Friday, February 09, 2007

Panel 2, Material Girl: The Culture of Gender and IP

I'm going to break this up, both on ego grounds (I spoke in the middle) and because there were five panelists.

Moderated by Lisa Ramsey, University of San Diego School of Law

Dr. Boatema Boateng, University of California, San Diego School of Communications, “It’s These Same Women!” Gender, Cultural Appropriation and Intellectual Property Law in Ghana

Adinkra cloth as an example of the way in which cultural appropriation is gendered. There is both hand and mechanized production of fabric in Ghana, brought together by the local economy of cloth use. There is also legal protection for adinkra designs. Asante make adinkra, which features abstract designs stenciled onto cloth by craftsmen (almost exclusively men, though dyes are produced predominantly by women who also make other kinds of cloth). Individual symbols have meanings and names, and may refer to historical or life events. It’s traditionally used for mourning.

Mechanized cloth production involves women who control trading markets, and also sometimes in the factories. Female traders commission designs from factories or choose which designs to sell. (When Ghanaians say “cloth,” they are referring to African fabrics used for traditional outfits or uses; “material” is for things like Western suits and dresses.)

In the 1980s, imitation adinkra began to appear in mass-produced offerings, and the Ghanaian cloth-buying public accepted them as more practical alternatives – they could be washed, and they were cheaper. Some adinkra producers saw this as a threat not from factories, but from women – the cloth production sector is seen as controlled by women, and some adinkra-imitative designs had been commissioned by women.

So we have female appropriation of male cultural production. But the contradiction deepens when examined through law. Ghana has protected folklore since 1985, specifying adinkra designs. But the creators were seen as deceased and unknown, so the right to folklore reposes in the state. By contrast, the designs of locally produced textiles in the industrial sector were protected under a textile designs decree. Individuals – women – could and often did register the designs they commissioned. So men have no legal standing as folklore producers, but women could obtain protection as designers of mass-produced goods. A second inversion: women are the subjects of IP law.

Women’s success in capturing a sphere that is favored by the law has translated into a legal advantage.

Kevin Greene, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, IP at the Intersection of Race and Gender – Or, Lady Sings the Blues

His narrative: struggle, opportunity, reform. The historical ties between abolitionism and women’s suffrage have persisted, as have the ties between scholars of race and scholars of gender. There isn’t much out there on race and IP, and it may seem risky to talk about it. He’s been asked by a prominent scholar if he wants to be the black guy who talks about black stuff and IP. His decision: yes. (See Ann Bartow’s point from the previous panel: what’s wrong with being a dog?) Issues of appropriation from African-American artists have correspondences with the international cultural knowledge debates, and provide insights into gender/IP issues as well.

Scott Joplin’s music: a reminder of injustices done to African-Americans, who as a group created a huge amount of copyright value. These artists built the American music industry with amazing innovations, but didn’t get to realize the value. How did people who created so much receive so little out of a system designed to create financial incentives for creators?

Societal discrimination. Sure, all artists are taken advantage of. But there was a system that was just like sharecropping, employment discrimination, and other entrenched systems that meant that African-American innovators were treated worse. Bessie Smith’s contracts, for example, had her assign all her copyrights to an entity that’s now Sony – this is a part of the puzzle where we can find current beneficiaries of past discrimination, which gives it an advantage in the reparations debate.

Clearly, the incentives of copyright didn’t flow to the African-American community, so there must have been some other incentive to create. Traditional knowledge generates the same types of problems of ill-fit and failure to promote the interests of the non-dominant community. Greene also identifies the comparative weakness of moral rights and failure to protect performances as things that don’t serve African-American artists’ interests. Underexplored: the role of black women performers. How can the music industry rise out of its exploitative history and create productive copynorms?

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