Copyright and Inequality

52 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2014 Last revised: 11 Dec 2014

See all articles by Lea Shaver

Lea Shaver

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: September 9, 2014


The standard theory of copyright law imagines a marketplace efficiently serving up new works to an undifferentiated world of consumers. Yet the reality is that all consumers are not equal. Class and culture combine to explain who wins, and who loses, from copyright protection. Along the dimension of class, the inequality insight reminds us just because new works are created does not mean that most people can afford them, and calls for new attention to problems of affordability. Copyright protection inflates the price of books, with implications for distributive justice, democratic culture, and economic efficiency. Along the dimension of culture, the inequality insight points out that it is not enough for copyright theory to speak generally of new works; it matters crucially what languages those works are being created in. Copyright protection is likely to be an ineffective incentive system for the production of works in “neglected languages” spoken predominantly by poor people. This Article highlights and explores these relationships between copyright and social inequality, offering a new perspective on what is at stake in debates over copyright reform.

Keywords: copyright, neglected languages, publishing, inequality

Suggested Citation

Shaver, Lea Bishop, Copyright and Inequality (September 9, 2014). Lea Shaver, 92 Washington University Law Review 117 (2014), Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2014-3, Available at SSRN: or

Lea Bishop Shaver (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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