Google Book Search in the Gridlock Economy

Michael Heller’s *The Gridlock Economy* popularizes a concept that Heller has developed over nearly two decades of influential academic writing: the notion that, when it comes to property rights, too many rights-endowed cooks really can spoil the broth. I was asked in this conference to apply Heller’s insight to the Google Book Search project, and the request at first seemed natural. Heller himself suggested that Google Book Search might be an apt poster child for the gridlock phenomenon; Google likewise can often be heard to complain, in Heller-esque tones, that the only way to build a comprehensive search engine for books is to take the books without asking. This Essay, however, questions the example and offers a refinement on Heller’s theory. Gridlock, I argue, is not simply a catch-all for situations where a large number of permissions are in play. It is more narrowly a reference to situations where a large number of permissions are in play, and those permissions intertwine.

Article | View PDF | Appears in Volume 53, Issue 1

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