Law in the Internet Society

Education in the Second Enclosure Movement

-- By AliceWang - 23 Oct 2014


“For the first time in history, we can eradicate ignorance,” Prof. Moglen proclaimed in class. Indeed, the Internet and other digital media allow the sharing of the entirety of human knowledge at a scale never previously contemplated. In the Information Age where knowledge is power, ignorance becomes an artificial handicap put on the human race by an elite few in an attempt to preserve the current power structure. The Free Software movement, by injecting freedom into the technologies that makes up the fabric of the Information Age, holds the key to knowledge. However, like Prometheus who brought fire to the mortals, Free Software is not without powerful enemies. Paradoxically, as much as Free Software is key to eradicating ignorance, education is key to the survival of Free Software.

The Second Enclosure Movement

As James Boyle wrote, “We are in the middle of a second enclosure movement.” See James Boyle, The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain, 66 LAW & CONTEMP. PROBS. 33, 37 (2003). Intellectual property regulations fence off more and more intangible ideas and knowledge in a post-Cold War fetishization of property rights. Id. at 41. However, rather than the efficient land-ownership system that solved problems of overuse and underinvestment through the English enclosure movement, the enclosure of “the noblest of human productions—knowledge, truths ascertained, conceptions, and ideas” produces a system that is not only inefficient but actively stifles innovation. See Int’l News Serv. v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215, 250 (1918) (Brandeis, J., dissenting) quoted in Id. at 39. Overuse by the masses and underinvestment from the powerful are the very conditions innovation thrives on.

The intellectual enclosure movement creates haves and have-nots as did the land enclosure movement, but intellectual divisions are more insidious than class divisions created by land ownership. In the Information Age where access to information media creates new collective forms of consciousness, the ones left behind are not only deprived of economic advantages but also participation in the same mental awareness as the rest of society. The intellectual haves and have-nots are separated by gulfs of existence that rob the ignorant of aspirations and the inundated of guilt. In a regime where intellectual property gives the owner not only financial gains but also control over information, the results are not only inefficient market conditions but also the waste of human potential. Such dismal results suggest that the second enclosure movement is more likely an effort to fortify the current power structure than an earnest but misguided attempt to foster innovation.

The Importance of Free Software to Education

In a regime guarded by ignorance, education is the key to freedom. In the Information Age where the wealth of human knowledge can be stored on the Internet and other digital media, education means access to knowledge. Accreditation, rarely an effective motivator for true learning, is irrelevant in the pure pursuit of knowledge. As an appendix to Moglen’s Metaphorical Corollary to Faraday’s Law, if you wrap knowledge around every person on the planet, learning will flow to curious and conducive minds.

Infrastructure, software, and hardware are required to access the wealth of information on the Internet. Internet penetration increases yearly, while mobile phone usage has become commonplace in most corners of the world. Thanks to the Free Software movement, the best software in the world are free to use, modify, and distribute. Market forces push the cost of hardware down daily. As the cost of a laptop drops below the cost of a TV, and other mobile information access devices become ubiquitous accessories, the limit of access for a vast majority of the human race becomes artificial limits enforced by human enclosures.

Against this artificial limit, Free Software is not only an economic choice but also a necessity. Free Software is built with the protection of privacy as a central, environmental concern. Such protection of privacy is a condition for freedom. This concept seems obvious in the familiar context of the everyday workings of democratic society such as voter anonymity. Freedom of dissent is only possible when protected by anonymity. Although less familiar, freedom of information is also only possible when protected by anonymity. When packets of information are anonymous, control of the flow of information becomes impossible because privileged and non-privileged information become indistinguishable. When users are anonymous, control of the access of information becomes impossible because privileged and non-privileged users become indistinguishable.

The Importance of Education to Free Software

As much as the eradication of ignorance needs Free Software, the survival of Free Software depends on the eradication of ignorance. Proprietary software dominates the consumer market by depending on the ignorance of the consumer and a perceived lack of competition against the dominant proprietary suites. In this privileged corner of the world, proprietary software has the wealth to buy enclosures, so the proprietary software giants have the minds of the people. The vast majority of the world, however, lies beyond this corner. According to World Bank data from 2008, almost 80% of the world lives on less than $10 per day. If open education powered by Free Software and cheap hardware can educate this segment of the population, the technology consumer market would change entirely. Free Software is not only a conveyor of knowledge, but also the best technical training grounds in the world, which also happen to be free. Raised in an environment of open knowledge and free of the control of the existing proprietary software, the educated masses from the developing world would create innovative and competitive software that render the current oligarchy simply irrelevant.

As much as the eradication of ignorance needs Free Software, the survival of Free Software depends on technical and cultural education. Kerala, India is a community that understands the importance of education because it is a traditionally agricultural state that is now home to India’s largest technology park and has the highest Human Development Index rating in India. When its government initiated an IT education program for grade schools in 2001, the curriculum was based on Microsoft applications. The local Free Software community successfully protested, and a complete shift to Free Software was completed in 2006, after which the curriculum grew into the world’s largest FOSS-based ICT education program. Raised in an environment of open knowledge, the Keralans not only receive the technical education to create and modify software but the values education to do so in order that the software become conduits for freedom. Free Software relies on such double-pronged education to produce architects who ensure that others continue to have the freedom to use, adapt, and redistribute the software. When proliferated, this educational model would lead to the creation of innovative software that can compete the current proprietary oligarchy out of the marketplace.


In a world with a thinning ozone layer, melting polar caps, and drastically worsening pollution, we cannot afford to waste the majority of human potential for the benefit of the few. With time running out, human ingenuity should be allowed to compete out corruption and inefficiency. For the first time in history, we must eradicate ignorance.

I'm not in the best position to say what the weaknesses are in these ideas. Probably my response to the writing is, as well, biased. But I think you can strengthen the penultimate section somewhat: free software is really the willingness of people who can write, fix and document programs to do so in a mode that will ensure other peoples' permanent freedom to do the same. In order for that to happen, we need people who can do those things, and who believe in the value of doing so in a freedom-reinforcing way. So both technical and values education are crucial to the survival of the movement and its technology. In places in the world, like Kerala, where many people learn to make software in order to earn their livings elsewhere and send money home, and where the values surrounding free software are also taught in primary school, the importance of education to free software can be seen and experienced directly.

Thank you for your comment. I did not know about Kerala. Edited.


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r3 - 07 Jan 2015 - 21:22:07 - AliceWang
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