Where’s the Author?

Sukanya Sen

Study material published by Magic Lantern Foundation | 2010 | Supported by The Ford Foundation


In recent years the discourse around Intellectual Property Rights has both intensified and simultaneously become less visible in the Public Domain. The intensification has to do with the emergence of new digital environments and low cost methods of replication and proliferation that have transformed contemporary media experiences. However, the other simultaneous development has been that much of this discourse has tended to remain, and become, invisible to the public in general, paradoxically for the same reason i.e. rapid development of technology that is transforming the mediascape and how meaning is produced.

Magic Lantern Foundation as a knowledge center for arts and cultural production resides at both ends of this contradictory spectrum. As filmmakers, we have been involved in creating content. However, given the limited powers of circulation and hence viewership that documentary films have always been afflicted with, how could we as a distribution network rethink the nature of information circulation, ownership and authorship? This research project through its exploratory nature, has clearly made some of the complexities easier for us to decipher. One of the few initiatives that has emerged from the study is that we no longer maintain an exclusive copyright on the films that we distribute. But, even as we compile this massive wealth of resources, the field of Intellectual Property Rights continues to change before our eyes owing much to the altering notion of the Internet. So much like our film collection, the way we look upon distribution itself will continue to be under construction.


I would like to thank Mr Lawrence Liang for his help and insight during the course of gathering this material. He is the point of reference to any debate around the notion of Intellectual Property and what constitutes a right to its ownership. I would also like to thank Mr Prashant Iyengar, lawyer at the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore for pointing out all the valuable published as well as unpublished resources on the subject and for helping in collating all the material. Finally, I would like to thank Rakhi Basu for designing the cover.

Sukanya Sen

Chapter 1: Where’s the Author?

Chapter 1 1.1 Where is the author? There is a strange irony in the term author. In most usages across the world, the “author” is a common sense and an obvious term. An author is a person who writes something. However, the literary theories sought to address the complex process of creation. Thus, often deeply metaphysical concepts, the positions and discourses around the author have vacillated across centuries and across…

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Chapter 2: Copy, Knowledge and the Author

Chapter 2 2.1 The Copy, Knowledge and The Author Knowledge and the Internet: The shifting author In this chapter we question the notions of the fixity of the author through the tropes of knowledge and the circulation of information flows. How can the position of the author be validated in the current times of increased fluidity, when the binaries of the author /reader/consumer are increasingly under question? Lawrence Liang’s article…

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Chapter 3: Film Authorship: Collective or Collaborative

Chapter 3 3.1 Film Authorship: Collective or Collaborative Marjut Salokannel in an essay titled “Film Authorship in the changing Audio-Visual Environment“, says that cinema has been continually confronted with the problem of determining who the actual author of a cinematographic work is. Salokannel discusses the notion of film authorship as a shifting boundary between film aesthetics and legal discourses relating to the authors’ rights. The boundaries have also differed according…

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Chapter 4: Myths of Copyright

Chapter 4 [19]  4.1 Myths of Copyright Soon the Indian Music Industry will be out of sight, there will be a cultural blackout and consumers will no longer be able to listen to music, virtually. That is what the Indian Music Industry – IMI, joining hands with the police and researchers, tried to convey to consumers and media persons this past week as it held a conference to highlight the…

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Chapter 5: Art and Law: An exclusionary discourse

Chapter 5 Art and Law: An exclusionary discourse Copyright has become a deeply contested issue in the art world: an issue that artists, gallery owners, curators and museum staff are forced to confront everyday. During the 1990s, there has been a tremendous abundance of copyright disputes involving leading contemporary artists and artists’ estates. We shall explore this chapter primarily through the visual analyses of some cases of so-called “infringements”. In…

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Chapter 6: A Story of Power: Digital Technologies

Chapter 6  6.1 A story of Power: Digital Technologies It is almost a truism to state that digital technologies have created a revolution of sorts. They have allowed entrepreneurs to build empires out of fibre and thin air and to establish these empires in a realm without rules. They have challenged Governments and their traditional authority-not by design or intent but purely as a result of technological accident. Because digital…

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Interview with Sebastian Lutgert

“Intellectual Property is the oil of the 21st century,” claimed Mark Getty, chairman of Getty Images, one of the largest Intellectual Proprietors of the world. It was in response to this view of “owning” a rather intangible and hallucinatory kind of property that two Berlin based artists- Jan Gerber and Sebastian Lutgert developed a unique kind of movie database called 0xdb.org, based on the idea that file sharing can be…

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