“Introduction” Westbrook, Steve, ed. Composition & Copyright: Perspectives on Teaching, Textmaking, and Fair Use. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009.

  • When Westbrook started teaching out of graduate school he intended to create a writing program that attempted to collapse the binary between rhetoric and creative writing (poetics) by challenging the binary between written and digital composition (1).  Yet, W. notes that he was “woefully naive” about intellectual property and didn’t know how IP law could/would affect his students and his own work.
  • As W. notes, the technologies of writing and composition change so rapidly in our era that conflicts with copyright are very common and will grow increasinly so.  In fact, the effect of copyright on writing is beginning to gain traction in the field of Writing Studies as scholars, teachers, and students begin to draw out the implications of copyright and intellectual property in issues of free speech, expression, and the public sphere.
  • W. identifies two early texts that speak to IP issues: Woodmansee and Jaszi’s “The Law of Texts:  Copyright in the Academy” and Lunsford and West’s “Intellectual Property and Composition Studies”.  W. also notes some other useful texts: Gurak & Johnson-Eilola’s 1998 issue in Computers and Composition, Lowe’s “Copyright, Access, and Digital Texts,” Reyman’s “Copyright, Distance Education, and the TEACH Act,” and Rife’s “The Fair Use Doctrine: History, Application, and Implications for (New Media) Writing Teachers” (3).  Two book length studies include Herrington’s Controlling Voices: IP, Humanistic Studies, and the Internet and Logie’s Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion.


Reyman, Jessica.  “Property, Theft, Piracy: Rhetoric and Regulation in MGM Studios v. Grokster.” in  Westbrook, Steve, ed. Composition & Copyright: Perspectives on Teaching, Textmaking, and Fair Use. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009.

  • Reyman notes early on that a fundamental conflict in digital spaces is the open architecture of the internet writ large (LAMP, collaborative social media, open-source code, etc.) and the legal restrictions of a print based paradigm from pre-digital times.  What is particularly disturbing is that the legal challenges have moved beyond prosecution of individual users toward the prosecution of technologies themselves (this move has been made possible via DMCA).
  • In this article Reyman considers the MGM Studios v. Grokster case.  This case considered whether folks that develop technologies that make infringement possible should be prosecuted for infringement.  As R. notes, the characteristics of P2P – distributed architecture, decentralized control, and facilitation of sharing – challenge property-based narratives of IP (10).  Yet, as R. notes, technological advances in textual production have historically challenged copyright and intellectual property.  Law is slow to catch up with technology.
  • R. employs a method of rhetorical analysis to interrogate the public and legal discourse around the Grokster case in this article.  Her textual selections include: legal briefs, public websites, press releases, and consumer awareness campaigns (11).
  • Conclusions of her analysis:  the “rhetoric of property stewardship. . . normalizes ownership-based structures for copyright regulation and identifies particular uses of the new technology as its natural, inevitable, and legal purpose.  This discourse, while failing to take into account unique characteristics of digital composition and creativity, gains strength by suggesting a coherence with legal history and defining property, exclusivity, and originality as foundational principles in copyright law” (11).
  • R. highlights the disjunct between the law and the content industry offensive in deterring copyright infringement throughout this essay.  As one might expect, the copyright and control industries overextend, distort, and hyperbolize the discourse around piracy and copyright infringement as a terrorist tactic to discourage sharing.
  • The “property stewardship” argument is what Reyman calls the rhetorical arguments made by the content industries.  Interestingly these arguments have also been deployed by folks in defense of digital sharing as they claim to be protecting the intellectual property of the public domain.  (13-4).
  • R. pays close attention to the rhetoric of piracy and the deployment of the term “pirate” by the content industries in the rhetoric of property stewardship.  A wonderful, close analysis of key texts involved in the conflict.  (16-7).
  • R. highlights the “natural order” created by the rhetoric/discourse of property stewardship:  cultural production is the exclusive write of the originary authors . . . nothing can be built on/improved/remixed/redeployed.  This certainly freezes cultural production and creates a truly Matrix like situation where individual agency is severely hindered vis-a-vis the ability to create.  Rhetorical velocity dies.  R. also highlights the “natural rights” argument in anti-piracy discourse: human beings are entitled to the “fruits of their labor” under this doctrine; however, again, this presumes a one sided production model: artists/content industries produce . . consumers consume (18).
  • Locke’s treatment of property occurs in Second Treatise of Government, chap.II, paragraph 27.  CHECK IT.  As my research has demonstrated in the past, the “natural rights” discourse is unfounded and certainly not protected exclusively in the original US Constitutional Copyright Clause.  The natural rights discourse is where we see the intersection of IP/copyright research and authorship studies – a key convergence.
  • R. notes that a particuarly problematic tactic in infringement discourse is something of an argument of rhetorical indirection: who exactly is the victim of IP infringement?  Often it is not the authors or creators of the work but the content owners. . . . but anti-piracy/infringement discourse always highlights the artist (22).
  • As R. notes, “Relying exclusively on a property rights approach to copyright emphasizes the individual benefit of economic reward and advancement and the natural right of the author, perhaps at the expense of the community” (25).  To demonstrate this R. highlights how various “protectionist” measures for intellectual property actually hinder innovation, development, and creativity.  As a counter she considers the open-access/free software movement that Lessig studies in places like Brazil.
  • R. recommends that the discourses around IP should not be determined by content producers; rather, they should be established, negotiated, debated, and rationalized by the folks making and using digital technologies (writers, coders, users, and creators).

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