Katyal’s “Semiotic Disobedience”

If you haven’t already read Sonia Katyal’s “Privacy v. Piracy” and “The New Surveillance,” you should. The articles have proven quite prescient — with the Sony DRM rootkit and AT&T’s announcement about forthcoming ISP-level filtering, the notion of “piracy surveillance” has become increasingly relevant.

She recently sent me a new article, “Semiotic Disobedience,” which she’d appreciate feedback on.

“In this Article, I seek to introduce another framework to supplement
Fiske’s important metaphor: the phenomenon of “semiotic
disobedience.”Three contemporary cultural moments in the world – one
corporate, one academic, and one artistic – call for a new understanding
of the limitations and possibilities of semiotic democracy and underline
the need for a supplementary framework. As public spaces have become
converted into vehicles for corporate advertising – ads painted onto
sidewalks and into buildings, schools, and other public spaces – product
placement has soared to new heights of power and subtlety. And
throughout, the law has generously offered near-sovereign protection to
such symbolism through the ever-expanding vehicle of intellectual
property protection. Equations between real property and intellectual
property are ubiquitous. Underlying these themes is a powerful linkage
between intellectual and tangible property: as one expands, so does the
“Just as previous discussions of civil disobedience focused on the need
to challenge existing laws by using certain types of public and private
property for expressive freedoms, today’s generation seeks to alter
existing intellectual property by interrupting, appropriating, and then
replacing the passage of information from creator to consumer. This
Article suggests that the phenomenon of semiotic disobedience offers a
radically different vantage point than Fiske’s original vision, one that
underlines the importance of distributive justice in intellectual
property. Thus, instead of interrogating the limits of First Amendment
freedoms, as many scholars have already done, I argue that a study of
semiotic disobedience reveals an even greater need to study both the
core boundaries between types of properties – intellectual, real,
personal – and how propertization offers a subsidy to particular types
of expression over others.”

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