What is a Newspaper? Archives and Recent Court Cases in Dialogue.

This event is a Media@McGill collaboration with the CIPP (Centre for Intellectual Property Policy).

Abstract: Recent changes and threats to the newspaper industry offer an occasion or imperative for reflecting upon the nature and value of this ubiquitous genre. In New York Times v. Tasini (2001) and Robertson v. Thomson (2006), the Supreme Courts of the United States and Canada respectively were provoked by copyright cases to define the newspaper. The first part of this talk will examine the intellectual and imaginative contortions of these rulings in the context of literary theoretical discussions of authorship, originality, and genre, and in the context of journalists' recent somewhat desperate attempts to identify what is valuable or unique about the newspaper. But issues raised by the Tasini and Robertson cases can also find a compelling interlocutor in the archives. Examples in the second part of the talk will be drawn from New York City dailies from the 1830s and 1840s, the era in which the penny press emerged. I will focus on the generic commonalities among these papers, which are all various sorts of miscellanies, each defining itself as a node in an exchange system of shared material, subsidized by free postage, and governed not by copyright law but by a nebulous etiquette of citation and reciprocity. The newspaper here is not primarily a unique source of "new news" but a unique package of selected material. While the genre of the newspaper changed considerably over the following 175 years, these early examples can enrich, challenge, and focus overly presentist claims about its value, social function, and nature.

Laura J. Murray (PhD Cornell 1993) is Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair of the English Department of Queen's University, where she teaches Nineteenth-century American literature and Literary Theory. She has published extensively on early Native American literature and exploration writing; see for example To Do Good to My Indian Brethren: The Writings of Joseph Johnson, 1751-1776 (U Massachusetts 1998) and "Fur Traders in Conversation" (Ethnohistory 2003). Her most recent publications concern present-day copyright policy: for example, she is coauthor with Samuel E. Trosow of Canadian Copyright: A Citizen's Guide (Between the Lines 2007) and author of "Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement: The Costs of Confusion" in Caroline Eisner and Martha Vicinus, eds., Originality, Imitation, and Plagiarism: Teaching Writing in the Digital Age (U Michigan, 2008) and "Copyright" in Marc Raboy & Jeremy Shtern, eds., Two Tiers of Freedom: Communication Rights and the Right to Communicate in Canada (UBC, forthcoming). In summer 2008, she hosted a workshop entitled Copyright's Counterparts: Alternative Economies of Creativity in Theory and Practice, an initial stage in what she intends as a collaborative project to describe multiple extra-legal systems for incentivizing and regulating creative efforts. These economies (which include Aboriginal cultural systems, Open Source protocols, academic citation, and many more) are often neglected, rarely compared, and under some threat from expansionist copyright law. She is particularly interested in historical case studies as a way of illuminating varieties of ways of organizing creative process. Building on her longstanding interest and expertise in nineteenth-century American cultural history, the focus of her teaching, one of her contributions to the economies of creativity project will be a study of the exchange system in mid-nineteenth-century American dailies. While serving as Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in the New York University Institute of Law & Society in January-June 2007, she was able to complete the initial stage of research for this project, of which the proposed paper forms a part.

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