Skip to main content Accessibility help

Institutional entrepreneurship, wikipedia, and the opportunity of the commons

  • RYAN SAFNER (a1)


Copyright laws traditionally attempt to incentivize expression and minimize free rider problems through legal restrictions, at the expense of closing off access to cultural history. However, entrepreneurial changes to institutions and the creation of alternative governance structures can allow for spaces that facilitate expression without resorting to the copyright approach. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, stands as a highly visible example of such institutional entrepreneurship, leveraging copyright law against its intended purpose. This paper uses the Bloomington School's IAD framework to explain the success of Wikipedia's alternative model of managing a common resource of free encyclopedia articles, and suggests a roadmap for understanding the role of institutional entrepreneurship in crafting alternative governance structures to foster expression.



Hide All
Aaltonen, A. and Seiler, S. (2014), ‘Quantifying Spillovers in Open Source Content Production: Evidence from Wikipedia’, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE, CEP Discussion Papers.
Alchian, A. (1965), ‘Some Economics of Property Rights’, Il Politico, 30 (4): 816829.
Aligica, P. D. and Tarko, V. (2013), ‘Co-production, Polycentricity, and Value Heterogeneity: The Ostroms’ Public Choice Institutionalism Revisited’, American Political Science Review, 107 (4): 726741.
Anderson, C. (2008), The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, New York: Hyperion.
Anderson, C. (2009), Free: How Today's Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing, New York: Hyperion.
Anderson, C. (2012), Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, New York: Crown Business.
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1962), ‘Economic Welfare and the Allocation of Resources for Invention’ in Groves, Harold M. (ed.), The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economic and Social Factors, Princeton: Princeton University Press: 609625.
Baumol, W. J. (1990), ‘Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive’, Journal of Political Economy, 98 (5): 893921.
Bell, T. W. (2014), Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good, Arlington, VA: Mercatus Center.
Benkler, Y. (2002), ‘Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and ‘the Nature of the Firm’, Yale Law Journal, 112 (3): 369446.
Benkler, Y. (2006), The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Besen, S. M. and Raskind, L. J. (1991), ‘An introduction to the Law and Economics of Intellectual Property’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 6 (1): 327.
Boettke, P. J., Coyne, C. J., and Leeson, P. T. (2004), ‘Institutional Stickiness and the New Development Economics’, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 67 (2): 331358.
Boldrin, M. and Levine, D. K. (2008), Against Intellectual Monopoly, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Boyle, J. (2007), ‘Mertonianism Unbound? Imagining Free, Decentralized Access to Most Cultural and Scientific Material’, in Hess, C. and Ostrom, E. (eds.), Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Boyle, J. (2008), The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Buchanan, J. M. (1964), ‘What Should Economists Do?’, Southern Economic Journal, 30 (3): 213222.
Buchanan, J. M. and Tullock, G. (1962), The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Buchanan, J. M. and Yoon, Y. J. (2000), ‘Symmetric Tragedies: Commons and Anticommons’, Journal of Law and Economics, 43 (1): 113.
Cole, D. H., Epstein, G., and McGinnis, M. D. (2014), ‘Digging Deeper into Hardin's Pasture: The Complex Institutional Structure of “the Tragedy of the Commons”’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 10 (3): 353369.
Congleton, R. (2011), Perfecting Parliament: Constitutional Reform, Liberalism, and the Rise of Western Democracy, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Demsetz, H. (1964), ‘The Exchange and Enforcement of Property Rights’, Journal of Law and Economics, 7: 1126.
Demsetz, H. (1969), ‘Toward a Theory of Property Rights’, American Economic Review, 57 (2): 347359.
Demsetz, H. (1970), ‘The Private Production of Public Goods’, Journal of Law and Economics, 13: 293306.
Dourado, E. and Tabarrok, A. (2015), ‘Public Choice Perspectives on Intellectual Property’, Public Choice, 163: 129151.
Downes, L. (2009), The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces that Govern Life and Business in the Digital Age, New York: Basic Books.
Frey, B. S., Luthi, R., and Osterloh, M. (2011), ‘Community Enterprises-an Institutional Innovation’, CESifo Working Paper, 3428.
Frischmann, B. M., Madison, M., and Strandburg, K. J. (2014), Governing Knowledge Commons, New York: Oxford University Press.
Giles, J. (2005), ‘Special Report: Internet Encyclopaedias Go Head to Head’, Nature, 438: 900901.
Glott, R., Schmidt, P., and Ghosh, R. (2010), ‘Wikipedia Survey-Overview of Results, UNU-Merit Collaborative Creativity Group’, UNU-Merit, <>, last accessed January 1 2015.
Greenstein, S. and Zhu, F. (2012), ‘Is Wikipedia Biased?’, American Economic Review, 102 (3): 343348.
Hardin, G. (1968), ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science, 162: 12431248.
Hargreaves, I. (2011), ‘Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth’, United Kingdom Department for Business Innovation & Skills.
