Fictitious Commodities: A Theory of Intellectual Property Inspired by Karl Polanyi's 'Great Transformation'

52 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2019

See all articles by Alexander Peukert

Alexander Peukert

Goethe University Frankfurt - Faculty of Law; Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders

Date Written: July 2, 2019


The puzzle this Article addresses is this: how can it be explained that intellectual property (IP) laws and IP rights (IPRs) have continuously grown in number and expanded in scope, territorial reach, and duration, while at the same time have been contested, much more so than other branches of property law? This Article offers an explanation for this peculiar dynamic by applying insights and concepts of Karl Polanyi’s book “The Great Transformation” to IP. It reconstructs and then applies core Polanyian concepts of commodification (infra, II), fictitious commodities (infra, III), and countermovements (infra, IV) to the three main areas of IP, namely copyrights, patents, and trademarks, as they have evolved and are currently regulated in international and selected national laws. The analysis reveals that the history of IP can be told in terms of Polanyi’s famous “double movement”: efforts to commodify virtually every reproducible input/output face equally persistent opposition, which points out the disruption that IPRs inflict upon communication and competition. Whereas IPRs dis-embed informational artifacts from the uninterrupted flow of societal exchange and subject them to prior authorization requirements, IP countermovements call for their re-embedding, i.e. their usability irrespective of authorization. From a normative perspective, a Polanyian perspective on IP suggests that IP law and policy should ensure that market-based transactions coexist with non-market modes of accessing and sharing information so that authors, inventors, and other entrepreneurs have as many options as possible.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, Polanyi, commodities, commodification, counter-movements

Suggested Citation

Peukert, Alexander, Fictitious Commodities: A Theory of Intellectual Property Inspired by Karl Polanyi's 'Great Transformation' (July 2, 2019). 29 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 1151 (2019). Available at SSRN:

Alexander Peukert (Contact Author)

Goethe University Frankfurt - Faculty of Law ( email )


Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders


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