GHI Spring Lecture Series 2018

Illicit Knowledge: Copyright, Piracy, and Intellectual Property in Historical Perspective

Organized by Sarah Beringer and Atiba Pertilla

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Knowledge is central to most human practices. Its discovery, production, adaptation, and expansion often gives those who "possess" knowledge economic, political, or social advantages over those who do not. This dynamic drives the quest to protect knowledge with patents and other forms of ownership rights, and creates incentives for others to appropriate or abuse knowledge generated or controlled by others.

Through the lens of the history of knowledge, the GHI's Spring 2018 Lecture Series "Illicit Knowledge: Copyright, Piracy, and Intellectual Property in Historical Perspective" will provide historical context to current debates over the adaptation, reuse, and remixing of intellectual property in an era when digital technology makes replication easier than it has ever been before. 

The questions this lecture series aims to address are as multifaceted as knowledge itself. Who are the actors? What are their motives? What trends can be detected over time, by sector, and in terms of different cultural influences? And how do technological developments - such as digitization - change our perception of copyright and the fair use of knowledge? 

The series covers topics from the 1960s to the present day. It will begin with Nancy Troy's lecture on the cultural significance of "copying" in haute couture and the garment industry. Next, Mario Daniels will explore the intertwined relationships between technology transfer, industrial espionage, and the geostrategic interests of nation-states in the late 20th century. Justin Williams will highlight the issues surrounding hip hop's "open source" culture of borrowed material and digital sampling. Finally, the series will conclude with Peter Baldwin's analysis of the latent conflict between knowledge transfer and the protection of scholarly intellectual property that has created an ambivalent stance towards open-access publication in the academic world.

All lectures take place on Thursdays and begin at 6:30 pm (refreshments will be served from 6:00 to 6:30 pm). They will be held at the German Historical Institute, 1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington D.C. Please RSVP by Tel. 202.387.3355, E-mail, or at the links below.

  • Mondrian's Dress: Copying (and) the Couture Copy
    April 19, 2018 - Register
    Speaker: Nancy Troy (Stanford University)
  • Japanese Industrial Espionage, American Decline, and the Political Economy of Knowledge in the 1980s
    May 3, 2018 - Register
    Speaker: Mario Daniels (Georgetown University)
  • Hip-Hop Aesthetics: Theft, Borrowing, or Artistic Practice?
    May 24, 2018 - Register
    Speaker: Justin Williams (University of Bristol)
  • Copyright and Intellectual Property: Why Is Academia Reluctant to Embrace Open-Access Scholarship?
    June 14, 2018 - Register
    Speaker: Peter Baldwin (University of California, Los Angeles)