Tragedy of the anticommons

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Scientists are often reluctant to share their data

The tragedy of the anticommons is a type of coordination breakdown, in which a single resource has numerous rightsholders who prevent others from using it, frustrating what would be a socially desirable outcome. It is a mirror-image of the older concept of tragedy of the commons, in which numerous rightsholders' combined use exceeds the capacity of a resource and depletes or destroys it.[1] The "tragedy of the anticommons" covers a range of coordination failures including patent thickets, submarine patents, and nail houses.[citation needed] Overcoming these breakdowns can be difficult, but there are assorted means, including eminent domain, laches, patent pools, or other licensing organizations.[citation needed]

The term originally appeared in Michael Heller's 1998 article of the same name[1] and is the thesis of his 2008 book.[2] In a 1998 article[3] in Science, Heller and Rebecca Eisenberg, while not disputing the role of patents in general in motivating invention and disclosure, argue that biomedical research was one of several key areas where competing patent rights could actually prevent useful and affordable products from reaching the marketplace. Proponents of the theory claimed that too many property rights could lead to less innovation.

Classic example[edit]

In Heller's 1998 Harvard Law Review article,[1] he noted that after the fall of Communism, in many Eastern European cities, there were a lot of open air kiosks, but also a lot of empty stores. Upon investigation, he concluded that because many different agencies and private parties had rights over the use of store space, it was difficult or even impossible for a startup retailer to negotiate successfully for the use of that space. Even though all the persons with ownership rights were losing money with the empty stores, and stores were in great demand, their competing interests got in the way of the effective use of space.

Copyrights[edit]

In the same way, competing use of copyright can prevent a product from coming to the marketplace at a reasonable price, resulting in lost royalty income for the copyright holders. For example, WKRP in Cincinnati was one of the most popular syndicated sitcoms of all time, and many television shows from that era have been successfully released on DVD. However, for many years, WKRP was not available on DVD. When it was a television program, an agreement was in place between television producers and music licensing organizations such as ASCAP and BMI wherein a standard licensing fee was paid for each song that was played on a television show. As such, the producers could determine how much money would be paid for their use of music clips and budget accordingly. However, there is no similar standard agreement for use of music on DVDs (which ASCAP and BMI do not control), and producers of programs from that era (and into the present) are now faced with the prospect of negotiating individually with several dozen composers. The current owner of the show, 20th Century Fox, released the show on DVD starting in the first half of 2007, using "soundalike" versions of music for which they could not obtain rights.[citation needed]

Eminent domain and transportation[edit]

The owners of this Chongqing "nail house" refused to leave it, thwarting plans for a shopping mall. Chinese law doesn't include eminent domain.

To construct roads, railroads, and similar transportation arteries, eminent domain has long been considered necessary.[by whom?] Although the benefit to society from the transportation route may be substantial, without eminent domain, every single property owner along the way must agree for the route to be built. This provides conditions for the tragedy of the anticommons, as even if hundreds agree, a single landowner can stop the road or railroad. The ability for one person to veto the construction drastically increases the transaction costs for such projects.

Similarly, Robert Heller indicates that the rise of the "robber barons" in medieval Germany was the result of the tragedy of the anticommons.[4] Nobles commonly attempted to collect tolls on stretches of the Rhine passing by or through their fiefs, building towers alongside the river and stretching iron chains to prevent boats from carrying cargo up and down the river without paying a fee.[4] Repeated attempts by the Holy Roman Empire, including several efforts over the centuries led by the Emperor himself, to regulate toll collection on the Rhine, but it was not until the establishment of the "Rhine League" of the Emperor, certain nobles, and certain clergy that the control of the "robber barons" over the Rhine was crushed by military force. River tolls on the Rhine, increasingly imposed by states rather than individual lords, remained a sticking point in relations and commerce in the Rhine basin until the establishment of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine in 1815.

See also[edit]

Tragedy of the anticommons is related to other concepts:

Private ownership Common ownership
Bad outcome/tragedy Tragedy of the anticommons Tragedy of the commons
Good outcome/cornucopia Successful capitalism Comedy of the commons

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]