Three Ways of Looking at Law and Popular Culture

Propriete Intellectuelle et Pop Culture: Nouveaux enjeux, nouveaux defis 9 (Actes du colloque: PI et pop culture) (Actes du colloque des JUSPI) (IRPI, 2020).

Posted: 20 Aug 2020

See all articles by Christine A. Corcos

Christine A. Corcos

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center

Date Written: November 15, 2019

Abstract

In 1989 the Stanford University Law School professor Lawrence Friedman offered a definition of “popular legal culture.” In an often-cited article, he wrote that, “In the first place, legal culture acts as an intervening variable, a mechanism for transforming norms of popular culture into legal dress and shape. In the second place, legal and popular culture, as images of each other, help explicate and illuminate their respective contents”. He notes that law and culture interact in two ways. Law is outward-looking; it depends on and interacts with the society from which it springs. At the same time it shapes that society. We can and do also talk about at least two current and differing uses of law and popular culture in legal education. We can use law and popular culture to teach legal principles. This use makes legal doctrine entertaining and accessible. We can also dig for the messages it gives us about the interaction of law and society. This second method requires us to interact with the texts of both law and popular culture.

Currently in legal education we can and do examine at law and popular culture in both of the ways Friedman identifies. I suggest that we can identify and should examine a third intersection of law and popular culture that scholars have begun to study, that I suggest we should formally acknowledge as a part of law and popular culture studies. This third intersection is the actual trans-formative effect or trans-formative turn that popular culture and law have on each other. I would suggest both that certain types of intellectual property studies and certain types of activity fall into this category. One example is law’s response to the creation of fan fiction and of fan use of copyrighted and trademarked materials that force a response from the rights holders, or force fans to cease a particular activity because the rights holders refuse permission to proceed. We have many examples of the legal responses and changes in norms that illustrate these interactions. What we don’t yet seem to have in the general theory of law and pop culture is a definition for this third intersection. It may be that this third intersection is now most obvious in intellectual property law, perhaps because of the accessibility and spread of technology as well as the overwhelming importance of social media in our lives today. It exists in other areas of law as well, for example in family law, in criminal law, in privacy law, and has for some time. I would suggest that this intersection creates the possibility for the working out of the tensions between law and culture, as the public through pop culture identifies how the law works, what the law is, and then reacts to the law, makes demands on the law, and in some cases, forces changes in the law.

Keywords: Law and Popular Culture, Legal Education

Suggested Citation

Corcos, Christine A., Three Ways of Looking at Law and Popular Culture (November 15, 2019). Propriete Intellectuelle et Pop Culture: Nouveaux enjeux, nouveaux defis 9 (Actes du colloque: PI et pop culture) (Actes du colloque des JUSPI) (IRPI, 2020)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3654607

Christine A. Corcos (Contact Author)

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center ( email )

440 Law Center Building
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
United States

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