I Read A Book: Madhavi Sunder’s From Goods to A Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice

Book cover includes modded light involved in copyright dispute between copyright owner and artist group that changed light so it would work in places without electricity.

Discourse on intellectual property has often only considered the value of IP from the perspective of law and economics. However, in this book, From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice, Madhavi Sunder moves away from this lens, instead focusing on the interaction between intellectual property, cultural production, and human rights. If you aren’t already excited by the potential this book offers you should be — and even more so because it delivers on its promises.

Considering this blog focuses on fandom, I’ll start with the detailed discussions of the discursive value of fandom and reinterpretation. Sunder has an entire chapter on the concept of Mary Sue, which she interprets as an opportunity for those traditionally viewed as readers/viewers to appropriate and adapt culture to respond back to mainstream Western culture. She also spends time analyzing how credit is or is not given to Western and Eastern reinterpretations of earlier works — from the well-known (as least within the fandom community) of The Lion King v. Kimba the White Lion — to the complicated interaction between Bollywood and Hollywood.

But Sunder doesn’t stop there — she argues that culture should be understood as a participatory, living action — including aspects of participation, livelihood, and shared meaning. Her perspective is a broad one, folding patent rights in developing countries and geographic indicators into a reinterpretation of culture and IP:

Culture is not just a set of “inputs” necessary for further innovation. Culture is the sphere in which individuals participate, create, share ideas, and enjoy life with others. Cultural works engender empathy for the other and foster mutual understanding. In short, culture plays a critical–and in the Knowledge Age, an increasingly important–role in promoting freedom in the social, political, and economic spheres of of life. Thus rather than narrowly viewing intellectual property as incentives-for-creation–that is, as merely economic or technology policy–we must understand intellectual property as social and cultural property. (32)

Takeaway: Read alongside Landes and Posner’s The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law to see contrasting views on the role and purpose of intellectual property. Highly recommended.

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