Federal Internet Law & Policy
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Commons Property

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The concept of a commons is a particular notion of property that goes back to discussions of cattle grazing on public land, or commons, in England. In contrasting the commons with other types of property, common property has the characteristics of being publicly available where the users of the property cannot exclude other users, but their use is rivalrous. In this situation, the user of the common property captures a gain from the use of property that exceeds his cost, creating an incentive to continue or increase use the property until the property is depleted for all - creating what is known as the tragedy of the commons. [McFadden] In plain english, the cattle farmers will continue to permit their cattle to graze on the public commons until the land is overgrazed and no longer a valuable resource..

How Common Goods relate to other types of property:

  Excludable Non Excludable
Rivalrous Private Goods
ex: food, clothing, toys, furniture, cars
Common Goods
ex: water, fish, hunting game, Part 15 spectrum
Non Rivalrous Club Goods
Ex: Cable Television
Public Goods
Ex: National Defense, free-to-ari TV

Source: Wikipedia Common-Pool Resource

Common Pool Resources

Tragedy of the Commons

"The simple and compelling idea is that when each individual who wants to use a common resource captures a private gain that exceeds his or her portion of a shared cost, all individuals have an incentive to increase usage until the resource id depleted. One clear antidote to this situation is to privatize the commons, and indeed this was exactly the solution adopted in England for shared agricultural lands. But not all goods are amenable to privatization, particularly goods where it is impossible or very costly to exclude use by others. Ostrom clarifies that when exclusion is not feasible, two classes of non privatizable goods emerge: public goods (goods where one person's consumption does not decrease another's consumption) and common resource pools (goods where one person's consumption does decrease the availability to others)." [Sicker p 2-3]

1833: concept of "tragedy of commons" introduced by William Lloyd


  • 17th Century Cattle Grazing on public commons in England
  • Fish stock in international waters
  • Congestion on public highways
  • Part 15 Unlicensed spectrum
  • Public Private Borders

    Where there is a mixture of common and private property, the owner of the private property can exclude others only with proper notice. [Elk River Sec. 50-31]

    The purpose of these laws:

    The purpose of this section is to enable private owners of real property situated within the city, and to which the public has some implicit right of access, to exclude persons from that property where the person has committed a crime on the premises or violated the properly posted rules of conduct for the property.

    [Elk River Sec. 50-31(b)]

    Trespass: One who trespasses must knowingly go (or be) on to the property of another without permission. [enotes] [Olexa]

    There are two ways someone becomes a trespasser on private property:

    (1) being told to leave by one in lawful possession of the property and [Riverside Chpt 9.40.300(A)]

    (2) where posted notice informs the individual not to enter. [Riverside Chpt 9.40.300(A)] [Olexa]





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