Intellectual Property and Viral Marketing

Lynne Kiesling

This past weekend I directed a Liberty Fund conference on intellectual property. I am fascinated by IP, in particular by the features it has in common with networks and with common-pool resources: incomplete and uncertain property rights. In an environment where it’s either beneficial to have incomplete and uncertain property rights, or where it’s costly to define and enforce property rights and there’s no adaptive institution for dealing with the uncertainty (i.e., no contract renegotiation), how do you solve the incentive/access tradeoff problem in intellectual property?

It is with this lens that I read about Universal Studios threatened lawsuit against the Serenity and Firefly fans they inveighed to engage in viral marketing on their behalf. My favorite part: the Serenity/Firefly fan community has sent Universal an invoice for their marketing services.

The lawsuit threat has been rescinded.

Note the reciprocal nature of the benefit here, as well as the reciprocal nature of the community cohesion: that community cohesion is what makes them good viral marketers, but it also makes them powerful enough that they can’t be bullied by big corporate lawyers.

That’s beautiful.

Glenn Reynolds had a post on this yesterday, with lots of good Slashdot links.