Review of 'Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice'

Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2010

UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 214

6 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2010

See all articles by Madhavi Sunder

Madhavi Sunder

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: March 31, 2010


Legal scholars of intellectual property ought to welcome increased interdisciplinary engagement with this area of law, from fields as diverse as anthropology and science and technology studies to philosophy. Each of these disciplines brings an important lens to contemporary intellectual property law, and challenges the dominance of the singular law and economic vision. Anthropology helps us to consider more deeply a central purpose of this law: the promotion of culture. Science and technology studies reveal that technology is not merely science, but also a social and political artifact. Philosophers attend to the moral questions raised by intellectual property. Such questions are legion today with the exponential growth of intellectual property to cover everything from medicines to seeds, and with the steady march of this law into every corner of the globe, including the poorest countries on Earth. Understanding intellectual property as the incentive-to-create reduces to the claim that the ability to pay, as evidenced in the marketplace, should determine the production and dissemination of knowledge and culture. Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice (Gosseries, et al. 2008) is a much-needed intervention into current debates over intellectual property and social justice, a topic once thought irrelevant to IP. The book considers the theoretical foundations of intellectual-property claims are these rights rooted in Lockean claims, or are they merely tools to promote innovation? The contributors to this volume ask whether IP law ought to attend to maldistribution of resources and wealth that flow from IP law, from pricing medicines out of the reach of the poor to the redistribution of wealth from the IP-consuming South to the IP-producing North. Perhaps most importantly, the book is focused on plural values, for example, not just efficiency or equality, but also freedom. As Axel Gosseries writes in the Introduction, Not having enough money to buy non-generic drugs clearly raises problems of both equality and freedom. Gosseries argues that while efficiency concerns are important, they are not the end of the matter. They need to be plugged into theories of justice. Scholars in this volume consider not only the relevance of Locke and Nozick for understanding intellectual-property rights (some argue they are less relevant than many think), but also of Rawls and G. A. Cohen.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, philosophy, economics, John Locke, John Rawls, social justice

Suggested Citation

Sunder, Madhavi, Review of 'Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice' (March 31, 2010). Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2010, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 214, Available at SSRN:

Madhavi Sunder (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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