Copyright's Cultural Turn

17 Pages Posted: 25 May 2013

See all articles by Anupam Chander

Anupam Chander

Georgetown University Law Center

Madhavi Sunder

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: May 22, 2013


How ironic that the scholarship on the area of law most directly regulating the culture industries has long resisted learning from scholarship on culture! Rather than turning to cultural studies, anthropology, geography, literary theory, science and technology studies, and media studies, over the last few decades, copyright scholars have relied largely on economics for methodology. In this review essay, we argue that Julie Cohen’s new book, Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice, is part of a cultural turn in intellectual property scholarship. Cohen’s book marks an important expansion of the tools available to analyze intellectual property.

In this paper, we contextualize her book through comparison with the reigning law and economics approach. We go further to highlight some aspects of a cultural analysis of copyright. We identify two central insights of the cultural turn in copyright: the relationship between cultural products and the self, and the relationship between culture and human development, which we characterize as the relationship between goods and a good life. Under Martha Nussbaum’s and Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, which Cohen embraces, intellectual property policy would be evaluated under a new metric, not simply increased products (in the form of patents, copyrighted works, or trademarked goods), or its contribution to the gross domestic product, but rather its role in enhancing human capabilities. A cultural approach to copyright would measure law’s success by its ability to better the lives of real people.

Keywords: intellectual property, copyright, Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, economic development, human capabilities, culture, science and technology studies, situatedness

Suggested Citation

Chander, Anupam and Sunder, Madhavi, Copyright's Cultural Turn (May 22, 2013). Texas Law Review, 2013, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 341, Available at SSRN:

Anupam Chander (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

Washington, DC


Madhavi Sunder

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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