Peer Production License

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The Peer Production License (PPL) is a license that allows essentially anti-capitalist and non labor-exploitative organizations such as coops, associations, etc access to PPL-licensed cultural resources as a commons. It balances full Copyleft (a la GPL License, normally used in software) and the restrictions placed by Creative Commons Non Commercial Licenses (BY-NC).

PPL-licensed work can be monetized as long as:

  1. You are a worker-owned business or worker-owned collective; and
  2. all financial gain, surplus, profits and benefits produced by the business or collective are distributed among the worker-owners
  3. Any use by a business that is privately owned and managed, and that seeks to generate profit from the labor of employees paid by salary or other wages, is not permitted under this license.

This means that worker-owned coops can practice economic solidarity by permissionlessly allowing other coops to benefit from resources, while capitalists and corporation have to pay license fees for the resources.

The license was originally authored by Dmytri Kleiner and John Magyar as part of the 'Telekommunist Manifesto' (which contains the full Peer Production License text).

Here's a definition from Beautiful Solutions:

How can we ensure that the commons doesn’t just become free research and development for private parties? The Peer Production License (PPL), proposed by “venture communist” Dmytri Kleiner, is a reciprocity-based license by which commons are freely accessible to those who contribute to create them, while entities profiting from these commons without contributing are charged license fees. It helps protect digital, natural and biological resources such as software, seeds, plants and ancestral knowledge against the danger of privatization, while enabling their wider use. When paired with open-source producer cooperative models, the PPL can resist extractive global supply chains by supporting a reciprocal economy based on local industry and sustainable community sourcing, using open hardware designs and combined know-how.

All of's and Guerrilla Media Collective's productive output is licensed under the PPL]. is currently designing DisCO-specific licenses based on the PPL, including a Non-Cultural Appropriation License.



This version of the Peer Production License: a model for Copyfarleft was copied from the text "The Telekommunist Manifesto".

Created by John Magyar, B.A., J.D. and Dmytri Kleiner, the following Peer Production License, a model for a Copyfarleft license, has been derived from the Creative Commons ‘Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike’ license available at

Please add an entry for the PPL to




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Practical Usage

Guerrilla Translation adopted the Peer Production License for their translation of David Bollier's book Think Like a Commoner. Their reasoning is explained in the following article:

The PPL and Open Cooperativism

"The campaign incorporates one of the ideas we promote at the P2P Foundation: interweaving the use of free/open digital knowledge commons with a manufacturing system grounded in the locations where the designs drawn from these commons will finally be materialised.

The ultimate goal is to enable mechanisms so commoners can support themselves and ensure their own social reproduction without resorting to capitalism.

This ideal, Open Cooperativism, has an essential element – commons oriented reciprocity licensing – to protect economic circulation within the commons and defend it against predatory or hostile interests. These licenses, grouped under the concept of CopyFair, present a host of complexities. Resolving these will require rigorous research and development. But the good news is that we already have a first example of a valid and functional CopyFair license: the Peer Production License."

Simple Definition and the PPL as a Transvestment Stategy

This fork on the original text of the Creative Commons non-commercial variant makes the PPL an explicitly anti-capitalist version of the CC-NC. It only allows commercial exploitation by collectives in which the ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the value creators, and where any surplus is distributed equally among them (and not only into the hands of owners, shareholders or absentee speculators). According to Dmytri Kleiner, co-author of the license with the barrister John Magyar, it’s not a copyleft license, but instead copyFARleft. Kleiner explains the need to open the commercial restrictions defining CC-NC as follows:

What we mean here is that the creative “commons” is privatized because the copyright is retained by the author, and only (in most cases) offered to the community under non-commercial terms. The original author has special rights while commons users have limited rights, specifically limited in such a way as to eliminate any possibility for them to make a living by employing this work. Thus these are not commons works, but rather private works. Only the original author has the right to employ the work commercially.

All previous conceptions of an intellectual or cultural commons, including anti-copyright and pre-copyright culture as well as the principles of free software movement were predicated on the concept of not allowing special rights for an original author, but rather insisting on the right for all to use and reuse in common. The non-commercial licenses represent a privatization of the idea of the commons and a reintroduction of the concept of a uniquely original artist with special private rights.

Further, as I consider all expressions to be extensions of previous perceptions, the “original” ideas that rights are being claimed on in this way are not original, but rather appropriated by the rights-claimed made by creative-commons licensers. More than just privatizing the concept and composition of the modern cultural commons, by asserting a unique author, the creative commons colonizes our common culture by asserting unique authorship over a growing body of works, actually expanding the scope of private culture rather than commons culture.

It is important to note that the PPL is primarily designed to liberate cultural or consumer goods or products, and to offer more choices to content creators or artists presently using Creative Commons non-commercial options. But Kleiner does not recommend the PPL for productive or capital assets. The latter should be licensed with copyleft (GPL, AGPL, etc.), allowing large corporations and capitalist consortia to exploit these commons to their benefit. What is this all about?

