Basch, Jennifer
April 2015
New York University Journal of Legislation & Public Policy;2015, Vol. 18 Issue 2, p431
Academic Journal
Intellectual-property law generally incentivizes the creation of new works by offering legal protections that limit the public's use of a particular work without the permission of its author for a period of time. Formal legal protections are not, however, the only means of enforcing ownership rights over creative works. In other areas where legal protections are minimal or even absent, certain groups have established informal rules that serve not only to protect intellectual property, but to promote innovation as well. Social norms are one of the informal systems that govern the relationship between creators and users. Adapting to community needs over time, social norms help establish specialized rules for intellectual-property protection. While the interplay between intellectual-property laws and social norms has been thoroughly examined, this Note explores whether the adaptability of social norms promotes greater innovation and idea-sharing than would exist under a purely formal legal system. Comparing the protections offered by social norms and copyright law, I argue that depending on the nature of the group setting where the norms develop, the adaptability of social norms may actually limit innovation. Beginning with the Copyright Act of 1976, this Note demonstrates the limited nature of traditional intellectual- property law, in contrast to the development of more robust social norms. Through an examination of the social norms governing the areas of stand-up comedy and open-source software, this Note argues that loose-knit groups, in which creative control is dispersed among many members, promote greater information-sharing and innovation than close-knit groups, in which control is hierarchical and centralized.


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