Publication Year


ISBN: 9781552213537-07


Historical Institutionalism and the Politics of Intellectual Property

From: Intellectual Property for the 21st Century


All intellectual property law is political and cannot be understood outside of the political forces that shape it. Understanding the power relations of IP — who makes the rules, how they do so, and who wins and loses — is essential to our understanding of what IP is, how it is perpetuated, and even if it is necessary. Treating IP as politically and historically contingent also allows academics and policy-makers to avoid considering IP law only in terms of itself. This chapter outlines how a specific theoretical approach — historical institutionalism — can contribute to our understanding of IP’s development and potential future changes, both topics of interest to IP scholars across all disciplines. Historical institutionalism focuses on the changes over time in the relationship among the ideas underpinning IP, the actors involved in policy-making, and the institutions structuring their interactions. Its concept of path dependence suggests why a socially suboptimal policy like IP has persisted in the face of criticisms regarding its utility. Applying it to the history of Canadian copyright policy, this chapter also demonstrates how historical institutionalism can allow researchers to analyze systematically IP policy outcomes, and to evaluate situations in which change is likely or possible.



Blayne Haggart

Blayne Haggart is an Assistant Professor of political science at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario. A former economist and journalist, Blayne received his PhD in Political Science with a Specialization in Political Economy from Carleton University. His research focuses on regional governance and copyright policy. His forthcoming book, Copyfight: The Global Politics of Digital Copyright Reform, which examines the forces shaping copyright policy in the twenty-first century, is to be published by the University of Toronto Press. He can be found on the web at