The Society for Critical Exchange
Current Projects

Intellectual Property and the
Construction of Authorship


This now widely acclaimed project was launched in April, 1991, at a conference at CWRU which brought literary theorists together with legal scholars "to explore all aspects of the social and cultural construction of authorship in relation to the evolution of proprietary rights in ideas." A selection of conference papers commanded a special issue of the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal (Vol. 10, No. 2 [1992]), and was reprinted in 1994 by Duke University Press as The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, edited by the project directors, Peter Jaszi and Martha Wodmansee.
Some of the issues that emerged in this initial phase of the project became the topic of a special forum, "The Law of Texts: Copyright in the Academy," at the 1992 MLA convention. Twenty-four scholars and practitioners of the law and of literary and composition studies participated in the forum's plenary session and four workshops devoted, respectively, to "Collaboration: Institutional and Cultural Constraints on Collective Production," "The Construction of Authorship," "Author-ity in New Media: Academic Practice in the Digital Environment," and "'Fair Use': Scholarly Access to Unpublished Materials and Classroom Photocopying." A summary of the conclusions reached in the forum, entitled "The Law of Texts: Copyright in the Academy," by the project directors, appeared in College English (Vol. 57 [1995]).
Interdisciplinary research in these and other areas has been carried forward at subsequent MLA and MMLA meetings with programs devoted to the evolution of our notions of "Plagiarism," to "Literary Properties," and to "Law and Order on the Information Frontier." A Caucus on Intellectual Property and Composition Studies has become a standing event at the annual CCCC. For the 1997 edition of News and Notices, Peter Jaszi summarized the substantial impact this project has had on legal debate about the direction of intellectual property policy (excerpted here), and its influence has continued to grow.
A distinct international phase of the IPCA project was launched in 1993 when the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a week-long meeting of lawyers, cultural historians, policy makers, anthropologists, development specialists, and representatives of culture industries from the developed and developing worlds to explore "Cultural Agency/Cultural Authority: Politics and Poetics of Intellectual Property in the Post-Colonial Era." A policy statement emerged from this conference, the "Bellagio Declaration." This frequently quoted statement exemplifies the broad public impact for which the IPCA strives as it aims to operationalize--to draw real geopolitical consequences from--the scholarly "critique of authorship" that has been unfolding in literary and cultural studies for the past several decades.
The work of Bellagio has been carried forward in various forums, including programs devoted to the "Legal Foundations of Cultural Authority" and the "International Politics of Cultural Appropriation" at the 1993 and 1994 MLA conventions. A conference is being planned for spring 2001 to expand on this work. The conference will explore the role played by "authorship" in the international distribution of intellectual property. Does this metaphor for culture- making that is so central to our international intellectual property system operate unjustly to maintain the economic and cultural hegemony of the nations of the industrialized North at the expense of the claims of peoples of the South? If so, are there alternative ways of thinking and talking about cultural production that could provide a foundation for a more equitable legal order?

A recent continuation of the IPCA project began in the fall of 2003 when Case Western Reserve University's English Department sponsored an Authorship Collaborative under the leadership of Martha Woodmansee. The group has been working on a web-based collaborative research project at the intersection of law and culture -- specifically, the domain of international intellectual property covered by copyright. The collaborative is made up of nine advanced undergraduates from the arts, humanities, and social sciences, three graduate research assistants from Law and Social Sciences and a Professor from the English department. The goal of the collaborative was to give the undergraduates an opportunity to participate in basic research and to interact within a collaboratory environment. The output of the collaborative is this group web site that expands the initial research of Professor Woodmansee in her article "Beyond Authorship: Imagining Rights in Traditional Culture and Bio-knowledge."

The project was carried forward at a conference devoted to Con/Texts of Invention hosted by the School of Law at Case Western Reserve University in Spring 2006. The collective work of recent years has resulted in a volume on Making and Unmaking Intellectual Property (University of Chicago Press).

For more information on the IPCA project and any of its various continuations, please contact Peter Jaszi
(pjaszi[at] or Martha Woodmansee (maw4[at]

Update: in June 2007, Martha Woodmansee will be presenting IPCA research on IP and piracy in China. Images featured in the talk are available here: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4.


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