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Unpublished Paper
Copyright and Inequality
ExpressO (2014)
  • Lea Shaver

The prevailing theory of copyright law imagines a marketplace efficiently serving up new works to an undifferentiated world of consumers. Yet the reality is that all consumers are not equal. The majority of the world’s people experience copyright law not as a boon to consumer choice, but as a barrier to acquiring knowledge and taking part in cultural life. The resulting patterns of privilege and disadvantage, moreover, reinforce and perpetuate preexisting social divides. Class and culture combine to explain who wins, and who loses, from copyright protection. Along the dimension of class, the insight is that just because new works are created does not mean that most people can afford them. Copyright protection inflates the price of cultural works, with implications for cultural participation and distributive justice, as well as economic efficiency. Along the dimension of culture, the insight is that is not enough for copyright theory to speak generally of new works; it matters crucially what language those works are created in. Copyright is likely to be an ineffective incentive system for the production of works in “neglected languages” – those spoken predominantly by poor people. This article highlights and explores these relationships between copyright and social inequality, offering a new perspective on what is at stake in debates over copyright reform on issues ranging from fair use to fashion and everything in between.

  • copyright,
  • language,
  • translation,
  • class,
  • culture,
  • books,
  • education,
  • exceptions and limitations,
  • inequality
Publication Date
February 7, 2014
Citation Information
Lea Shaver. "Copyright and Inequality" ExpressO (2014)
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