Intrinsic Adherence to Law: Physical versus Intellectual Property

39 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2020

Date Written: June 10, 2020


Infringement of intellectual property seems to be much more common than infringement of physical property. Intellectual property rights protect goods that are non-rival in consumption, while physical property rights protect rival goods. Non-rivalry implies that the owner suffers no direct harm from infringement. This could explain lower respect for property rights in non-rival goods. To test this hypothesis, we isolate the dimension of rivalry in an experiment. We develop a theft game that offers plausible deniability and minimizes experimenter demand for theft. We find no evidence, neither in behavior nor in social norms, that participants' respect for non-rival goods is lower than for rival goods. To determine whether this indicates absence of evidence or evidence of absence, we use Bayesian factor analysis. The analysis demonstrates evidence of absence. These findings suggest that widespread infringement of intellectual property cannot be explained by its non-rival nature.

Keywords: intellectual property, property, intrinsic motivation, piracy

JEL Classification: C91, K11, K14, O34

Suggested Citation

Bechtold, Stefan and Gertsch, Gabriel and Schonger, Martin, Intrinsic Adherence to Law: Physical versus Intellectual Property (June 10, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Stefan Bechtold (Contact Author)

ETH Zürich ( email )

IFW E 47.2
Zurich, 8092
+41-44-632-2670 (Phone)


Gabriel Gertsch

ETH Zürich ( email )

Zürichbergstrasse 18
8092 Zurich, CH-1015

Martin Schonger

ETH Zürich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
Zürich, 8092

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