Should Property or Liability Rules Govern Information?

61 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2007

See all articles by Mark A. Lemley

Mark A. Lemley

Stanford Law School

Phil Weiser

University of Colorado Law School


This Article focuses on an unappreciated and significant aspect of the debate over property rules in the technology law context. In particular, it argues that the classic justification for legal entitlements protected by a property rule - i.e., a right to injunctive relief - depends on the ability to define and enforce property rights effectively. In the case of many technology markets, the inability to tailor injunctive relief so that it protects only the underlying right rather than also enjoining noninfringing conduct provides a powerful basis for using a liability rule (i.e., awarding the relevant damages to the plaintiff) instead of a property rule. Notably, where injunctive relief cannot be confined to protecting the underlying right, the availability of such relief can give rise to a "holdup strategy," whereby a firm threatens or uses litigation to obtain a settlement significantly in excess of any harm it suffers. Such strategies, as the Article explains, arise in a variety of technology law contexts, including patent law, digital copyright cases, and spectrum regulation. Depending on the particulars of the context, either courts or agencies should superintend the relevant liability regime and, in some cases, the administrative challenges may undermine the case for a liability rule at all. Unfortunately, legal scholars have generally focused on the substantive debate as to the proper scope of property rights - often arguing for an all or nothing solution - at the expense of evaluating the institutional considerations as to whether and when courts or agencies can superintend a liability regime in lieu of a property right.

Keywords: Law and Economics, Intellectual Property, Cyberlaw, Telecommunications Regulation

JEL Classification: K23

Suggested Citation

Lemley, Mark A. and Weiser, Phil, Should Property or Liability Rules Govern Information?. Texas Law Review, Vol. 85, p. 783, 2007, Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 341, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-18, Available at SSRN:

Mark A. Lemley

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Phil Weiser (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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