The Tragedy of the Anticommons: A Concise Introduction and Lexicon

20 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2013

See all articles by Michael Heller

Michael Heller

Columbia University - Columbia Law School

Date Written: January 2013


This article gives a concise introduction to the ‘tragedy of the anticommons.’ The anticommons thesis is simple: when too many people own pieces of one thing, nobody can use it. Usually, private ownership creates wealth. But too much ownership has the opposite effect – it leads to wasteful underuse. This is a free market paradox that shows up all across the global economy. If too many owners control a single resource, cooperation breaks down, wealth disappears, and everybody loses. Conceptually, underuse in an anticommons mirrors the familiar problem of overuse in a ‘tragedy of the commons.’ The field of anticommons studies is now well‐established. Over a thousand scholars have detailed examples from across the innovation frontier, including drug patenting, telecom licensing, climate change, compulsory land purchase, oil field unitisation, music and art copyright, and post‐socialist economic transition. Fixing anticommons tragedy is a key challenge for any legal system committed to innovation and economic growth.

Suggested Citation

Heller, Michael, The Tragedy of the Anticommons: A Concise Introduction and Lexicon (January 2013). The Modern Law Review, Vol. 76, Issue 1, pp. 6-25, 2013. Available at SSRN: or

Michael Heller (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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