To understand the distinction, it is important to grasp the concept of “exvestment” (wordplay on “investment”). Kleiner explains it as follows:

[Exvestment occurs…] when a company spends money to improve Linux because that company makes money running a social networking site, that company benefits from such expenditure, however it is exvestment not investment, because the capitalist class as a whole does not benefit since this reduces the market for commercial software by improving free alternatives and makes such means of production available to non-capitalist producers as well. This is why I think we need to be careful when we apply the PPL (or similar) to software, because I think to maximize transvestment [the transfer of value from one mode of production to another] in the direction of commons-based production we need to keep Department I goods (Capital Goods or Producers’ Goods) free for capitalists so they can exvest in them, while keeping Department II (Consumer goods or commodities) goods non-free for them.

We think of the Peer Production License as a viable alternative for artists, musicians and content creators. Here’s one well-known example: Yahoo, the company which owns Flickr, decided to sell images that its users licensed under Creative Commons, which allows commercial exploitation (CC-BY). This large corporation is enriched by the works of content creators who get nothing in return. In fact, the creators cannot do anything: they have licensed their work with a free license which does not distinguish who the benefactor is, whether it’s Yahoo or a small cooperative that manufactures handmade books. Copyleft licenses do not discriminate or make distinctions between the economic bases of those who exploit these works. PPL, however, does; in fact, it is their raison d’etre.

Is it the perfect license? Of course not; in fact, I think there has never been and never will be a “perfect license”, although in the future licenses may be developed with more complexity or dynamic adaptability. The PPL is not without criticism or suggestions for improvement, but, probably due to that same complexity, no other viable alternative exists as of now – although there are some in early stages of development.

Examples: Directory of Adopters


See the P2P Foundation's Wiki entry on the Peer Production License for circa 2011-2015 discussion of the PPL.

Advantages and Drawbacks

* Article: Between copyleft and copyfarleft: advance reciprocity for the commons. By Miguel Said Vieira & Primavera De Filippi. Journal of Peer Production, Issue #4: Value and currency


Free culture licenses had as their most relevant predecessor the GPL (GNU General Public License), a free software license which makes no distinction regarding commercial and noncommercial usages. This distinction first appeared in some Creative Commons licenses, with the introduction of the noncommercial clause which only allows unauthorized use for noncommercial exploitation. While these licenses are widely used, there has been a large debate regarding what exactly constitutes a commercial use, and whether the noncommercial clause is indeed likely to ultimately benefit the knowledge commons.

The copyfarleft licensing scheme proposed by Dmytri Kleiner (2007)1 stipulates similar restrictions to the noncommercial copyleft model, but provides additional conditions on the kind of usages which are effectively permitted under the license. Specifically, while all noncommercial usages are allowed (subject to the restrictions imposed by the copyleft clause), the copyfarleft model distinguish between commercial usages enacted by worker-owned collectives, cooperatives, or any other institution where profits are distributed (equally) amongst all workers, and those enacted by commercial entities or corporations whose businesses are exclusively based on the exploitation of wage labour. While the former kind of commercial exploitation is generally allowed under the copyfarleft licensing scheme (as opposed to what is usually the case in noncommercial licenses), the latter kinds remain prohibited – although they can still be negotiated outside the scope of the license.

This licensing scheme lies, thus, somewhere between a standard copyleft license (as in a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA) and a noncommercial copyleft license (as in a CC-BY-NC-SA). The reason underlying this choice is that, while, on the one hand, a standard copyleft license allows corporate entities to exploit and profit from the labour employed in building the commons, without having to give back to them –something which Kleiner points out as highly problematic, and particularly so outside of the realm of software production–2 on the other hand, a noncommercial license precludes even commons-based producers (such as many of the workers-owned enterprises) from commercially exploiting a work (and as Kleiner argues, this can also be counterproductive for the transformative potential of these licenses).


By breaching the gap between standard copyleft and noncommercial copyleft regimes, the copyfarleft model allows for certain commercial exploitations of the licensed works those that could help sustain creators and foster a decentralized “ecosystem” of self-organized, commons-based producers which own their means of production. At the same time, the copyfarleft model precludes free-riding by any commercial entity that operates based on the exploitation of wage labour. Yet, the model does not discriminate against commercial activity per se: as in much of the free software world, it considers commerce an important element for the long-term viability of commons-based production. What it does go against is the exploitation of wage labour by those who own the capital and means of production. Indeed, concentrated ownership is regarded by Kleiner as one of the pillars for the fundamental inequality that characterizes existing capitalism: “Where property is sovereign, the owners of scarce property can deny life by denying access to property, or if not outright deny life, then make the living work like slaves for no pay beyond their reproduction costs”. This model seems, to us, an interesting alternative to the deadlocks that debates on commercial vs. noncommercial licenses frequently lead to. It also expands the opportunities for workers to subsist through self-organization, with less dependency on wage labour from corporate entities, and thus reducing the ability of these corporations to co-opt and/or influence commons-based production.3 Yet, the copyfarleft licensing model is not devoid of any drawbacks, some of which will be analysed below.


This section will explore the link between (de)commodification and copyfarleft licenses, by analyzing some of the critiques they have been subject to, such as: the risk of actually hampering the commons because of the discretionary exclusion of corporate entities (Rhodes, Bauwens), the fact that existing successful commons-based projects do not present this kind of exclusion criteria (Toner), and, finally, the excessive focus on ownership rather than on production structures (Meretz).

