ORDER Without Law, Robert Ellickson’s seminal account of social norms among Shasta County cattle ranchers, grew out of earlier research titled, in part, Of Coase and Cattle. The shift in the title was subtle, but significant. Ellickson started out to test Ronald Coase’s celebrated parable of the Rancher and the Farmer, the hypothetical that Coase used to develop the Coase Theorem, a major pillar of law and economics scholarship. Ellickson wanted to assess the impact of transaction costs in the real world by determining how ranchers identified trespass disputes and negotiated solutions.
Similar case studies are needed to understand the phenomenon of cultural 'order without law.' The prospect of Coasean private ordering by close-knit groups might produce many of the innovation-related benefits of patent- or copyright-driven innovation, without the costs associated with enforcement of intellectual property laws. Whether this is so in practice is an empirical question. Until recently, there have been few data sets addressing it.
Dotan Oliar and Christopher Sprigman’s There’s No Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy is one of a small number of recent case studies that supply relevant data. The major virtue of this work is that it does for the premise of Anglo-American intellectual property law what Ellickson did for Coase. It moves the discussion from theory to practice.