The Illusive Search for Justificatory Theories: Copyright, Commodification and Capital

Posted: 12 Apr 2004

See all articles by Samuel E. Trosow

Samuel E. Trosow

University of California, Berkeley - Boalt Library


The traditional philosophical justifications for copyright policy fail to account for current expansionary trends. The proprietary logic of contemporary copyright policies is justified on neither utilitarian nor rights-based grounds. Instead, copyright developments are located within the broader framework of commodification and the logic of capital itself. Since copyright law has been outpaced by a technology that undermines both the legal framework and the underlying economic theory on which it is based, a critical theoretical framework rooted in political economy is needed to harmonize the use and dissemination of information with the developing productive forces in society. Central to this framework is the contradiction between use-value and exchange-value, which is inherent in every commodity. This tension, which is particularly acute in the case of the information commodity, becomes sharper with the use of new technologically enabled exclusion mechanisms, as well as with various policy initiatives that seek to expand the duration, scope, and intensity of the copyright monopoly. Reconceptualizing copyright theory through the lens of critical political economy will help raise issues that are often overlooked in the current policy environment, and should decrease the acceptance of traditional justifications without considering all of the policy alternatives.

Keywords: Intellectual property, copyright, Marx

Suggested Citation

Trosow, Samuel E., The Illusive Search for Justificatory Theories: Copyright, Commodification and Capital. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 217-241, July 2003. Available at SSRN:

Samuel E. Trosow (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Boalt Library ( email )

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics