The past five years have seen the rise of Platform Cooperativism, a movement aiming to create a new breed of platforms that are owned and governed by their users. I’ve been involved in this movement since its infancy. In the discussion groups of platform cooperativists, its relationship to open-source has been an important theme.
On one hand, it seemed obvious that platform cooperatives should be powered by open-source software. I myself wrote a blog post making this exact case back in 2017.
Different voices emerged, too. Nathan Schneider, one of the thought leaders of the movement, published a post in 2016 titled Platform Cooperativism as a Critique of Open-Source. In the post, he notes that the biggest benefactors of the open-source movement are large corporations like Google and IBM.
Some platform cooperatives have also decided to make their software source-available. CoopCycle, a software solution for creating bike delivery platforms, has licensed their code with a Copyleft license, which permits commercial use of their software only to cooperatives. An initiative called Co-op Source Foundation has developed a Co-op Source License to help other co-operatives transition to similar licensing schemes. Nathan Schneider points to CopyFair licenses, which “aim to subject commercialization of knowledge commons to some form of contribution to that commons”.
These licenses are, purposefully, not open-source according to the official definition. Schneider writes: “In capitalism, commons that don’t challenge capital will end up serving capital.”