History of Science 57 (1):140-163 (2019)

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Abstract
The scale is the most famous emblem of the law, including intellectual property. Because IP rights impose social costs on the public by limiting access to protected work, the law can be justified only to the extent that, on balance, it encourages enough creation and dissemination of new works to offset those costs. The scale is thus a potent rhetorical trope of fairness and objectivity, but also an instrument the law thinks with – one that is constantly invoked to justify or to question the extent of available IP protection. The balancing act that underlies the legitimacy of IP is, however, literally impossible to perform. Because we are unable to measure the benefits that IP has for inventors or the costs it has for the public, the scale has nothing to weigh. It conveys a clear sense that IP law can be balanced, but in fact propagates only a visible simulacrum of balance – one that is as empty as it is powerful.
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DOI 10.1177/0073275318797787
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