Course blog for CSP 11 (Fall 2012) @ Occidental College

CSP 11: Copyright + Culture (Fall 2012)

Position Paper Assignment

For this assignment you will write a 4-5 page position paper (excluding your works cited page), crafting an original, thesis-driven argument about the relationship between authorship, copyright, and culture.  Using the Star Wars Holiday Special as a test case (see below), your argument should create a critical dialogue between Roland Barthes’ essay “The Death of the Author,” and Peter Decherney’s chapter “Auteurism on Trial: Moral Rights and Films on Television.”  Your paper should display a clear understanding and mastery of these essays through the passages you choose to synthesize, extract, apply, and analyze in support of your own argument.

Your paper should reflect an understanding the place and importance of moral rights in the history of U.S. copyright debates around authorship and creative integrity, and should also consider how contemporary media culture has (or hasn’t) realized Barthes’ desire to “overthrow the myth” of the Author, through a discussion of the Star Wars Holiday Special.  You should focus your original argument and analysis around these two essays, but you are welcome to bring in other course readers when they are relevant.

With an eye towards creating meaningful intersections between Barthes’ and Decherney’s discussions of authorship and creative and/or legal ownership, you should consider the following questions (among others) before crafting your thesis:

  • Do you agree or disagree with Barthes’ argument regarding the oppressive interpretive power of the “Author” as a concept?  Has the author been effectively “killed” by digital media?  Have we yet witnessed the “birth of the reader?”
  • Do you think that U.S. Copyright law would benefit from some adoption of moral rights, however limited?  Why or why not?
  • Do you think that the cult of the auteur increased or decreased over the years?  Why or why not?
  • What are the implications of using nationalist or theological allegories in these debates surrounding authorship?  Likewise, what role does gendered language play in shaping these debates?
  • How does copyright law function to navigate, or negotiate, the relationship between artistry and industry?

To give you some background, the Star Wars Holiday Special aired on CBS in November 1978, in large part to capitalize on the success of Star Wars (1977), and to promote the film’s merchandise and toy lines.  This is a unique case of content being “repurposed” or “adapted” for a new medium.  Though the original cast participated, and the special introduced characters that would become central to the Star Wars canon, such as Boba Fett, Lucas has disavowed the special and it circulates exclusively through bootleg copies to this day.  Though Lucas’ creative involvement with the special was minimal, he did sign off on it, and certainly reaped the benefits of prime-time product placement for Star Wars merchandise.

Here is a brief overview of the special, and Lucas’ response, from the 2010 documentary The People vs. George Lucas:

And here is the special in its entirety.

Because George Lucas plays so prominently into the moral rights debates in the U.S., consider the following when watching the special:

  • Which of the “moral rights” might Lucas invoke if he wished to protest this special?  Would he have a strong case?
  • What might be the benefits of such a special, from a Barthesian perspective?  Regardless of the “quality” of the special, does it suggest a shift in the balance of power between author and reader (or viewer)?
  • Despite the limited involvement of Star Wars‘ “auteur,” George Lucas, does the fact that all of the original cast members participated complicate an easy dismissal of the special?  If auteur theory is central to creators’ demand for moral rights, are there economic factors that overwrite the auteur (in this case, franchising, merchandizing, etc.)
  • Ultimately, what is the difference between this and the case surrounding Battlestar Galactica detailed by Decherney?

Before you write (relevant pages from A Writer’s Reference):

  • Read “Planning” (3-14) and “Drafting” (14-20)
  • Read “Constructing Reasonable Arguments” (78-86)
  • Revisit “Writing about texts” (67-68)
  • Revisit “Analyze to demonstrate your critical thinking” (74-77)

Formatting Guidelines (relevant pages from A Writer’s Reference):

  • Document formatting (55-56)
  • Citations in MLA style (410-411)

Submission Guidelines (please read these carefully):

Your first draft of your paper is due Monday, 9/24 at 11am as a PDF via email to suzannescott@oxy.edu. Please name this file: YOURLASTNAMEPositionDraft.  You will also bring a hard copy of your paper to class on Monday, 9/24 for peer review.

Your final draft is due Monday, 10/1 at 11am.  You will submit your paper via email as a Word (.doc) file to suzannescott@oxy.edu.  Please name the file: CSP11LastnameFirstname.


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