Book Review: The Knockoff Economy
For centuries, the idea that strong intellectual property protection spurs innovation and encourages creativity has been the lynchpin of IP laws, not to mention the mantra of IP lawyers. In The Knockoff Economy, the authors challenge that belief as they explore industries which receive weak, if any, IP protection, yet still manage to innovate and thrive. Authors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman cover a wide variety of industries including fashion, fonts, cocktails, magic, football, and the financial services industry. Several trends which have allowed creativity to flourish outside the IP framework emerge over the course of the book, including the unique nature of certain industries, trends and fads, social norms, open-source methods, and first-mover advantages. The authors do not argue for a broad change in IP laws, but instead provide a window into how creativity and innovation differ in every industry.
The book begins with the fashion industry, where, the authors argue, copying actually speeds up the creative process. The fashion cycle rewards innovation, and success requires constant reinvention as first-adopters seek out newer designs once a prior design has become mainstream. This same trend can be seen in the culinary world where copying can be an indicator of success. The authors provide the example of the molten chocolate cake which started out in a high-end restaurant and can now be found on the menu of thousands of family restaurants around the world. While the rest of the world is finding ways to prevent copying, the authors show us several industries where imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.
From the verbal, and occasionally physical, confrontations between comedians, to the birth of the West Coast Offense play by Bengals Coach Bill Walsh, The Knockoff Economy is a fun read, full of interesting stories and tidbits from behind the scenes of creative industries around the world. In the final chapter, the authors compare the music and movie industries. They point out that despite strong copyright protection, the music industry has been largely unsuccessful at stopping piracy. Hollywood, on the other hand, found ways to blunt the effects of piracy such as improving the movie watching experience through 3-D or staggered releases to give consumers more choices in how and when they watch movies.
The book does not suggest that strong IP protection is unnecessary, but rather provides a look at how copying and creativity can co-exist. The authors are careful to point out that the uniqueness of every industry precludes a one-size fits all solution to encouraging innovation. For example, what works in fashion might not be as successful in the development of a cancer drug. But ultimately, the message readers are left with is that even industries that are fighting to prevent copying can learn a few lessons of ultralegal ways to encourage innovation and success.
Kal Raustiala is a Professor of Law at UCLA. Christopher Sprigman is a Research Professor at UVA. The book was published by Oxford University Press.