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Deven R. Desai – Individual Branding: How the Rise of Individual Creation and Distribution of Cultural Products Confuses the Intellectual Property System

Thursday, December 17, 2009
12:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map

Food at 12:30 pm. Discussion begins at 12:45 pm. Everyone invited.

Much of the current intellectual property system can be explained as meeting the needs of a culture industry based on individual authors who look to corporate entities to mass produce and distribute cultural products. Today, however, as digital technology decreases the cost of both the production and distribution of cultural products, individuals have taken on previously corporate roles. Authors now seek copyright and trademark protection for their work in ways that expand authorial control at the expense of the intellectual property system as a whole. In this essay I argue that these new modes of generating value may require protection but that the current intellectual property system is not equipped to provide such protection without upsetting the balance between creators and users. This essay seeks to map authors’ new interests as a way to show where the intellectual property system can meet these new needs or where it must change. Given the speed with which technology and this type of production evolves, I offer that the law may not be the best way to manage many of these interests at all.


Deven Desai is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy (Princeton University) and an Associate Professor of Law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law where he teaches trademark, intellectual property theory, and information privacy law. Professor Desai’s scholarship applies rhetorical theory to analyze the ways in which business interests (and attendant economic theories) shape intellectual property law and to reveal where those arguments explain productivity or where they fail to capture society’s interest in the free flow of information and development. His work aims to use intellectual property and information law as a lens to develop and offer a theory of productivity that mediates the tension between proprietary and open access understandings present in those doctrines. His recent law review articles include Privacy? Property?: Reflections on the Implications of a Post-Human World 18 Kansas J. of Law & Public Policy (2009) (forthcoming); Property, Persona, and Preservation, 81 Temple Law Review 67 (2008); and Confronting the Genericism Conundrum, 28 Cardozo L. Rev. 1789 (2007) (Sandra L. Rierson, co-author).

Deven is a graduate of Yale Law School where he was co-editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities and of the University of California, Berkeley where he studied rhetoric. Before beginning his academic career, he practiced law with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges in Los Angeles, worked as in-house counsel with technology incubation companies and Mattel, Inc., and as a policy and finance consultant for the Cory Booker for Mayor campaign.

Deven blogs about law, technology, and society at Concurring Opinions and Madisonian .