Discussion on the Need for Social and Cultural Theory

An exciting discussion is taking place this week at the University of Chicago Law School BlogBeyond Economic Analysis of Intellectual Property: The Need For Social and Cultural Theory?” many of the same issues that occur in the intersection between commerce and heritage in the antiquities or art trade also exist when other intellectual property is bought and sold or subjected to legal regulation. The conversation began with a post by Hadhavi Sunder, who makes some excellent arguments that Intellectual Property needs to move beyond its traditional economic justifications.

Over the course of the last century intellectual property has grown exponentially, but its march into all corners of our lives and to the most destitute corners of the world has paradoxically exposed the fragility of its economic foundations while amplifying its social and cultural effects. Today intellectual property laws bear considerably upon central features of human flourishing, from the developing world’s access to food, textbooks, and essential medicines, to the ability of citizens everywhere to democratically participate in political and cultural discourse.


Despite these real world changes, intellectual property scholars insist on explaining this field through the narrow lens of a particular economic vision.Intellectual property is understood solely as a tool to solve an economic “public goods” problem: nonrivalrous and nonexcludable goods such as music and scientific knowledge will be too easy to copy and share—thus wiping out any incentive to create them in the first place—without a monopoly right in the creations for a limited period of time.

These are some heady concepts, and I think these are some excellent ideas. I’ve tried to construct the argument elsewhere that in the context of antiquities we need to value the broader cultural value of antiquities in constructing and formulating heritage policy.

Other posts in the series this week include:


Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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