The Modern Author at Work on Madison Avenue
MODERNISM AND COPYRIGHT, p. 173, Paul K. Saint-Amour, ed., Oxford University Press, 2010
23 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2010
This chapter of a book on modernism and copyright uses the work relationships of creative employees at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency to explore the roles of the law and legal norms in mediating creation, ownership, attribution, and public recognition as dominant features of twentieth century authorship. In both legal and literary studies, scholars have tended to focus on the relationship between copyright law and an individual, literary model of authorship. This scholarly focus on authors and owners has been incommensurate with the relatively small percentage of twentieth-century creative people whose efforts were rewarded through copyright ownership. Once we realize that much modern creativity is exercised in an employment setting where salaried creators sign away their rights in their work as a condition of hire - sign away, in effect, their very status as authors - we can see that the attribution of work, rather than ownership of the intellectual property represented in it, defines the modern connection between many creators and work of all kinds. The chapter argues that copyright is not the only place, perhaps not even the most important place, to study the role of law in shaping the nature of creative work in modernism. The project I undertake here is to show that modernism did not coincidentally grow at the same time as the corporatization of creativity. Rather, they unfolded in complex relation to each other. In the world of commercial cultural production, authorship has been an unstable blend of individual and collective creation and attribution. What authorship has meant was determined largely outside the purview of copyright law, and often outside any other formal law, bouncing endlessly back and forth between the individual and the corporation.
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