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<nettime> Semiotic Disobedience
Sonia Katyal on Wed, 31 Oct 2007 11:44:07 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Semiotic Disobedience

Hello nettimers:

Some months ago, I asked for some help from many of you on this list
regarding a bunch of 'illegal art' projects for a paper I was writing on
the intersection between intellectual property, art, and property.  I
just wanted to share the paper with all of you now that its finally out.
 The title is "semiotic disobedience" and the abstract is attached
below; you can download the paper for free from SSRN (address below).

I just wanted to thank you again for your help--the paper will
eventually make its way into a book, and so I would love to hear any
thoughts or suggestions you might have as this work goes forward.
Thanks again, so much, for all your help and suggestions--this list
serve was a great help.

warm regards,


Semiotic Disobedience  

Fordham University School of Law 

Washington University Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 2006 


Nearly twenty years ago, a prominent media studies professor, John
Fiske, coined the term *semiotic democracy* to describe a world
where audiences freely and widely engage in the use of cultural
symbols in response to the forces of media. Although Fiske originally
referenced the audience's power in viewing and interpreting television
narratives, today, his vision of semiotic democracy has become perhaps
the single most important ideal cited by scholars who imagine a
utopian relationship between law, technology, and democratic culture.
In this Article, I seek to introduce another framework to supplement
Fiske's important metaphor: the phenomenon of *semiotic disobedience.*

Three contemporary cultural moments in the world - one corporate,
one academic, and one artistic - call for a new understanding of the
limitations and possibilities of semiotic democracy and underline
the need for a supplementary framework. As public spaces have become
converted into vehicles for corporate advertising - ads painted onto
sidewalks and into buildings, schools, and other public spaces -
product placement has soared to new heights of power and subtlety. And
throughout, the law has generously offered near-sovereign protection
to such symbolism through the ever-expanding vehicle of intellectual
property protection. Equations between real property and intellectual
property are ubiquitous. Underlying these themes is a powerful linkage
between intellectual and tangible property: as one expands, so does
the other.

Yet at the same time, there is another facet that is often left out
of the picture, involving the increasing response of artists who have
chosen to expand their activities past the boundaries of cultural
dissent and into the boundaries of asserted illegality. For every
movement toward enclosure that the law facilitates, there is an
opposite, underappreciated movement toward liberation from control
- a moment where social activism exposes the need for alternative
political economies of information. And yet the difference between
these marketplaces of speech - one protected, one prohibited - both
captures and transcends the foundational differences between democracy
and disobedience itself.

Just as previous discussions of civil disobedience focused on the
need to challenge existing laws by using certain types of public
and private property for expressive freedoms, today's generation
seeks to alter existing intellectual property by interrupting,
appropriating, and then replacing the passage of information from
creator to consumer. This Article suggests that the phenomenon of
semiotic disobedience offers a radically different vantage point
than Fiske's original vision, one that underlines the importance
of distributive justice in intellectual property. Thus, instead of
interrogating the limits of First Amendment freedoms, as many scholars
have already done, I argue that a study of semiotic disobedience
reveals an even greater need to study both the core boundaries
between types of properties - intellectual, real, personal - and how
propertization offers a subsidy to particular types of expression over

This paper was mentioned in the New York Times Magazine, and won an
Honorable Mention in the Scholarly Papers Competition for the American
Association of Law Schools, 2006.

Sonia K. Katyal
Associate Professor of Law
Fordham Law School
140 W. 62nd St.
New York, NY 10023
Send Email:
Papers available at http://ssrn.com/author=115375 

Sonia K. Katyal
Associate Professor of Law
Fordham Law School
140 W. 62nd St.
New York, NY 10023
Send Email:
Papers available at http://ssrn.com/author=115375

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