Myths & Metaphors of Private Law and Intellectual Property
McGill University


Welcome to the website of the Myths and Metaphors of Private Law and Intellectual Property research project (M&M).

M&M is a new initiative which aims at a better understanding of the conceptual interrelationships between Private Law (civil law and common law) and Intellectual Property Law.

Private Law and Intellectual Property Law are often fashioned and understood in isolation from each other. Yet these areas of law share many of the concepts, institutions, and habits of thought that help both to define them and to shape our notions of them. Still, the dichotomy between tangibles and intangibles often comes between their conceptual/theoretical/terminological similarities. Familiar, if not to say natural, connections between these areas of law sometimes occasion unease. Some see the expressive toolbox of Intellectual Property as just a collection of terms on loan from Private Law. "Abandonment", "(public) domain", and "property", for example, could just be useful metaphors, implicated by our habits of speech and our need for stable concepts, yet they may always remain out of sync with the legal reality of intangibles.

Conceptual relations of this sort are thought-provoking. Does this reliance on a vocabulary based on metaphor show that Private Law and Intellectual Property are necessarily intertwined? Or, on the contrary, is it merely that Private Law serves as an abundant source of myths, images and symbols, which are ever more antiquated in the age of the so-called Knowledge economy? Will thinking by analogy, sometimes more misleading than helpful, forever hold Intellectual Property hostage? Or, does calling upon these metaphors serve instead to enrich a body of legal rules, with structures of thought which have been tested by long experience? It is to these type of questions that the M&M wishes to respond, by exploring the myths and metaphors of Private Law and Intellectual Property.

The M&M will unearth the assumptions that shape our conceptions of law and present an opportunity to exchange refreshing ideas about our legal representations in three seminars, open to the legal community. Each of the three will focus on a fundamental legal concept which is shared by Private Law and Intellectual Property Law. The format of M&Mís seminars seeks to be novel and particularly stimulating: the panelists are invited to write a short text in the style of an editorial and to choose a few images which illustrate the main ideas of their presentation. Then, prior to the seminar, these combinations of text and image will be put online on our website, for the benefit of all the participants. We trust that this fairly informal arrangement will favour imagination and foster the best conditions for discussion in our seminars.

*Metaphor: A figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which it is literally applicable. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary (2009), first sense)

*Myth: A widespread but untrue or erroneous story or belief; a widely held misconception; a misrepresentation of the truth. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary (2009), second sense)

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