Department of English

University of Toronto

Robert Spoo (University of Tulsa College of Law), “International Authors’ Rights and the Uncoordinated Public Domain”

Event date: Thursday, November 03, 2016, at 4:15 PM
Location: Faculty of Law (Room J140)

Robert Spoo (University of Tulsa College of Law), “International Authors’ Rights and the Uncoordinated Public Domain”

Thursday, November 3 @ 4:15 PM - 6:00 PM

In association with the Centre for Innovation Law and Policy (Faculty of Law)

When nations amend their copyright laws in response to calls forinternational harmonization, they usually do so by expanding authors’rights without also seeking to harmonize national public domains.Divergent laws have resulted in an uncoordinated global public domainthat renders authors’ works freely available for use in some countrieswhile subjecting them to copyright or moral-rights protection inothers.  The problem of the patchwork global commons, exacerbated byunpredictable literary estates and the inconsistent policies ofinstitutional repositories, undermines the ability of researchers toaccess and disseminate historical and cultural materials, includingunpublished works.  The uncoordinated public domain shares certainfeatures–notably, the problem of resource underuse–with what scholars oflaw and economics call an anticommons.  A balanced solution might be toemploy a system of compulsory licenses to harmonize the world’s publicdomains and to coordinate the legal conditions whereby the vastresources held by cultural institutions could be more fully exploited.The chief example used throughout this talk is James Joyce–specifically,the ongoing Oxford University Press project, of which Professor Spoo isa co-editor, to collect and publish some 2,000 unpublished letterswritten by Joyce.

Robert Spoo holds the Chapman Distinguished Chair in Law at theUniversity of Tulsa, and was recently named a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow. Heearned his JD from Yale, where he was executive editor of the Yale Law Journal.After graduating, he served as law clerk for the Hon. Sonia Sotomayorof the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and practised forseveral years in New York, Oklahoma, and San Francisco, providinglitigation services and advice in the areas of copyrights, trademarks,and other intellectual property. As an attorney, Professor Spoo hasrepresented authors, scholars, documentary filmmakers, record companies,and other creators and users of intellectual property. His litigationwork has included serving as co-counsel, with the Stanford Center forInternet & Society and other attorneys, for Professor Carol Shlossof Stanford against the Estate of James Joyce. Prior to his legalcareer, Professor Spoo received his PhD in English from Princeton andtaught for more than ten years in the University of Tulsa EnglishDepartment, where he was also editor of the James Joyce Quarterly.He has published numerous books and articles on Joyce, Ezra Pound, andother modern literary figures. His teaching interests include copyrightsand intellectual property, media and entertainment law, law andliterature, and the copyright-related needs of scholars. His book Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain(OUP, 2013) offers a legal and cultural history of the impact on non-USauthors of protectionist and isolationist features of US copyright lawssince 1790. Professor Spoo is a member of the Modernist StudiesAssociation Task Force on Fair Use, serves as copyright advisor to manyacademic journals and projects, and acts as general counsel for theInternational James Joyce Foundation. He also serves on the NationalLibrary of Ireland advisory board, and has assisted with proposedcopyright legislation for the Republic of Ireland and other copyrightissues affecting Irish cultural institutions.


Thursday, November 3
4:15 PM - 6:00 PM
Event Category:


Faculty of Law (Room J140)
78 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5 Canada
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