Chicago Journal of International Law


Global movement of technology and consumer goods is constantly increasing, and broad international legal frameworks are not comprehensive. One troubling gap in these frameworks is the question of when intellectual properly rights (IPRs) should exhaust. International intellectual property law leaves this issue explicitly unaddressed and manufacturers of electronic media have relied increasingly on technological measures such as region codes to fill the gap themselves. Region codes make electronic media playable only in the geographic region of purchase, breaking the global market into segments and allowing media manufacturers significant control over the international flow of goods. In effect, the codes create a regime of narrow IPR exhaustion despite the fact that international law is silent regarding exhaustion. This system is justified by its supposed economic benefits, yet it creates significant problems as well, such as unfair prices, inefficiencies, and a lack of choice for specific consumers in the global market. Scholars have thus proposed two potential international legal approaches to this harmful practice: a TRIPS revision approach and an international trade law approach. Based on the practical feasibility of each solution, this Comment will argue that a narrow TRIPS revision is the best way to curtail the region code problem. Nevertheless, two difficulties linger. Both TRIPS-plus agreements and other IP laws that prohibit TPM circumvention may nullify a region code limit in TRIPS. To solve these problems, the TRIPS revision that handles the region code problem must both stand as a complete statement of international IP law rather than merely a minimum standard, and the international community must move towards a moderate interpretation of the anti-circumvention rules by applying them only to copy-control TPMs.