Four Hypotheses on Intellectual Property and Inequality

Four Hypotheses on Intellectual Property and Inequality

I will suggest that existing IP regimes can be understood as not merely reflecting high levels of inequality within and between nations, but also amplifying these trends. First, there is reason to think that the informational sector exhibits strong returns to scale, a tendency intensified by pressures to consolidate created by IP as a mode of legal regulation. Second, information (which is rendered a particular kind of resource by IP law) is also “scalar,” as that term is used in the business literature. Third, although in theory IP as a mode of property is available to all, IP regimes as currently configured in fact make IP a mode of power that is particularly inaccessible to those with few resources.
Lastly, I will suggest that IP is also a promising domain for distributive politics. Some of the very aspects – its globalized nature, and relative dissociation from material constraints – that make IP an accelerant of inequality under contemporary conditions could be leveraged to opposite effect. This is of particular importance on the global scale, where more general tax and transfer schemes do not exist. Indeed, one way to understand the recent evidence of modest decreases in global interpersonal inequality is through the lens of IP. That trend, if it is indeed a trend, is almost entirely due to growth in China and India – two countries that, not by chance, have in law and fact adapted their IP regimes to look quite different from those of the North, in an attempt to explicitly promote transfer of technology and local growth, and in some cases to directly protect values such as health. If we are interested in politically plausible measure to affect distribution, IP may be an important domain of action.

Amy Kapczynksi

Working Paper Prepared for the SELA conference

June 2015

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