The goal of this article is to initiate the exploration of the meanings and functions of the things of intellectual property: the work of authorship (or copyright work) in copyright, the invention in patent, and the mark and the sign in trademark. The article focuses firstly on the example of copyright work. Relevant challenges are both technological and conceptual, because these things blend the material and the immaterial. Works are neither as clearly defined nor as clearly limited as copyright law often suggests they are. To explain and justify that proposition, the article borrows from information science literature exploring boundary objects, which are stable physical and intangible things that align distinct but overlapping communities of practice in flexible ways, via interpretive openness. The article shows that the meanings of the work in copyright law can be unified conceptually in the sense that the work operates as a boundary object across a number of different legal and cultural divides. This view of the work clarifies the distinct status of relevant communities and practices in copyright but also bridges them in copyright’s construction and governance of culture. None of the boundaries represented in these boundary objects is fixed or impermeable. Their very dynamic and sometimes porous character is precisely the governance role illuminated here.
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