Recent discussions of genomics and international justice have adopted the concept of ‘global public goods’ to support both the view of genomics as a benefit and the sharing of genomics knowledge across nations. Such discussion relies on a particular interpretation of the global public goods argument, facilitated by the ambiguity of the concept itself. Our aim in this article is to demonstrate this by a close examination of the concept of global public goods with particular reference to its use in the context of genomic databases. We contend that the argument for construing genomics as a global public good depends on seeing it as a natural good by focusing on features intrinsic to genomics knowledge. We shall argue that social and political arrangements are relevant and that recognising this opens the door to construing the use of global public goods language as a strategic one.