”Dear Inhabitants of the ‘legal’ Commons…”

27 januari 2007

Last May we attended a workshop in Amsteram titled Shades of the Commons, which ”brought together artists, theorists, critics, curators, social scientists and software programmers from India, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom.”
One of the participiants was Shuddhabrata Sengupta (Sarai/Raqs, New Dehli), who is by a coincidence also participating in an exhibition at Lunds konsthall which opened last week. (Lars Vilks heavily criticizes the curatorial pretentions.)

Shuddha wrote a summary of our discussions in Amsterdam in the form of a very special letter, elaborating the refusal of whitewashing the darker shades of the commons. Some quotes:
Dear Inhabitants of the ‘legal’ Commons,
(…)
We appreciate and admire the determination with which you nurture your garden of licences. The proliferation and variety of flowering contracts and clauses in your hothouses is astounding. But we find the paradox of a space that is called a commons and yet so fenced in, and in so many ways, somewhat intriguing.
(…)
Your ‘commons’ is not a place that we can share in easily. Because, often, when you ask us for what we ‘own’, we have to turn away from your enquiring gaze. We own very little, and the little that we own is itself often under dispute, because no one has bothered to keep a detailed enough record of provenances. In these circumstances, if we had listen to your stipulation to share only that which we own, hardly anything would have been passed around. And for life to continue, things have to pass around. So we share a lot of things that we have never owned. They are ‘borrowed’.

You call this piracy. Perhaps it is piracy. But we have to think of consequences. The consequences of absences of the infrastructures that make a culture of sharing that is also a culture of legality possible. In the absence of those infrastructures, we have to rely on other mechanisms. When you do not have a public library, you have to invent one on the street, with all the books that you can muster, with everything you can beg, or borrow. Or steal.

All we ask, dear inhabitants of the ‘legal’ commons, is for you to let us be. To be a little cautious before you condemn us. A world without our secret public libraries would be a poorer world. It would be a world in which very few people read very few books, and only those who could own things were the ones who could share them. It would also mean a world in which, eventually, very few people write books. So instead of more, there would in the end be less culture to go around.
(…)
Learn about us by all means if you must, argue with us by all means, but do not rush to destroy the wilderness we inhabit. We admire your carefully cultivated garden. We know it is not easy for you to let us enter that space. We understand and respect that. We do not ask to be appreciated in return for the fact that we prefer hiding in the undergrowth of culture. All we ask for is the benevolence of your indifference. That will do for now.

We remain, yours
Denizens of Non Legal Commons, and those who travel to and from them.
Based on discussions among: Shaina Anand, Namita Malhotra, Paul Keller, Lawrence Liang, Bjorn Wijers, Patrice Riemens, Monica Narula, Rasmus Fleischer, Palle Torsson, Jan Gerber, Sebastian Lütgert, Toni Prug, Vera Franz, Konrad Becker & Tabatabai
The whole letter is now posted on Nettime, and now also published in a reader, In the Shade of the Commons, also featuring texts by Lawrence Liang about pirate aesthetics, Jamie King about gang power, Felix Stalder on open culture, Saskia Sassen on urban topographies, and many more. You can download the book as PDF.

3 Responses to “”Dear Inhabitants of the ‘legal’ Commons…””


  1. […] formuleringar gör mig allergisk. Varför denna vilja att formalisera “the commons”? Varför skulle Egyptens musikliv bli bättre av att alla började tänka på upphovsrätt? Att […]


  2. […] “Dear Inhabitants of the ‘legal’ Commons…” […]


  3. […] content, regardless of what the license’s intent is, is wrongfooted. I really enjoyed this passage that was reprinted in Viral Spiral: Dear Inhabitants of the ‘legal’ […]


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