Criticizing and Legitimating Patent Monopolies: The Struggle over Hepatitis C Medicines in Brazil's Digital Universe

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Contribution to Book

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Critical Global Semiotics: Understanding Sustainable Transformational Citizenship




How are hegemonic ideologies regarding contemporary capitalist norms challenged or upheld on digital platforms? What are the effects as well as the limitations of these efforts given the structural power of global capitalism? To answer these questions, we examine the semiotic axes of online media regarding the drug sofosbuvir in Brazil using an ethnographic content analysis. The overwhelming majority of posts contested corporate drug monopolies based on the need to save lives, achieve public health goals, economize fiscal resources, and support local industry. The minority of statements defending the status quo emphasized that patents are needed to stimulate innovation and the importance of upholding intellectual property norms and agreements. Combined with the potential threat of local production of the drug, Brazilian activists successfully pressured the drug company Gilead Sciences to dramatically reduce the price of sofosbuvir-based combination therapies and drew attention to the problematic issue of patent monopolies. Still, the structural power of global capitalism stymied Brazilian efforts to achieve even greater budget savings and promote local technological development.