John Cater on Dr. Sean John Andrews’ Lecture

Posted by & filed under MTD 1 - Spring 2011 (Tuesday).

John Cater

Property in Crisis: Labor and Intellectual Property Rights in the Global, Digital Age

Dr. Sean Johnson Andrews is an assistant professor of cultural studies at Columbia College Chicago.  He’s lecture on intellectual property rights was kind of all over the place, which makes some sense as it’s a very wide reaching subject and can overlap into many fields.  He covered topics such as cultural studies in general, 17th century philosopher John Locke, and agriculture just to name a few.  By the end of the lecture I felt as though I had a more thorough understanding of some of the basic principles defining intellectual property in the United States as well as why (fair or not) it is that way.

The thing that stood out to me the most out of the entire lecture was how intellectual domain has been continually pushed back by legislature lobbied heavily by the entertainment industry.  The rollback of intellectual domain in the seventies was actually called “the mickey mouse act” because Disney lobbied so heavily to keep the rights to their cash cow.  And they did so again in the late nineties extending the length of time a person can own intellectual property to 90 years and a company to 120 years.  I understand Disney’s reasoning in that they want to protect what they see as rightfully theirs but when the creator of the character and anyone who helped has been dead (and kept frozen in an underground chamber at Disney World(weirdo)) then it’s really hard to justify ownership by a company or anyone, especially when the intellectual property in question has become such a facet of our society.

The second thing that really stuck with me from this lecture was Dr. Andrew’s detailing of the RIAA pursuit of internet piracy.  It was really neat to learn the origin of the term “piracy” in the context relating to intellectual property was actually derived from real life pirates who were transporting copies of the bible.  What’s more, the RIAA has been suing file sharers as if every transfer was a sale lost.  First they sued napster then they went after a site called allmp3.com for 1.75 trillion dollars.  Then they sued limewire (a person to person file transfer program) for 76 trillion dollar.  The gross domestic product of the entire planet is somewhere around 56 trillion dollars.  So they RIAA was suing limewire as though every cent on Earth had been put towards purchasing their media and everyone had also found some extra money they’d been keeping in an off-planet account.

He touched on Lessig and John Locke and how some of Locke’s ideas have continued to be implemented today even though they were created in the sixteen hundreds and didn’t bear in mind the demands of a new technologically advanced millennium.  Locke’s idea of labor being directly related to ownership really interested me, enough so that I’m going to read “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” directly after the semester lets out.  If Dr. Andrews had one theme throughout the lecture it was that intellectual property is a constantly changing thing as dictated by the technology of the time and laws regarding that need to be just as flexible and able to change.

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