Professor Mary Wong on Intellectual Property Rights and Rhetoric, with Nesson as Interlocutor

Professor Mary Wong of Franklin Pierce Law Center is here today at the Berkman Center. Mary’s talk is a series of provocations about language. She’s taking on the trope of the individual author. She is of the “dualist school,” that there’s a minor, but existing solution to do more with natural rights-type reasoning than the United States utilitarian framework that undergirds our IPR system.

Professor Charles Nesson, the Berkman Center’s founder, who thinks a lot about the rhetorical frame, put it nicely: Mary honed in on both the stability and the fluidity of the rhetoric around intellectual property rights.

The single greatest problem in US law in this area, Charlie says, is that the burden of proof in fair use falls on the person re-using the work, not on the person asserts her or his underlying right.

What could we do, Charlie asks? We could think about universities as a client, and law reform as our tactic. What if we were to take up as a cause a shifting of the burden of proof in the fair use context.

Ethan Zuckerman pushed back on Mary’s suggestion that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights might be a good model in terms of language for reframing of the rhetoric around IPR. It’s a shaky foundation, EZ argues, kind of like trying to build community in Palestine. EZ says that Mary is spending her time in the aspirational zone, not in the real world. What is it that we actually do, EZ wants to know? In universities, we find texts we like and xerox them and give them to students, for instance (not at the Berkman Center, of course, but…). We should work from there and try to get to a legal regime that works, says EZ.

If you’ve missed her talk in real-time, please find it at MediaBerkman.

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