Exploring Commons Institutions

Thanks to Deven for the generous introduction and to Dan and the Co-Op team for inviting me to spend some time here this month.  The introduction intentionally saves space by not including a couple of things that I’ll talk about during my stay:  My other blogs, and my appointment as Research Dean at Pitt.  Both have something to do with my current work on commons institutions.  Over the course of this guest stint I hope to explain some of the connections and to generate suggestions and feedback that might help me see others.


The other blogs?  In addition to madisonian.net, which is familiar to many law professors who work in IP (and which is the part-time home of Co-Op first teamers Frank Pasquale and Deven Desai), I write for and administer Pittsblog (on the futures of Pittsburgh, PA, with a special focus on economic development) and for Blog-Lebo (a community blog that challenges the traditional suburban orthodoxy of Mt. Lebanon, PA, where I live).  As Research Dean at Pitt, I write the Pitt Law Faculty Blog, which chronicles the scholarly activities of our faculty.  And because the IP field is bursting with conference activity, I use a blog platform to maintain a conference and workshop calendar for IP and IT law events for scholars in the US and, occasionally, elsewhere.

Each of these started in a distinct way and for distinct reasons, but over time I’ve come to see them as part of a pattern, as a set of informal institutions that serves different communities or groups in related ways.  Exploring that pattern and teasing out those relationships is the theme of my current scholarship, too, so while it might appear to some that I push myself in lots of disparate directions, I usually feel that I’m working on one big thing that has lots of specific payoffs.

For an illustration and lead-in to my next post, here’s a link to my most recent writing, which is a comment in the Virginia Law Review’s online “In Brief” that responds to Dotan Oliar’s and Chris Sprigman’s very interesting article in the Virginia Law Review, There’s No Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy. (My piece is called Of Coase and Comics, or the Comedy of Copyright.) I suggest that social norms alone can’t explain the apparent absence of formal copyright claims among modern stand-up comics. Comics’ “no plagiarism” norms emerged roughly around the same time that comedy LPs became million-sellers, in the early 1960s.   Is there a connection?  I suspect that there is, and I suspect that connections among record albums and comics’ norms are related in some way to connections among blogs and communities.

More shortly.  In the meantime, a bit of trivia:  Historians of comedy usually think of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce as pacesetting stand-up comics.  In researching Of Coase and Comics, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the first comedian to have a gold record was accountant-turned-comedian Bob Newhart, the same Bob Newhart who later acquired iconic status for communities of college students via the phrase “Hi, Bob” and who eventually uttered the immortal TV sitcom line, “You really should wear more sweaters.”

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1 Response

  1. Jacqueline Lipton says:

    Mike – I’m so glad you’ve started blogging about these issues because I’m really interested in them. So let me ask you a question either for this thread or a future post: What has been the greatest challenge for you in taking on the Research Dean post at Pitt, particularly if I’m right in remembering that you’re the first incumbent of this post?