July 22, 2012

Review - The Knockoff Economy (Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman)

From the shopping mall to the corner bistro, knockoffs are everywhere in today's marketplace. Conventional wisdom holds that copying kills creativity, and that laws that protect against copies are essential to innovation--and economic success. But are copyrights and patents always necessary? In The Knockoff Economy, Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman provocatively argue that creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive.
The Knockoff Economy approaches the question of incentives and innovation in a wholly new way--by exploring creative fields where copying is generally legal, such as fashion, food, and even professional football. By uncovering these important but rarely studied industries, Raustiala and Sprigman reveal a nuanced and fascinating relationship between imitation and innovation. In some creative fields, copying is kept in check through informal industry norms enforced by private sanctions. In others, the freedom to copy actually promotes creativity. High fashion gave rise to the very term "knockoff," yet the freedom to imitate great designs only makes the fashion cycle run faster--and forces the fashion industry to be even more creative.

On first look The Knockoff Economy by Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman seems to deal with many an economist's favorite topic - the omnipresent cheap imitations of goods in today's global market. On second look the authors present so much more which was not only a pleasant surprise, but also a wildly fascinating, well researched and engagingly written journey through the wide world of patents, trademarks and copyright.
Did you know that a painting of a molten chocolate cake is protected by copyright, yet the molten cake itself (aka the recipe) cannot be protected? Many people seem to have a rather blurred image of what can or cannot be protected and while I know a thing or two about Intellectual Property myself, I also learned quite a few new and often surprising facts here.
Yet the actual emphasis of this book is on the relation between imitation and innovation. The obvious question would be, who is going to create if others are free to take your idea? After all one should think that imitation would rather curb than spur innovation, yet the effects of copying on creativity cannot be as simple deduced as the different examples the authors present prove. Besides, where there are no laws protecting your idea, society's norm system often includes informal but powerful punishments. And there goes the comedian's reputation if he dares stealing someone else's joke.
In short: Absorbing and insightful trip into the world of Intellectual Property!

4/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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