What Clowns Can Teach Us About Intellectual Property

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
8:30 AM - 9:30 AM

Louis C. Greenwood Lecture Series

CWRU Law Downtown at the City Club

1 hour of CLE credit has been approved

Webcast Archive Content

Video: What Clowns Can Teach Us About Intellectual Property

Event Description

Like many creative communities, clowns enforce rules against copying. Each clown seeks to develop a unique identity that is built around their aesthetic, including voice, clothing, and most importantly, makeup design. And other clowns are expected to follow an unwritten rule that no clown can use another’s likeness. Clowns take the uniqueness of their personas so seriously that they have established a registry that allows clowns to publicly claim their face designs by recording portraits on eggs. But unlike industries that rely on formal legal protection, clowns rely on an informal system of community norms to prevent copying. 

This project explores the contours and enforcement of the rules governing uniqueness of clown personae. What aspects of a clown’s persona are protected? What makes designs excessively similar? Why do some clowns register while others do not? It also addresses the study of informal governance of intellectual property systems more generally. Why do these informal systems arise? And what role do registries play in informal property systems?

This presentation would be of particular interest to intellectual property lawyers, particularly those focusing on trademark and copyright law, since it will contrast the available formal legal protections with community norms. It will also be of use to IP and real property lawyers because the functions of public registries will be discussed.

Speaker Information

Aaron Perzanowski teaches courses in intellectual property, telecommunications and innovation. Previously, he taught at Wayne State University Law School, as a lecturer at the University of California Berkeley School of Information, and as a visitor at the University of Notre Dame Law School. Prior to his teaching career, he served as the Microsoft Research Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and practiced law at Fenwick & West in Silicon Valley. His research addresses topics ranging from digital copyright to deceptive advertising to creative norms within the tattoo industry. With Jason Schultz, he is the author of The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy (MIT Press 2016), which argues for retaining consumer property rights in a marketplace that increasingly threatens them. His book with Kate Darling, Creativity Without Law: Challenging the Assumptions of Intellectual Property (NYU Press 2017), explores the ways communities of creators operate outside of formal intellectual property law.

Continuing Legal Education Readings

Event Location

The City Club of Cleveland
850 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Aaron Perzanowski

Aaron Perzanowski
Professor of Law, CWRU School of Law


Academic Centers and Continuing Legal Education Programs