that in theory, one day free
goods will replace the whole 'goods' sector.
software as an economic model
is incomprehensible within the framework of the concepts of
exchange, work and money. For many it is already hard to understand
why software developers don't ask for payment for their work.
All things considered, 'free products' can only be considered
as a totally new economic model, which has never previously
paid work nor subsistence
the producers of free products are not paid and usually don't
want payment, free software and other free products have no
value. Like the air we breathe, they don't have to be paid for
but nevertheless are available in surplus for those who need
them. At the same time, producers of free products don't invest
effort solely for themselves. Although a producer's own practical
needs play a role in the development of a free product, many
producers of free goods work with others to modify their products,
producing goods which are mainly for the use of others. This
concept differs from subsistence economics: work carried out
only for the need of an individual or a particular group.
exchange nor gift
and other free products are not objects of exchange. Free software
is available to anybody who needs it. It's there for the taking.
Even someone who hasn't contributed to the development of free
software - like the average user of Gnu/Linux - can use it to
its full extent, look at the sources, learn from them and then
pass them on. It is also the case that a person who has contributed
can't expect to get anything for it.
that, this process can't be described as 'giving a gift', because
the product is not designed for a particular person. At best,
it might be described as a gift to humanity.
role of digital copies and the Internet
new economic model within this sector was historically only
made possible through the invention of the digital copy and
its wide circulation. It is computers which have brought about
the massive reduction in unit costs of digital copying, making
possible, in turn, the infinite copying of data without any
loss of quality. This data can include software, web pages,
recipes, travel reports, letters, pictures, circuit plans, music,
which can be understood as a huge distance-copying facility,
undoes the limitations of a local computer and makes world-wide
networking possible. The internet can bring together, in a historic
new way, people from all over the world who share the same interests.
Free software is an example of how useful this global network
development as the driving force
the producers of free software don't get any money, they do
get something out of writing software. One of the most important
motivations is the fun they have writing computer programmes.
This, for some, is enough. Its practical uses for oneself or
others also plays an important role in the production of free
software. Producers are focused on the software's user-value
and quality. Others again enjoy working in a like-minded team.
Those who work as maintainers of free software projects need
to enjoy communication, organization, and decision-making that
reflects the consensus of the project. And then there are those
who write software because they want to give something to the
The motivations behind the development of free software can
be summarized in the wish for self-fulfillment. This personal
experience is different for everybody. Authors of free software
mostly have other means of income and don't need any other external
motivation for their work: the work is worthwhile in itself.
then, to a new economic model whereby available products exist
in surplus and everyone can just take what they need. An exchange
of valuables, as such, is no longer necessary, but still the
best possible provision of goods is guaranteed.
attitude, which is already well-developed in the realm of free
software, could be extended to other IT sectors and later, to
material goods, this new economic model could potentially replace
traditional economics with its concepts of exchange, work and
money. Some moves to transfer the principles of free software
to other products are already happening and the recent acceleration
of such developments might lead to a much faster change than
is currently anticipated.
Stefan Merten (from Kaiserslautern) has a diploma in computer
sciences. For many years, he has been working as a computer
specialist in the political scene. In summer 1999, he founded
the project Oekonux (http://oekonux.de) where he functions as
a maintainer. The project discusses questions such as those
described in this essay. Most of the ideas were actually developed
within the project.
Addresses of Internet projects mentioned:
1 GPL: www.gnu.org/philosophy/categories.html
2 OpenTheory-Projekt: www.opentheory.org/
3 Nupedia: www.nupedia.com/
4 Encyclopaedia Aperta: www.opentheory.org/proj/enzyklopaedie
5 Projekt GNUsic: www.gnusic.net
6 MP3-Verbund: www.mp3eu.net/
7 Free IP project: www.free-ip.com
8 Open cores: www.opencores.org
9 Freedom CPU: http://f-cpu.tux.org/
10 Open collector: http://opencollector.org
11 OSCar-Projekt: www.theoscarproject.org/)