Literature as Property between Law and Culture
Despite of 30 years of law-and-literature research, the question of literary property or literature as property has still been neglected. This is partly due to a certain incompatibility of a legal and a literary definition of property, but there has also been notable development in the discourse on property as such. Contemporary debates in politics and culture about intellectual property, copyright, plagiarism, open access, cultural appropriation and the like, as well as increasing appropriations of individual textual creativity as corporate property, all raise the question of how an interdisciplinary approach of the subject might contribute towards a solution. Furthermore, a history of property from a literary and cultural studies-point of view still needs a more profound theoretical and methodological structure.
The project tries to construe the methodological and conceptual differences between a legal and a literary history of intellectual property, but it does not restrict itself to an analysis of only historical conditions or constellations. In fact, the project’s objective is a modern transnational understanding of literary property as a paradigmatic example of intellectual property in order to clarify literary property’s current and future impact concerning biased interpretations of the term and an effective sketch of a possible legal protection scale.
The project rests on the premise that legal and cultural concepts of literary property are placed in a reciprocal cognitive tension with each other. This engenders two complementary perspectives: on the one hand, the PIs investigate individualist versus collectivist demands in both literary and legal discourses in the American and European contexts since the 19th century (especially in comparison to developments in Germany and France) and they trace the resulting tensions between law and literature on the other. The project is placed within the historical context of 19th-century debates on international copyright with a special focus on American discussions of intellectual property, which negotiated fundamental questions concerning the legal, political and cultural functions of property. The 19th-century American copyright debate can be duly considered a predecessor of contemporary debates on the internationalization and globalization of a Western culture of intellectual property due its extensive negotiation of different national and cultural positions towards an idealistic and legal evaluation of property. The project thus approaches contemporary debates on the legitimation of the notion of property from a historical perspective, thereby regarding ‘property’ as a central nexus between law and literature.