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Intellectual Property & Popular Culture (LAWS50128)

Graduate coursework level 5Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2018
Subject levelGraduate coursework Level 5
Subject codeLAWS50128
Availability(Quotas apply)
Summer Term
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Intellectual Property & Popular Culture (IPPC) is designed to offer an interdisciplinary cultural studies perspective on the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights with a focus on the relevance of an understanding of cultural production and semiotic consumption to legal doctrine.

Contemporary culture in industrialised nations is characterised by a vibrant kaleidoscope of images and spectacles that permeate the fabric of everyday life, influencing consumption choices and political views, and providing meaningful materials out of which people may shape their own identities. It is in a hybrid mode as consumer-citizens that individuals participate to express freedom, choice and identity. The conceptual framework of cultural studies can help one better understand why certain cultural artifacts are universally popular and their significant impact within the environment they inhabit, and more importantly, can provide insights into how the law may respond in the context of this cultural milieu. In particular, this subject will examine the cultural and semiotic significance of celebrities (eg David Beckham, Rihanna), fictional characters (eg Superman, Mickey Mouse) and iconic status symbols (eg Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin).

IPPC uses relevant insights from cultural studies in a pragmatic manner to evaluate how an understanding of the contemporary production, circulation and consumption of such cultural products like celebrities, fictional literary characters and status symbols could ultimately assist in a more nuanced development of copyright, trademark and personality rights laws.

There is no prescribed textbook for this subject. Students will be referred to the foundational writings of Roland Barthes and Stuart Hall in semiotics and audience/media studies, the more recent works of star studies scholars like Richard Dyer and Graeme Turner, and the interdisciplinary IP legal scholarship of authors like Rosemary Coombe, Justin Hughes and David Tan. A comparative approach will be adopted to examine cultural themes in cases that involve the enforcement of IP rights to protect the celebrity personality, well-known fictional characters/movies/books/songs and iconic brands primarily drawn from the jurisdictions of New York, California, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia.

This course is designed for bothstudents who have previously taken modules in intellectual property (eg copyright, trademarks) and students who are exposed to intellectual property for the first time

The objectives of the subject IPPC are to:

  • Introduce key intellectual property rights (IPR) that are relevant to pop culture and popular iconography that includes the celebrity personality, fashion brands, movies and music, with a focus on claims brought by IPR owners in the United States, Europe and Australia;
  • Provide an interdisciplinary cultural studies perspective on the production, circulation and consumption of the celebrity personality and status symbols in contemporary society, and the relevance to the development of legal doctrine;
  • Highlight the transnational similarities and differences in the protection of IPR relating to popular iconography, especially in relation to the influence of free speech constitutional provisions; and
  • Examine, through the lens of cultural studies, the operation of four prominent causes of action in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, with selected references to other jurisdictions:
    • Copyright infringement;
    • Trademark infringement and dilution;
    • Right of publicity tort; and
    • Passing off.


Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the subject IPPC, students will have:

  • Acquired an advanced understanding of the key writings and insights from contemporary cultural studies on the production, circulation and consumption of cultural artifacts such as the celebrity personality, famous literary/dramatic/ musical/artistic works and status symbols in contemporary society;
  • Gained an understanding of four relevant causes of action that are often used to enforce IPR relating to cultural artifacts today;
  • Demonstrated an ability to apply an interdisciplinary cultural studies perspective in a pragmatic manner to analyse the development of legal doctrine in relation to IPR;
  • Shown advanced skills in written analytical communication and legal problem-solving;
  • Developed the capacity to identify the salient transnational similarities and differences in the protection of IPR relating to popular iconography, and be able to compare and critique legal concepts across different jurisdictions; and
  • Augmented their specialised knowledge and skills to work more effectively in a multi-jurisdictional professional practice, undertake cross-jurisdictional research in an advanced academic setting or further graduate-level studies either in Australia or overseas.

Last updated: 23 January 2019