Within intellectual property, Darcy v. Allen and the Statute of Monopolies are frequently, almost reflexively, invoked as establishing a baseline norm of economic freedom from which governments depart when they grant exclusive rights to deal in any trade or article of commerce. Against this free-market backdrop, all such grants are suspect, and only those that are justified by reference to their originality or utility (copyrights and patents) are valid. Rejecting the dominant view of Darcy and the Statute of Monopolies, this Article provides a more detailed political and legislative history of both the compromise leading to Darcy and the adoption of the Statute of Monopolies than any to date, and consequently demonstrates that their true importance lies in their political, not economic, content. This reinterpretation suggests that both events are best viewed through the lens of political accountability, a departure from the prevailing understanding of these events, both in and out of intellectual property. The Article concludes by considering the ramifications that this new understanding has for modern debates about intellectual property. Both events suggest that politics and coalition, not litigation, is the most promising brake on the seemingly ever-expanding scope of intellectual property laws. Further, the mercantilist experience with market controls suggests that targeted measures like compulsory licenses are more likely to perpetuate rather than restrict the power of special interests who hold large amounts of intellectual property.
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