Imaginary Bottles

11 Pages Posted: 9 May 2019 Last revised: 6 Dec 2019

See all articles by Jessica Litman

Jessica Litman

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: March 10, 2019


This essay, written for a symposium commemorating John Perry Barlow, who died on February 7, 2018, revisits Barlow's 1994 essay for WIRED magazine, "The Economy of Ideas: A Framework for patents and copyrights in the Digital Age (everything you know about intellectual property is wrong)." Barlow observed that networked digital technology posed massive and fundamental challenges for the markets for what Barlow termed “the work we do with our minds” and for the intellectual property laws designed to shape those markets. He predicted that those challenges would melt extant intellectual property systems into a smoking heap within a decade, and mused about what we should design to replace it. That collapse didn't happen, or, at least, it didn’t happen in that way or in that time frame. Most of what was idiotic and counterproductive about the ways that copyright law worked in 1994 is still idiotic and counterproductive in 2019. In this essay, I look at what happened instead, and ask whether the transformation Barlow predicted might yet occur in the near future.

Suggested Citation

Litman, Jessica, Imaginary Bottles (March 10, 2019). 18 Duke Law & Technology Review 130 (2019); U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 650. Available at SSRN:

Jessica Litman (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States


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