Book review: Law, Art and The Commons



In “Law, Art and The Commons”, Merima Bruncevic “explores the possibility of constructing a legal concept of the cultural commons”, an exciting prospect considering the claimed failure of copyright law by some to give the public domain any real significance in practice.

The author uses complex critical theories of knowledge construction, the definition of ‘objects’ and  an understanding of the ‘commons’ to investigate the relationship between the law and the arts on a theoretical level. The overarching argument of the book is that copyright law needs to make space for things that usually go unnoticed in order for the public domain to have a more meaningful place. ‘Things’, for want of a better word, include users’ complex relationships with a work of art, which is itself situated in a complex space or landscape; such landscape is not just to be understood as the physical space surrounding the work of art, but it also includes its digital and legal environments. The author proposes to do so by examining the current application of copyright in light of critical theories of ‘knowledge’, ‘objects’ and, of course, theories on the ‘commons’.

Ready for a challenge
Although the book provides a clear and (very) necessary introduction to the theories of knowledge that are used as the cornerstone of its analysis (Chapter 2), it is not an easy read. The speed at which Bruncevic jumps from theory to theory and author to author is evidence of her expertise on the subject and her analytical dexterity in manipulating complex concepts, but it may assume a bit too much from the average legal-minded reader. There is nothing wrong with an intellectual challenge every now and then, but readers beware, it is fair to say that this is not a book really aimed at lawyers. Or if it is, the book is directed at lawyers who are rather very-well versed in critical theories, because the discussion is pitched at a fairly high level of abstraction. 

Indeed, at the outset of the book, the author ‘warns’ readers about the fact that this book is not your typical law treatise. Rather, it is more like a mental exercise or walk taken by the author through a number of key issues and theories associated with the ‘commons’ in the cultural context.

Dear reader, this book is a walk, sometimes quicker, sometimes slower, sometimes full speed ahead, through museums, cityspaces, cultural landscapes, through subterranean webs, into the world of law, art and commons (p 5)


 Indeed, as the author points out, readers may well l get lost along the way: “Sometimes I walk alone, some we walk together […]” (p. 5).

The opening and continuing question of the book is the construction, or re-construction, of a ‘cultural commons’ as a legal concept within the copyright framework (p. 5, p. 202). Comes the last section of the book and we discover that actually “a legal concept will not save us” (p. 202) suggesting that it is a change of approach or understanding of law, the arts and the commons, which is needed for a genuine cultural commons to emerge in copyright law. In other words, nothing short of a re-write of the ways in which we understand and define ‘knowledge’ is required.

The conversation mostly stays clear of what her analysis would mean for practice. Hopefully, the author’s future work on this will suggest a road-map of action for lawyers and policy-makers.

On a side note, this Kat was slightly surprised to find that the words “Schyzophrenia” or “skyzophrenic” were used to qualify a criticism of capitalism and the TRIPs agreement throughout the piece, including in its table of contents. This choice of vocabulary is to be attributed, in part, to fact that Bruncevic discusses a book by Deleuze and Gattari, which is itself titled “Capitalism and Schizophrenia” (published in 1972), and which needs to be understood as a product of its time regarding its choice of words. However, there seem to be no real justification for the author to hold onto them once the commentary on Deleuze and Guattari’s book is over. Words such as ‘dis-jointed’, ‘two-faced’, ‘contradictory’, ‘ambiguous’, or ‘inconsistent’, would have done just as well. 

That said, this book will be useful to scholars and advanced students exploring critical theories at the intersection of Art, Law and the Commons.

Law, Art and the Commons. By Merima Bruncevic. 1st Edition. Routledge. 237 pages. 9781138697546. Hardback from £84 (here) e-book from £20 (here)


Book review: Law, Art and The Commons Book review: Law, Art and The Commons Reviewed by Mathilde Pavis on Friday, December 28, 2018 Rating: 5

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.