The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation

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From the shopping mall to the corner bistro, knockoffs are everywhere in today's marketplace. Conventional wisdom holds that copying kills creativity, and that laws that protect against copies are essential to innovation--and economic success. But are copyrights and patents always necessary? In The Knockoff Economy, Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman provocatively argue that creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive. The Knockoff Economy approaches the question of incentives and innovation in a wholly new way--by exploring creative fields where copying is generally legal, such as fashion, food, and even professional football. By uncovering these important but rarely studied industries, Raustiala and Sprigman reveal a nuanced and fascinating relationship between imitation and innovation. In some creative fields, copying is kept in check through informal industry norms enforced by private sanctions. In others, the freedom to copy actually promotes creativity. High fashion gave rise to the very term "knockoff," yet the freedom to imitate great designs only makes the fashion cycle run faster--and forces the fashion industry to be even more creative. Raustiala and Sprigman carry their analysis from food to font design to football plays to finance, examining how and why each of these vibrant industries remains innovative even when imitation is common. There is an important thread that ties all these instances together--successful creative industries can evolve to the point where they become inoculated against--and even profit from--a world of free and easy copying. And there are important lessons here for copyright-focused industries, like music and film, that have struggled as digital technologies have made copying increasingly widespread and difficult to stop. Raustiala and Sprigman's arguments have been making headlines in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Boston Globe, Le Monde, and at the Freakonomics blog, where they are regular contributors. By looking where few had looked before--at markets that fall outside normal IP law--The Knockoff Economy opens up fascinating creative worlds. And it demonstrates that not only is a great deal of innovation possible without intellectual property, but that intellectual property's absence is sometimes better for innovation.
 

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Q. How did you like the book?
A. I didn't, for the most part.
Q. Why not?
A. These writers are into areas I know nothing about, like fashion, haute cuisine, football, stand up comedy, and so
-called innovation in finance. In fact, I have a negative reaction to all of these areas.
Q. Why is that?
A. These areas, and many others like them, are perfect examples of conspicuous and wasteful consumption in America and other rich countries. Americans apparently have nothing better to do with their wealth. $45,000 for a watch? $21,000 for a dress? A third of the world's population lives on less than $2 per day. No wonder they call America the Great Beast.
Q. You sound like a raving communist. But what has this to do with the book?
A. Well, the authors, lawyers, never discuss this discrepancy in the wealthy few versus the destitute many. It's disgusting.
Q. So the book is about conspicuous consumption?
A. No. Kal and Christopher want to show that intellectual property laws, patents, copyrights, trademarks, are not always needed to help bring about innovation. I do agree with them that there should be less regulation in the area, but it's just some of the content areas that bothered me.
Q. So you don't recommend the book to others?
A. No, I don't. The two of them, Kal and Christopher, come off as a two-headed creature, using we this and we that. I never get one voice from them. I think one of them should have taken authorship and maybe the other helped.
Q. But people co-author books all the time.
A. Yes, but I don't think it works here.
 

Contents

INTRODUCTION
3
1 KNOCKOFFS AND FASHION VICTIMS
19
2 CUISINE COPYING AND CREATIVITY
57
3 COMEDY VIGILANTES
97
4 FOOTBALL FONTS FINANCE AND FEIST
123
COPIES AND CREATIVITY
167
THE FUTURE OF MUSIC
213
Acknowledgments
235
Notes
237
Index
257
Copyright

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About the author (2012)


Kal Raustiala is Professor of Law at UCLA and the author of Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?

Christopher Sprigman is the Class of 1963 Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.

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