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In this class, the two "cultures" are 1) the modern global economic and legal "culture" (stretching fromabout the 17th century to now) and 2) the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires (stretching from c. 500B.C.E to about 200A.C.E.Within these two enormous stretches of time, we will the study the particular practices of reading, writing, interpreting,authorizing, owning, buying, borrowing, sharing, stealing and selling texts (poetry and literature), works of science andart, or other important documents. We will also consider how the modern notion of "information" can be compared to thingslike writing, reading and understanding.

It is always important to remember that we can also compare within these different traditions. Even if the "culture" of the Bororo isrelatively stable over hundreds of years, that doesn't mean there are alternatives within it. Alternative, underground,oppositional, criminal and critical traditions exist in every culture. It is only on CNN and at the White House whereeveryone is said to believe the same thing.

Law custom and convention

The class will focus primarily on the diverse meanings of authorship andownership. In the modern period, all forms of information and entertainment, as well as much or our lives are deeplydependent on formal law (i.e. that made by national legislatures and courts), especially intellectual propertylaw. In the ancient world, formal written law was not quite so pervasive--however, that does not mean there were notstrong customs or conventions for how life and literature were governed. Similarly, the function and role of literature andart in the modern period can be contrasted with that in the ancient period. Sometimes what we read will seem arcane andimpenetrable (whether it is legal jargon, scholarly jargon or difficult poetry), but remember that we are interested inunderstanding not just the texts themselves, but the contexts as well (see the module Tips for Reading). Over the course ofthe semester, we will consider the following questions in more detail. Consider how you would answer them now.

What are some functions of formal law?

  • Constraint, repression, regulation, domination?
  • A prediction of how the courts, sovereigns or police will respond to some action?
  • A way to actively change the attitudes and goals of people?
  • A means of control and security?

What's the difference between formal law and informal customs or conventions? Can you think of examples inmodern life where there are laws but no customs, customs but no laws, or where both coexist?

Why does law or custom govern literature or information at all? Why isn't there absolute freedom to say orwrite anything?

Why is intellectual property different from regular property? Why does it require different laws?

What's the difference between plagiarism and theft of intellectual property?

How are law, custom, convention, sovereignty, power and control related?

What's the difference between private and public censorship?

Literature, media, information, text, manuscript

In addition to the issues of law and custom, we will also be considering a wide variety of created objects:poetry, prose, plays, commentary, philosophy, scientific texts and scholarship. We will also consider music, performedpoetry and theatre, film and television etc. The variety of different media is very large, but we will consider both what they say, and how they say it at the sametime. Intellectual property law is concerned with the relationship between ideas, expressions and the manner inwhich they are made tangible, but is possible to ask similar questions about all kinds of objects and media.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Text as property/property as text. OpenStax CNX. Feb 10, 2004 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10217/1.7
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