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The Sage handbook of intellectual property…
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The Sage handbook of intellectual property

by Matthew David

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The book begins with the copyright negotiations required to publish the collection, in which the largely low-restrictionist contributors struggled with the publisher’s desire to own everything. The editors give a brief history of intellectual property law, tying intellectual property to larger questions of international politics, for example the role of patent-owning cartels in spurring militarism before World War II. Another way the authors situate intellectual property is as an input into physical goods: I very much liked their framing of the point that cheap goods can be made in low-wage countries, but can only continue to command monopoly prices if they can still be made subject to intellectual property rights. This helps explain why large corporations have shifted so much towards Frozen DVDs and away from socks. These very dynamics also create incentives for “piracy,” and then demands for heightened legal protection. I also enjoyed the description of the US as “a former poacher most avidly turned gamekeeper” in its insistence that other countries adopt strong IP regimes even though, at comparable points in US economic development, we deliberately didn’t.

There are a number of chapters, mostly about copyright and secondarily about patent/related rights; very little specific to trademark. Debora Halbert’s separate chapter on globalization addresses the ways in which intellectual property is used in discourses of national competitiveness, cultural preservation, and commercial exploitation—often competing concepts that are corralled into submission with the idea of “intellectual property.” The chapter tries to make more salient the range of actors who work alongside and against nation-states to shape IP policy. Most Americans don’t agree with their government’s positions about IP in its trade negotiations, and the reasons for that deserve our attention.

Anne Barron’s chapter on copyright re-introduced me to the totalizing aspirations of the US 1995 White Paper advocating for giving copyright owners total control over the internet. I didn’t remember the White Paper’s metaphor for digital rights management—digitally “tattooing” works with rights management information, which evokes all kinds of thoughts for me now, including a reminder of the Jewish ban on tattooing. Barron, critiquing the libertarianism of standard internet freedom discourse, also warns about “openness” and Creative Commons licenses exploited by intermediaries that mean nobody makes money but Facebook and Google.

Rosemary Coombe, Sarah Ives, and Daniel Huizenga write about the risks and potential benefits of greater IP protection for geographical indications of origin. While GIs have been promoted as benefiting local, poorer groups, empirical experience suggests that more powerful groups can quickly turn GIs to the ends of reinforcing existing hierarchies, as when the management of cassis in southern France limited the number of eligible producers, prevented tenants who actually grew the grapes from benefiting from the GI, and using the GI to prevent the creation of cooperatives of smaller producers. In a story that reminded me of criticisms of US government “takings” for economic development, they told the story of Peruvian ceramics marked as “Chulucanas,” which were taken over by government regulation that promoted economies of scale and damaged the social relationships that previously sustained egalitarian communities of producers, “while driving down prices and increasing competitive relations of mistrust and alienation.” Likewise, regulations of mezcal that required it to be grown in a particular region “created purely industrial opportunities for people with no tradition of cultivation,” while many traditional mezcals failed to meet the required definition, which was based on the chemical properties of tequila; this meant that crop diversity went down. Where indigenous peoples have local political power, however, they may be able to use GIs effectively.

Natasha Whiteman’s chapter about the rhetorical construction of (un)ethical audiences in scholarship about file sharing was also interesting. I particularly liked her comparison of the problems of “the audience” over history—in the nineteenth century, for example, rowdy theatergoers caused trouble and had to be instructed by society and by the design of theaters (including lights that could be lowered) on how to behave. Even in the seventeenth century, Britain’s Restoration government feared that people who attended public sermons would rise up against the state. By the twentieth century, moral corruption and passivity—rather than activity—were what cultural critics feared; now we have a bit of both, with our slothful and thieving “pirates” of filesharing. ( )
  rivkat | Nov 18, 2015 |
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