Patently False: Copyright Law and Textual Being
by Kris Coffield — University of Hawaii
September 16, 2012 – 02:04
Lost amidst the legal wrangling surrounding Apple, Inc.’s recent $1 billion patent violation victory against Samsung Electronics Co. was Georgia State University’s continued triumph over a gaggle of academic publishers, including Oxford University Press and Sage Publications, that had accused the school of multiple copyright violations. According to 99 infringement complaints filed by the publishers, GSU broke fair use standards by allowing professors to electronically disseminate portions of copyrighted works to their students. In May, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia sided with the college in all but five complaints, however, and last month ordered the academic presses to pay the prevailing party’s attorney fees.
On first reading, the two cases appear to deal with disparate intellectual property issues. Apple’s lawsuit covers the extent of patents for mobile communications innovation, while GSU’s litigation revolved around limitations and exceptions to exclusive creative copyrights. Yet, upon closer inspection, the two disputes arose from a common philosophical problematic: the reification of human experience above all other forms of being. Under such an ontological umbrella, being is said to be so thoroughly recuperated within anthropic (and typically Cartesian) cognition that nonhuman entities are denied ontological, much less sociopolitical, significance, laying the groundwork for anthroploitation, which can be defined as the erasure and exploitation of nonhuman being for anthropocentric purposes.
Very often, those purposes are commercial, involving the superimposition of a fictive and commodified objectal structure upon an object’s ontologically inexhaustible inner being. Enemeshed within market discourses, intellectual property law aims to protect profits by veiling the agency of a nonfictional object beneath that of its fictionally commodified counterpart. What matters, from an IP perspective, is the revenue generating capacity of being-toward-capital, not being-in-itself or ideational origins.
A helpful corrective to this usurpation of objectal agency can be found in object-oriented ontology’s emphasis on anthrodecentrism, whereby all objects, human and nonhuman, are said to exist independent of and on equal footing with one another. If this is the case, then fictional commodities are severable from, albeit immanent to, their nonfictional peers, problematizing anthropic notions of ownership and privatization. Even the laws regulating Apple’s and GSU’s lawsuits are questioned, as they are revealed to be textual objects productive of material effects, like the protection and replication of socioeconomic systems that posit wealth accumulation as the penultimate plane of existence.