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The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Spurs Innovation

The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Spurs Innovation

4.5 2
by Kal Raustiala

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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


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.

Raustiala and Sprigman carry their analysis from food to font design to football plays to finance, examining how and why each of these vibrant industries remains innovative even when imitation is common. There is an important thread that ties all these instances together—successful creative industries can evolve to the point where they become inoculated against—and even profit from—a world of free and easy copying. And there are important lessons here for copyright-focused industries, like music and film, that have struggled as digital technologies have made copying increasingly widespread and difficult to stop.

Raustiala and Sprigman's arguments have been making headlines in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Boston Globe, Le Monde, and at the Freakonomics blog, where they are regular contributors. By looking where few had looked before—at markets that fall outside normal IP law—The Knockoff Economy opens up fascinating creative worlds. And it demonstrates that not only is a great deal of innovation possible without intellectual property, but that intellectual property's absence is sometimes better for innovation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Raustiala and Sprigman have some good news: copying and creativity can co-exist. Using extensive industry case studies of fashion, fonts, jokes, recipes, and other sectors, they remind us that a coherent intellectual property policy inherently involves trading off protection and imitation. Let us hope that policymakers get the message and restore balance to our intellectual property system."

-Hal Varian, Chief Economist, Google

"Policymakers still-astonishingly-have a mistake at the core of their understanding of how innovation happens. This beautifully written and brilliant book by two of America's most creative thinkers corrects that mistake, and launches an incredibly important project to understand just how much law creativity requires."

-Lawrence Lessig, author of Remix and The Future of Ideas

"Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman have written a fascinating look at the surprising relationship between creating and copying. It's amazing to see the parallels across industries as diverse as cuisine, comedy and football."

-David Chang, Chef/Owner of Momofuku

"The Knockoff Economy is the most entertaining portent of doom I've read in a long time."

-Patton Oswalt, stand-up comedian and actor

"This book shines a powerful searchlight onto some neglected aspects of the intellectual property field, in the process revealing some fascinating insights that require us to rethink past assumptions about the incentives to create."

-David Nimmer, author of Nimmer on Copyright

Library Journal
The primary purpose of intellectual property law, especially copyright and patents, is to encourage the creators of intellectual property to continue to create and innovate. The temporary monopoly granted to artists and scientists is often assumed to be a primary engine of innovation. Additionally, much of the discussion about intellectual property issues has centered on, e.g., the movie, music, and publishing industries, which have traditionally relied on strong copyright. Here, Raustiala (law, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?: The Evolution of Territoriality in American Law) and Sprigman (Class of 1963 Research Professor, Univ. of Virginia Sch. of Law) consider creative industries that have never enjoyed strong intellectual property protection but that have, nevertheless, thrived. Fashion designers, stand-up comedians, chefs, bartenders, font designers, and football coaches all manage to innovate at a staggering pace even though the results of their labors are easily (and legally) "knocked off." The authors explore these industries, examining what motivates innovation and the role social norms play in reducing copying. They end with a persuasive look at how lessons from these traditionally low-intellectual property industries might be applied to high-intellectual property industries currently facing threats from piracy. VERDICT Interested general readers will be engaged by the brisk, accessible writing. Legal and political scholars will benefit from this fresh perspective. A worthy and important contribution to discussion about the future of copyright.—Rachel Bridgewater, Portland Community Coll. Lib., OR

Product Details

Oxford University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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Meet the Author

Kal Raustiala is Professor of Law at UCLA and the author of Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?

Christopher Sprigman is the Class of 1963 Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.

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The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Spurs Innovation 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent read if you're contemplating starting your own business to understand the mentality out there and perhaps avoid social moray and social media mistakes. The different types of businesses analyzed provide a working example for just about all audiences, making the material relatable. For example, if you're not a sports fan, then that chapter may pass right over your head, but you'll connect with the fashion section, etc. Though written by lawyers, it's a book about the theoretical process, not a book outlining the legalities of the system although it references the law to make several points. Terminology is nicely defined thus providing an introductory education and overview of how the system works. These fellas should do a sequel in which their focus is measuring and comparing both paid for and free PR tools from Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, etc. These forms of social media are also referenced but I bet they would make a fascinating study given the format used to analyze knockoff industries in our present day society.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
What do a pair of intellectual property lawyers have to say about the practice of “knocking off” or copying the creations of another person? Plenty, and, surprisingly, it is not all bad. Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman take readers through industries based on individual creativity, like fashion, food and comedy, to examine how they regulate copying. The authors report that the presence of imitators can encourage increased innovation. getAbstract finds this an interesting and entertaining read and recommends its memorable anecdotes to creative people who might want to share them with others – with the proper attribution, of course.