Alternative IP Regimes

Part of what I am examining in the boat book, which is still tentatively titled Genius Loci, is alternative intellectual property regimes than the ones that dominate the headlines these days. (Please note that the contents of this website are in fact “copyrighted” under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.) In turns out that others are working in very similar territories … and those others are law professors: two law profs from the University of Virginia law school have just published a paper on “Intellectual Property Norms in Stand-Up Comedy”. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

In this paper, which will appear as a chapter of a forthcoming book from the Univ. of Chicago Press, “The Making and Unmaking of Intellectual Property,” we analyze how stand-up comedians protect their jokes using a system of social norms. Intellectual property law has never protected comedians effectively against theft. Initially, jokes were virtually in the public domain, and comedians invested little in creating new ones. In the last half century, however, comedians have developed a system of IP norms. This system serves as a stand-in for formal law. It regulates issues such as authorship, ownership, transfer of rights, exceptions to informal ownership claims and the imposition of sanctions on norms violators. Under the norms system, the level of investment in original material has increased substantially. We detail these norms, which often diverge from copyright law’s defaults. Our description is based on interviews with comedians, snippets of which we include throughout the paper.

The paper is available for download from SSRN.

(Humanists: please note that the abstract has its own URL: We’ve got to get with the program!)

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