1. Rhodes, Bauwens

Stan Rhodes, founder of the Peer Trust Network Project,4 has two main criticisms of copyfarleft.5 The first he sees as its failure of principle: copyfarleft excludes particular businesses’ use of inherently non-rival goods, and that goes against the wider public good, regardless of the intentions underlying the exclusion. According to Rhodes this can be contrasted to copyleft, which seeks to restore and maintain nonrivalry for all creative works. In other words, the copyleft clause is there to guarantee that everything descended from the commons is and remains free for anyone to use and reuse. His second criticism of copyfarleft is on the grounds of practical adoption: copyleft’s barrier to entry is low for all uses and users of the good, whereas copyfarleft’s barrier to entry is low for some, and high for others. This difference makes copyleft generally preferable, particularly for any artists who cannot rule out the possibility of businesses paying them in the future. While copyleft guarantees their free access to their work and all derivatives no matter their use, copyfarleft does not. Thus, regardless of any political principles, it would seem the safer bet. Rhodes generalizes copyfarleft’s two difficulties to any regime that seeks to exclude any entity from using nonrival goods, regardless of the reasons behind the exclusion.6 Michel Bauwens, founder of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives,7 seconds these concerns. Yet, Bauwens’ critique of Kleiner’s position is admittedly paradoxical: while he disagrees with the radical anti-capitalist perspective of Kleiner’s licensing scheme and believes that the premises and analysis upon which it is based are mistaken, Bauwens nonetheless endorses the Peer Production License itself, claiming that the copyfarleft model is a plausible tool to advance commons-based peer production as a new mode of production (Bauwens, 2012).

2. Toner

While appreciating the spirit of the shift from a “non-commercial” to a “non-alienation” clause, Alan Toner (2007), intellectual property and communications researcher, expressed serious doubts on the practical operability of this clause. It is already difficult to assess whether a particular exploitation should be regarded as being commercial or non-commercial, it might be even harder to determine objectively whether or not any given actor or institution is guilty of exploiting wage labour. Moreover, Toner sees Kleiner’s approach as prioritizing the articulation of an ideological project over the construction of tools that could make it happen. While he concedes that both are important (and mutually constitutive) aspects in political struggles regarding access to knowledge, for instance, he also points out that some of the most successful copyleft initiatives (such as GNU/Linux, Wikipedia, etc) went the opposite way, prioritizing the creation of “functioning economic resources for their users”, while “limiting the political dimension to that which is directly pertinent to that field of activity” (Toner, 2007). Because of that, Toner believes that the copyfarleft movement, in spite of its preliminary appeal, might be unlikely to mobilize a sufficient amount of people for it to be actually effective.

3. Meretz

Stefan Meretz, a German commons advocate affiliated with the Oekonux group,8 has written a thoughtful critique to Kleiner’s approach which deserves being taken into account (Meretz, 2008). It constitutes an interesting counterpart to Rhodes’ and Toner’s critique, as it comes from an almost opposite side of the discussion’s spectrum. Kleiner (2010) considers that property –as in private property– is theft because property owners can extract rent from the labor of propertyless workers. He claims that rent should only be extracted by workers applying their own labor to the benefit of their community. The fruit of such labor can be used by other workers who are themselves part of the commons, but not by property owners who use wage labor. Thus Kleiner criticizes the copyleft approach on the grounds that it is not concerned with “ownership” but only with regulating the “usage” of property. Copyfarleft tries to go one step further, by encouraging a change in the ownership structure. This is done by creating a distinction between a commons based economy (more precisely, a collective ownership-based economy, which is allowed to commercially exploit the commons) and a wage labour based one (which is precluded to do so).

Stefan Meretz criticizes the radical copyleft model proposed by Kleiner as being simplistic and in general incorrect, based on categories from David Ricardo that, Meretz argues, have been superseded by Marx’s analysis. The main criticism presented by Meretz is that Kleiner focuses too much in the aspects of ownership (particularly of the means of production) and circulation, while considering production itself to be a neutral sphere. Indeed, his criticism of property as “theft” only refers to the “rent”9 extracted by commercial companies exploiting wage labor, but not to sale of the commodities on the market. For Meretz, the reappropriation of the means of production is, of course, a necessary step to promote a more equal distribution of wealth. Yet, it will only succeed in transforming society to the extent that it also involves a change in the mode of production, to go beyond the logic of exploitation and exchange; without this additional transformation, worker-owned collectives tend to succumb to external pressures and end up behaving quite similarly to wage-labour based companies.10

Finally, an additional limitation we identify in the copyfarleft model is that, while it attempts to deal with the power inequality between corporate and workers-owned entities (by fostering self-organization through the latter), it does not tackle another important issue: the fact that many of those corporate entities that use works from the commons might not be contributing to these commons, even though they are capable of doing so. This is an important aspect for the long-term provisioning and sustainability of the commons, which we tried to address more specifically in our proposal to extend or improve the copyfarleft model elaborated by Dmytri Kleiner."

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