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The political economy of intellectual property protection: the case of software

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The end of the twentieth century was marked by a sea change in global governance in the realm of intellectual property rights (IPRs). Whereas countries historically retained substantial autonomy with regard to what they defined as intellectual "property" and the rights granted to the owners of intellectual property, the 1990s witnessed the establishment of new global obligations regarding national practices. This paper focuses on the case of software "piracy" to assess the mechanisms by which the new global obligations for the treatment of IPRs are transmitted from the international to the national levels. We first consider a set of national-level factors that many scholars have shown to be important determinants of IPR policy. We then supplement the standard emphasis on domestic factors with an analysis of new transnational factors: countries' multilateral obligations under the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and bilateral pressures from the United States to increase the protection of IPRs. Population-averaged panel data models are used to assess the effects of these national and transnational determinants on levels of software piracy in 80 countries from 1994 to 2002. Our results indicate that membership in the WTO and bilateral pressures from the United States—particularly pressures that offer reciprocal concessions—lead to substantial increases in levels of protection in rich and poor countries. There is, in short, a new international political economy of intellectual property.

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