Saturday, September 30, 2023

Was the Copyright Act of 1976 the Actual Death of the Author?

Here’s an interesting, fresh, and critical perspective on the recent uproar over appropriation art and copyright law. Regarding the Cariou v. Prince case, there are many pro-Prince folk that adamantly argue that Richard Prince is continuing his argument and practice based on the “already well known” death of the author theory. In this Art and Education essay, Nate Harrison points out that this is not true. In fact, Harrison points out, what Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine did — with help of the artworld — was quite the opposite. Harrison argues that it was actually the US Copyright Act of 1976 that in fact erased the author/subject, and that the artworld, by assigning Prince and Levine an authorial position, actually reinstated the romantic author position well after the post-structuralist deconstruction of the author.

Read through the lens of copyright’s de-individuation of the author then, Levine’s and Prince’s gestures invite a reading at odds with a poststructuralist “death of the author” critique. Rather than undermining any romantic notion of authorial originality in a culture of the copy, the works reasserted the very productive core of the romantic authorial mode––one premised on private ownership through labor.


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