The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law

Overview

Logos, trademarks, national insignia, brand names, celebrity images, design patents, and advertising texts are vibrant signs in a consumer culture governed by a regime of intellectual property laws. In The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties, professor of law and cultural anthropologist Rosemary J. Coombe brings an illuminating ethnographic approach to an analysis of authorship and the role law plays in shaping the various meanings that animate these protected properties in...

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The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law

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Overview

Logos, trademarks, national insignia, brand names, celebrity images, design patents, and advertising texts are vibrant signs in a consumer culture governed by a regime of intellectual property laws. In The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties, professor of law and cultural anthropologist Rosemary J. Coombe brings an illuminating ethnographic approach to an analysis of authorship and the role law plays in shaping the various meanings that animate these protected properties in the public sphere.
Although such artifacts are ubiquitous in contemporary culture, little attention has been paid to the impact of intellectual property law in everyday life or to how ownership of specific intellectual properties is determined and exercised. Drawing on a wide range of cases, disputes, and local struggles, Coombe examines these issues and dismantles the legal assumption that the meaning and value of a text or image is produced exclusively by an individual author or that authorship has a single point of origin. In the process, she examines controversies that include the service of turbanned Sikhs in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the use of the term Olympic in reference to the proposed gay Olympic Games. Other chapters discuss the appropriation of such celebrity images as the Marx brothers, Judy Garland, Dolly Parton, James Dean, and Luke Skywalker; the conflict over team names such as the Washington Redskins; and the opposition of indigenous peoples to stereotypical Native American insignia proffered by the entertainment industry. Ultimately, she makes a case for redefining the political in commodified cultural environments.
Significant for its insights into the political significance of current intellectual property law, this book also provides new perspectives on debates in cultural anthropology, cultural studies, and political theory. It will therefore interest both a wide scholarly and a general audience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[F]orceful, provocative and sometimes tendentious . . . . Rosemary Coombe points us towards areas of society where the increasingly oppressive dominance of trademarks and copyrights may be resisted and possibly subverted." - Times Literary Supplement

“[A]n important book, asking terribly significant questions and providing reasonable answers supported by numerous provocative examples. It deserves to be read and discussed by all who are concerned about the role of law in cultural politics.” - Mark Kessler, The Law and Politics Book Review

“[P]athbreaking. . . . [Coombe’s] study has much to offer a broad range of scholars including those in the social sciences and humanities, communications departments, and law schools.” - Lisa A. Marovich, Law and History Review

"[A] fascinating romp through consumer culture." - Peter Krapp, Cultural Critique

“A sparklingly original synthesis of cultural studies and law. Rosemary J. Coombe is a clever and edifying guide through the hidden landscape of property rights that subtly shapes so many cultural phenomena, from the circulation of celebrities to the struggles of indigenous peoples.”—Bruce Robbins, Rutgers University

“This is a scintillating cultural commentary: Coombe’s own skills as anthropologist and lawyer have been re-combined to devastating effect.”—Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

“This is highly original ethnography. Coombe not only shows us the lifeways of law, but also some fascinating routings between the streets and high theory, and back again. In all of this, Rosemary J. Coombe is a hip and good-humored guide—and a trenchant critic.”—Carol J. Greenhouse, Indiana University

Law and Social Inquiry
Coombe employs an ethnographic approach to analyze authorship and the role of law in shaping commercial culture. Drawing on themes from cultural studies, anthropology, postcolonial theory, and political theory, she analyzes the practices of interpretation and appropriation in an increasingly privatized sphere. Maintaining that legal regimes shape both economic and cultural values, she discusses examples such as the Gay Olympic Games, James Dean, Dolly Parton, and Crazy Horse malt liquor, arguing that such cases reveal surprising relationships between citizenship and signification, the body politic and corporeal commodification, and liberalism and orientalism."-Law and Social Inquiry
Times Literary Supplement
"[F]orceful, provocative and sometimes tendentious . . . . Rosemary Coombe points us towards areas of society where the increasingly oppressive dominance of trademarks and copyrights may be resisted and possibly subverted.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Rosemary J. Coombe is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Toronto.

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