HIS2427 – Intellectual Property, Piracy, and the Commons through History

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

What is intellectual property? Can authors own their ideas? Are pirates heroes or criminals?  What are the commons, and can anyone govern them? The answers to these questions are contested and they have changed over time. This makes history a central discipline to interrogate piracy, commons, and ownership as it has been practiced in law, public debate, business, and politics.

Since their rise during the Enlightenment, intellectual property rights have developed in three types: copyright, trademark, patents. Questions emerged during this development: Should authors enjoy moral rights to their ideas, or should everyone be free to copy inventions and bring them to the market? Are patents positive or negative for development? Competing and conflicting visions of what is an inventor or an artist emerged from such debates. Cases from literature, music business, design and the visual arts, the pharmaceutical industry, and agriculture will be used to examine these battles on intellectual property.

Since the nineteenth century governments increasingly started to recognize intellectual property rights in law. Associations at the international level aimed to unify international regimes of knowledge. These international institutions eventually became in 1967 the World Intellectual Property Organization, since 1970 part of the United Nations. The central question that emerged, then, was about the dynamics between the West and the developing countries. Did developed countries try to impose their regimes of knowledge and commerce on the rest of the world? Furthermore, which place was left to the commons?

Learning outcome

After you have taken this course you are expected to be able to:

  • Understand and discuss the dynamics of intellectual property, piracy, and the commons, situated in the wider context of modern history
  • Explore the ways intellectual property has become a topic of interest to historians and historical research, situated In a trans-disciplinary context
  • Critically read and discuss case studies on relevant aspects of property, piracy, and the commons
  • Develop your skills in reading critically, thinking independently, and writing clearly, especially through the writing of your own essay on a topic related to the course.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Recommended previous knowledge

30 credits in humanities or social sciences.

A good ability to read and understand English is required for this course.


The course will be taught in the form of seminars (24 h) via discussion of assigned readings .

The course will take place over twelve double-hours during twelve weeks.

Students are expected to be present in class and engage in discussions and group work.

Resources and information in this course will be given in Canvas.

Compulsory assignments:

  • an exposé of a research question relevant to the course, chosen by each student (a page and a half).
  • a blog post on the topic of the exposé (half a page). A selection of the best blog posts will be published online provided student’s agreement.

Both assignments will be part of the examination portfolio, and can be revised after the first submission.

Access to teaching

A student who has completed compulsory instruction and coursework and has had these approved, is not entitled to repeat that instruction and coursework. A student who has been admitted to a course, but who has not completed compulsory instruction and coursework or had these approved, is entitled to repeat that instruction and coursework, depending on available capacity.


The examination will consist of an individual portfolio including:

  • an exposé of a research question relevant to the course, chosen by each student (a page and a half).
  • a blog post on the topic of the exposé (half a page). A selection of the best blog posts will be published online provided student’s agreement.
  • a final paper developing the exposé (max. 4,000 words). Please include the course code and candidate number (not your name) in the header and insert page numbers in the footer.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Spring 2022


Spring 2022

Teaching language