Semiotic Disobedience

Despite my incredibly busy schedule this term, there seem to be a few readers hanging in there with me. One of them sent me a pointer to one of her papers on SSRN: Semiotic Disobedience by Sonia Katyal. The abstract includes the following:

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 others.

I’m printing out a copy to add to my reading stack, but it looks like a very interesting take on the problem.