Journalism 24, Section 1

Who is or was a Pirate? Wars over Copyright Dating back to Blackbeard Himself (1 unit, LG)

Professor Thomas Leonard
Monday 3:30-4:30, 127 North Gate Hall, Class number: 40595

Early in the twenty-first century, the novelist David Foster Wallace began a college commencement address with a joke:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How's the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’

Copyright in this century makes us all young fish. We may not be aware that the texts we read, the recorded music we hear, the videos we see, are all wet with claims of copyright. Indeed, if these creative works were produced in our lifetimes, the claims that they are in copyright are likely valid. By the exception of fair use, copyright law allows us to borrow Wallace’s words on fish and to do many other things with our cultural heritage. How did we end up in the murky pool of copyright? By examining the practice of "piracy" back to the eighteenth century, and how this concept has shaped our thinking, this seminar hopes to illuminate our dilemmas.

Instructor Bio

Tom Leonard led both the Media Studies Program and the University Library during his long career as a faculty member in the Graduate School of Journalism. He has published three books and many articles on how American media took account of domestic political life and wars abroad, from the eighteenth century to the age of digital information. His current work explores "piracy," both as a way of life in early America and as a catch-phrase for the borrowing of information in our time.