Hasty, R. T., Garvalosa, R. C., Barbato, V. A., Valdes, P. J., Powers, D. W., Hernandez, E., John, J. S., Suciu, G., Qureshi, F., Popa-Radu, M., Jose, S. S., Drexler, N., Patankar, R., Paz, J. R., King, C. W., Garber, H. N., Valladares, M. G., and Somji, A. A. (2014), ‘Wikipedia vs Peer-Reviewed Medical Literature for Information About the 10 Most Costly Medical Conditions’, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 114 (5): 468–373.
Hayek, F. A. (1973), Law, Legislation, and Liberty Volume 1: Rules and Order, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Heller, M. (1997), ‘The Tragedy of the Anticommons: Property in the Transition from Marx to Markets’, Harvard Law Review, 111 (3): 621688.
Heller, M. (2008), The Gridlock Economy: How too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives, New York: Basic Books.
Hess, C. and Ostrom, E. (2007a), ‘The Framework for Analyzing the Knowledge Commons’, in Hess, C. and Ostrom, E. (eds.), Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hess, C. and Ostrom, E. (2007b), ‘Introduction: An Overview of the Knowledge Commons’, in Hess, C. and Ostrom, E. (eds.), Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hoffman, D. A. and Mehra, S. (2010), ‘Wikitruth Through Wikiorder’, Emory Law Journal, 59 (1): 151.
Hume, D. (2012[1740]), A Treatise of Human Nature, 5th edition, Project Gutenberg. available at:
Johnson, E. E. (2012), ‘Intellectual Property and the Incentive Fallacy’, Florida State University Law Review, 39: 623679.
Kaletka, C. and Pelka, B. (2011), ‘Web 2.0 Revisited: User-Generated Content as a Social Innovation’, International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 5 (2–3): 264275.
Kelly, K. (1999), New Rules for the New Economy, New York: Penguin Books.
Kinsella, N. S. (2008), Against Intellectual Property, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Landes, W. M. and Posner, R. A. (2003), The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law, USA: Belknap Press.
Leeson, P. T. and Boettke, P. J. (2009), ‘Two-tiered Entrepreneurship and Economic Development’, International Review of Law and Economics, 29: 252259.
Lessig, L. (2004), Free Culture, USA: Penguin Publishing.
Li, D. D., Feng, J., and Jiang, H. (2006), ‘Institutional Entrepreneurs’, American Economic Review, 96 (2): 358362.
Martin, A. and Thomas, D. (2013), ‘Two-tiered Entrepreneurship and the Congressional Committee System’, Public Choice, 154: 2137.
McGinnis, M. D. ed. (1999), Polycentric Governance and Development: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Nordhaus, W. (1969), Invention, Growth and Welfare: A Theoretical Treatment of Technological Change, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Olson, M. (1965), The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Olson, M. (1993), ‘Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development’, American Political Science Review, 87 (3): 567576.
Ostrom, E. (1990), Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ostrom, E. (2010), ‘Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems’, American Economic Review, 100 (3): 641672.
Parks, R. B., Baker, P., Kiser, C., and Oakerson, L. L. (1981), ‘Consumers as Coproducers of Public Services: Some Economic and Institutional Considerations’, Policy Studies Journal, 9: 10011011.
Polborn, M. (2007), ‘Competing for Recognition Through Public Good Provision’, CESifo Working Paper, 1920.
Ransbotham, S., Kane, G. C., and Lurie, N. H. (2012), ‘Network Characteristics and the Value of Collaborative User-generated Content’, Marketing Science, 31 (3): 387405.
Raymond, E. S. (1999), The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, New York: O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Ridley, M. (2011), The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, New York: HarperCollins.
Safner, R. (2016), ‘The Perils of Copyright Regulation’, The Review of Austrian Economics, 29 (2): 121137
Schotter, A. (1981), The Economic Theory of Social Institutions, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Schweik, C. M. and English, R. C. (2012), Internet Success: A Study of Open-Source Software Commons, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Shirky, C. (2008), Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, New York: Penguin Books.
Stigler, G. J. (1971), ‘The Economic Theory of Regulation’, The Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science, 2 (1): 321.
Tapscott, D. and Williams, A. D. (2007), Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, USA: Portfolio.
Tullock, G. (2005), The Social Dilemma: Of Autocracy, Revolution, Coup d'etat, and War, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Wagner, R. E. (2013), ‘Public Finance Without Taxation: Free-riding as Institutional Artifact’, Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice, 30: 191202.
Wilson, D. S., Ostrom, E., and Cox, M. E. (2013), ‘Generalizing the Core Design Principles for the Efficacy of Groups’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 90 (Supplement): S21S23.
Wintrobe, R. (1990), ‘The Tinpot and the Totalitarian: An Economic Theory of Dictatorship’, American Political Science Review, 84 (3): 849872.
Zhang, X. and Zhu, F. (2011), ‘Group Size and Incentives to Contribute: A Natural Experiment at Chinese Wikipedia’, American Economic Review, 104 (4): 16011615.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Institutional entrepreneurship, wikipedia, and the opportunity of the commons

  • RYAN SAFNER (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.