BYU Law Review


Intellectual property law is caught in a widespread debate over whether it should serve incentive or natural rights objectives, and what the best means for achieving those ends are. This article reports a series of experiments revealing that these debates are actually orthogonal to how most users and many creators understand intellectual property law. The most common perception of intellectual property among the American public is that intellectual property law is designed to prevent plagiarism.

The plagiarism fallacy in intellectual property law is not an innocuous misperception. This fallacy likely helps explain pervasive illegal infringing activity on the Internet, common dismissal of copyright warnings, and other previously puzzling behavior. The received wisdom has been that the public is ethically dismissive or indifferent towards intellectual property rights. This research reveals instead that experts have failed to comprehend what the public’s conception of intellectual property law actually is.

The studies reported here uncover several additional intellectual property law findings, including that (1) the majority of the American public views intellectual property rights as too broad and too strong, (2) knowledge of intellectual property law does not affect opinions about what the law should be, and (3) there are significant demographic and cultural divides concerning attitudes towards intellectual property rights. The findings as a whole raise central questions concerning the public legitimacy of intellectual property law and, consequently, its ability to function as intended.


© 2015 Brigham Young University Law Review