Further on Intellectual Property

By skepticlawyer

Regular commenter Lorenzo has written a very thought-provoking post on intellectual property, which I highly recommend. I looked over it and made a few lawyerly comments… for which he has provided me with far too much credit 😉

The take-home (and very thoughtful) piece of analysis? (Lorenzo is a specialist on the role and activities of the medieval knightly class). Try this on for size:

Indeed, sumptuary laws provide a revealing example, because medieval sumptuary laws performed much the same role as modern laws against “identity theft” do: they were to stop people passing themselves off as something they were not. In a society with limited literacy and very strong social role dynamics, this mattered. They acted as genuinely informative “social trademarks”. But they were also transitional. Earlier, the knightly class (in the broad sense) so dominated the economy that mere merchants would not be able to afford the “wrong” clothing. Once merchants began to become wealthy, the laws were needed, since the merchants could afford as good, or better, clothing than the knights and the nobility. As the commercial revolution took hold, literacy spread and the state became much more important in providing public order, sumptuary laws became (where they persisted) an inappropriate holdover propping up a structure of privilege which had lost connection with social functioning.

Remind folk of anything we discussed above?

What some interests would like to get away with in IP is well beyond what current technology supports: a trend that is likely to get worse rather than better. IP law and practice needs to work with who actually has control of what and what boundaries are sustainable because of real enforcement capacity given the balance of benefits and people’s sense of fair boundaries.

As they say, read the whole thing.


  1. Posted February 14, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks muchly for the plug 🙂

  2. Posted February 14, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I’m going to read Lorenzo’s post tomorrow because I’m curious about the sumptuary law analogy.

    In England anyway, these laws were ignored mostly. In fact I recall that the nobility were at one point going to eschew the nomenclature of ‘gentleman’ because any male with reasonably good manners tended to call themselves as that.

    As it should be. I mean who is more the gentleman? Will Shakespeare or Sir Robert Dudley?

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