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Users in the cooperative

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There are three levels of common participation in the function of a corporation or cooperative:

  • Workers (people who make the products or provide the services; an FOSS subset of the worker is the contributor)
  • Customers (people, including workers, who pay for the products or services with a set monetary value or "price"; a corporate subset of the customer is the shareholder)
  • Users (people, variously including workers and customers, who use the products or services and may or may not have paid for, or contributed to either)

Non-paying, non-programming users[edit]

The role of the non-paying, non-programming user has become most apparent in the area of free software and the World Wide Web, both of which are made available to customers with either no expected return payment of revenue (usually a voluntary donation is requested) or though embedded advertisements from search engines and other ad services. In the open-source and free software arena, a common alternative to monetary payments or contributions are contributions in the form of code (or, failing a knowledge of programming languages, documentation or bug reports).

Users who do not pay for, or contribute code to free software but ask for improvements are seen in the capitalist world as "leeches" who should be persuaded to contribute either money or code to the project as a prerequisite for requests or demands. Debian, Ubuntu and other free software projects function in the exact same manner, giving extra, governance-critical privileges to frequent contributors.

From an anarchist viewpoint, is it wrong to form such a meritocracy based upon levels of monetary or contributory value? As the anarchist worldview favors the contributory value over the monetary value, the role of the non-paying, non-contributing user in the governance of the coop may be close to nil.

There are questions about the role of such a user in the coop:

  • what value does this user have to the coop if this user doesn't contribute?
  • should such a user's requests or demands be rejected based upon the user's lack of contribution (or, failing that, monetary funding)?
  • should the user not benefit from any accrued benefits that are given to or gained by the contributors or customers?

The sharing user[edit]

A possible means by which to salvage the reputation of the non-paying, non-contributing user in the coop is in the area of distribution and sharing over the network. While it is highly common to distribute copyrighted and proprietary software and media over networks, the copyleft licenses explicitly allow for the distribution of such-licensed software and media, both in physical and digital form. A sizable number of non-paying, non-contributing users of free software are active sharers of such software and media, usually through distributed P2P methods such as BitTorrent.

The sharing user, also known as a "seeder" (as opposed, once again, to a "leecher" in P2P parlance), has a role in the software/media coop that, because of the relative youth of the distributed/decentralized P2P method in computing history, has yet to be truly assessed and is usually seen as ambiguous; sharing users, including the owners of "portals" such as The Pirate Bay, may allow the coop to alleviate the hosting cost that is inherent in the digital distribution of software or media, and are encouraged to seed releases of software, both in source and binary form, as much as possible.

However, because of the propensity for sharing users and networks to distribute both copyrighted and copylefted software and media, they are only seen as friends of the copyleft movement (and enemies/liabilities to the IP rights status quo) insofar as their own distribution of copylefted material is concerned; otherwise, neither the copyleft coops and contributors nor the anarchist/libertarian circles which support the former are interested in the sharing user. Thus, the role of the seeder, who is more likely a non-paying, non-contributing user, in the copyleft coop is in doubt.

Seeders and the WWW[edit]

Since the World Wide Web is a network-based application (in fact, probably the most well-known such application, apart from email), the role of the seeder may be highly instrumental to access of disproportionately-large or inaccessible web-linked material. Links to mirrors and caches of material are extremely common, including P2P-distributed mirrors and caches, and are always high in demand.

Freenet, in which "freesites" serve as P2P-distributed websites are another means of establishing a critical role for the seeder in the

Are seeders really coop material?[edit]

Corporations, and their workers, are organized around the gaining of monetary value. Cooperatives, and their contributors, are organized around the gaining of contributory value.

But what would an organization or community of seeders be designated, since such an organization is focused more upon the "gaining" of sharing (maybe linked?) value?

Seeders aren't necessarily part of the cooperative, and the corporation is far from a friend of seeders.

One can call them "syndicates", but that could easily be confused with the ideology of syndicalism that forms the basis of trade/labor unions or worker-democratic ownership of businesses.

Maybe a "seeders' syndicate?"