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Intellectual Property Law's Plagiarism Fallacy

71 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2015 Last revised: 19 Jun 2016

Gregory N. Mandel

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Anne A. Fast

University of Washington-Department of Psychology

kristina olson

University of Washington - Dept of Psychology

Date Written: May 12, 2015


Intellectual property law is caught in a widespread debate over whether it should serve incentive or natural rights objectives, and what the best means for achieving those ends are. This article reports a series of experiments revealing that these debates are actually orthogonal to how most users and many creators understand intellectual property law. The most common perception of intellectual property among the American public is that intellectual property law is designed to prevent plagiarism.

The plagiarism fallacy in intellectual property law is not an innocuous misperception. This fallacy likely helps explain pervasive illegal infringing activity on the Internet, common dismissal of copyright warnings, and other previously puzzling behavior. The received wisdom has been that the public is ethically dismissive or indifferent towards intellectual property rights. This research reveals instead that experts have failed to comprehend what the public’s conception of intellectual property law actually is.

The studies reported here uncover several additional intellectual property law findings, including that: (1) the majority of the American public views intellectual property rights as too broad and too strong, (2) knowledge of intellectual property law does not affect opinions about what the law should be, and (3) there are significant demographic and cultural divides concerning intellectual property rights. The findings as a whole raise central questions concerning the public legitimacy of intellectual property law, and consequently its ability to function as intended.

Keywords: plagiarism, attribution, psychology, intellectual property, patent, copyright

Suggested Citation

Mandel, Gregory N. and Fast, Anne A. and olson, kristina, Intellectual Property Law's Plagiarism Fallacy (May 12, 2015). 2015 Brigham Young University Law Review 915 (2016); Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-22. Available at SSRN: or

Gregory Mandel (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
(215) 204-2381 (Phone)

Anne Fast

University of Washington-Department of Psychology ( email )

Guthrie Hall Box 351525
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

Kristina Olson

University of Washington - Dept of Psychology ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

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