Summary of The Knockoff Economy

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The Knockoff Economy book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


What do a pair of intellectual property lawyers have to say about the practice of “knocking off” or copying the creations of another person? Plenty, and, surprisingly, it is not all bad. Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman take readers through industries based on individual creativity, like fashion, food and comedy, to examine how they regulate copying. The authors report that the presence of imitators can encourage increased innovation. getAbstract finds this an interesting and entertaining read and recommends its memorable anecdotes to creative people who might want to share them with others – with the proper attribution, of course.

About the Authors

Kal Raustiala, author of Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?, is a professor of law at UCLA. Christopher Sprigman is a research professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.


The Knockoff Runway

Western culture believes that ownership of intellectual property (IP) fuels innovation. Robust laws allow inventors to patent devices and designs to ensure that creative people can copyright their written words or artistic expression. Owning your work, common wisdom says, is essential to preserving the incentive to create. Yet some creative fields – including fashion, food, comedy and others – thrive in a climate of copying. This is the “piracy paradox.”

The “monopoly theory of innovation” suggests that creators need to control the execution of their ideas to have an incentive for continued creativity. However, one look at the red carpet on Oscar night dispels any sense that this idea applies to the fashion industry. Within 24 hours, far less expensive knockoffs of red-carpet dresses will appear in stores and catalogs. Yet demand for the original designers’ work will suffer little, if any, drop-off.

Designing and marketing a piece of clothing substantially similar to a top designer’s piece is not a deliberate act of lawbreaking. Rather, it arises from a US copyright law that protects the free creation of “useful articles,” including clothes...

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