The Color of Creatorship: Intellectual Property, Race, and the Making of Americans (Stanford University Press, 2020) by Anjali Vats is an intricate and meticulously researched text on intellectual property history, race, and citizenship from the 1790s to the present. This is a complex narrative that engages multiple fields of knowledge including rhetoric, history, communication studies, law, and critical race theory. With a focus on race and neo-coloniality in American intellectual property law, Vats argues that intellectual property and citizenship “have evolved and continue to evolve—in deeply intertwined and raced ways” as demonstrated in racial scripts or narratives about creators and infringers (2).
In her history of intellectual property, Vats focuses on copyright, patent, and trademark discourses in her intricate analysis of how ideas about creator, citizenship, race and nation unfold over time. The text includes an “Introduction” that discusses intellectual property as “a set of rhetorics” about citizenship and how “race and coloniality structure doctrinal practices in copyright, patent, and trademark law” (3). She uses the phrase “intellectual property citizen” to organize the text into four neat chapters that discuss how whiteness and property interests shape intellectual property law at times in the “guise of equality” and race neutral language.
The first two chapters cover the development of ideas about intellectual property from the early Republic to the mid-twentieth century. Chapter One is titled “The Intellectual Property Citizen” and it focuses on how whiteness became more formally linked with citizenship in the 1700s including some analysis of how the production of knowledge marked the boundaries of American citizenship. This is the era in which creatorship is cast as “fundamentally white” according to the author. Chapter Two is titled “The Race Liberal Intellectual Property Citizen” and it concerns a discussion of how race liberal citizenship emerged in the post-World War II Era.
In Chapter Three, “The Post Racial Intellectual Property Citizen” Vats notes that the administration of Barack H. Obama passed a series of laws that helped to maintain a notion of white creatorship ultimately producing a post racial intellectual property citizen. The color of creatorship essentially remained white during the Obama Era. Lastly, in the final Chapter “Rescripting Creatorship, Rescripting Citizenship” creators of color such as Prince Rogers Nelson pushed back against the racialist narratives in intellectual property law through performative acts of resistance and in the process contributed to the remaking of capitalism more generally.'
Anjali Vats is Assistant Professor of Communication and African and African Diaspora Studies and Assistant Professor of Law (by courtesy) at Boston College.
Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history. She has published book chapters, essays, and edited/authored five books. Her latest publications include Bury My Heart in a Free Land: Black Women Intellectuals in Modern U.S. History (Praeger, 2017) and, with Dr. G. Reginald Daniel, professor of historical sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union (University Press of Mississippi 2014). Follow me on twitter: @DrHettie2017
Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history.