Consumption-Based Distinctions Consuming Themselves: The Rise and Fall of Intellectual Property as the Enabler of a Sumptuary Code

Barton Beebe, Intellectual Property and the Sumptuary Code, 123 Harv. L. Rev. 809 (2010). Kevin E. Collins If you ever find that your reading in the field of intellectual property is becoming repetitive, or if you feel you've already cataloged all of the different cookie cutters that are commonly used to stamp out contemporary scholarship, then here's what you should do: sit down to read Barton Beebe's Intellectual Property and the Sumptuary Code and enjoy the ride. It's not exactly conventional beach reading for the dog days of August, but Beebe does build an intricate sand castle-he articulates a highly original thesis concerning the social function that certain trademark-related doctrines are playing in contemporary society-both expecting and hoping that it will soon collapse under its own weight. For those of you who, like me, are not entirely literate in the history of fashion, a sumptuary law is a law that regulates luxury expenditure and enforces social hierarchy. (P. 810.) A sumptuary code, in turn, is roughly the social-norm analog of a sumptuary law. It is a semiotic system of consumption practices through which individuals send signals about their differences and similarities. (P. 812.)1 And unlike sumptuary laws, which have largely disappeared, sumptuary codes are very much alive and well. Continue reading "Consumption-Based Distinctions Consuming Themselves: The Rise and Fall of Intellectual Property as the Enabler of a Sumptuary Code"

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