Skip to main content

Anticommons, Tragedy of the


The tragedy of the anticommons is a type of coordination breakdown, in which a single resource has numerous owners, each of whom has the right to individually exclude others from its use but no effective privilege of using it independently. This coordination failure, i.e., the exercise of the veto power from any one of the owners will result in the underuse of the resource, frustrating what would be a socially desirable outcome.

The Concept of the Tragedy of the Anticommons

According to the definition by Heller (1998), an anticommons propertyis a scarce resource in which multiple owners have the right to individually exclude others from its use, and no one has an effective privilege of using it independently. The use of anticommons property requires these numerous right holders of a single resource to reach a consensus on the permission. The coordination breakdown of the owners, i.e., the exercise of the veto power from any one of the excluded right holders, will result in...

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD   819.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD   999.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions


  • Bretsen SN, Hill PJ (2009) Water markets as a tragedy of the anticommons. William Mary Environ Law Rev 33(3):723–783

    Google Scholar 

  • Brewer J, Glennon R, Ker A, Libecap G (2008) 2006 presidential address water markets in the west: prices, trading, and contractual forms. Econ Inq 46(2):91–112

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Buchanan JM, Yoon YJ (2000) Symmetric tragedies: commons and anticommons. J Law Econ 43(1):1–13

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Carey JM, Sunding DL (2001) Emerging markets in water: a comparative institutional analysis of the Central Valley and Colorado-Big Thompson Projects. Nat Resour J 41(2):283–328

    Google Scholar 

  • Hardin G (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science 162(3859):1243–1248

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Heller MA (1998) The tragedy of the anticommons: Property in the transition from Marx to markets. Harv Law Rev 111(3):621–688

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Heller M (2008) The gridlock economy: how too much ownership wrecks markets, stops innovation, and costs lives. Basic Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Heller MA, Eisenberg RS (1998) Can patents deter innovation? The anticommons in biomedical research. Science 280(5364):698–701

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hunter D (2003) Cyberspace as place and the tragedy of the digital anticommons. Calif Law Rev 91(2):439–519

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Parisi F, Schulz N, Depoorter B (2004) Simultaneous and sequential anticommons. Eur J Law Econ 17(2):175–190

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ying Q, Zhang G (2008) Fragmentation of licensing right, bargaining and the tragedy of the anti-commons. Eur J Law Econ 26(1):61–73

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Qianwei Ying .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Ying, Q. (2019). Anticommons, Tragedy of the. In: Marciano, A., Ramello, G.B. (eds) Encyclopedia of Law and Economics. Springer, New York, NY.

Download citation