Unlearning Copyright

In this module, we want to begin to unlearn “copyright”, i.e. a particular social construction consisting of individual authorship, stable works, audiences, personal property, and markets. It emerged in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only is this construction far from universal, but its global application imposes considerable violence on practices that do not fit its categories. For a long time, these have been primarily those rooted in non-western traditions that always had very different concepts of works of art and their social life. Today, in the digital world, the problematic construction of copyright becomes visible also in the West, in day-to-day practices in social media as well as in temporary forms of art which are based on re-use, flexible forms of authorship, and abundance beyond markets.

We will start with the notion of “unlearning” from post-colonial theory, and then move back and forth between non-western and digital cultural practices.

Course Requirements:

  • Presence during the zoom sessions
  • Collective Note-taking (Pad)
  • Contribution to group projects and presentations
  • Short text on a topic related to any of the themes covered in the course (hand in by Sun. 6.12)

Pad for shared note-taking (mornings)

Pad for individual/group work (afternoons)


Introduction to conceptual foundations of copyright:

Swiss Copyright law

Bundesgesetz über das Urheberrecht und verwandte Schutzrechte

  • Art 2: “Werke sind, unabhängig von ihrem Wert oder Zweck, geistige Schöpfungen der Literatur und Kunst, die individuellen Charakter haben.”
  • Art 6: “Urheber oder Urheberin ist die natürliche Person, die das Werk geschaffen hat.”
  • Art 10: “Der Urheber oder die Urheberin hat das ausschliessliche Recht zu bestimmen, ob, wann und wie das Werk verwendet wird.”

Background: History of Copyright Wikipedia

When a photo is not “individual”

Copyright and contemporary culture. The remix problem.

When authorship is distributed, who is the author?

Post Copyright Culture

Further Reading:


Boon, Marcus. In Praise of Copying. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2010. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/in-praise-of-copying/.

  • 1/ What Is a Copy?
  • 3/ Copying as Transformation
  • 7/ Copying as Appropriation

Read one chapter per group, select key ideas from text (copy to pad), and prepare for the discussion.


Discuss Boon,

Nadia Plesner:


Unlearning, Epistemic Violence/Disobedience

Mignolo, Walter D. “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom.” Theory, Culture & Society 26, no. 7–8 (December 2009): 159–81. https://monoskop.org/images/c/cf/Mignolo_Walter_2009_Epistemic_Disobedience_Independent_Thought_and_De-Colonial_Freedom.pdf

Definitions of "Epistemic violence"

Waibel, Tom (2013): „ Praktiken des Ungehorsams“, ZfK - Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 2, S. 101–105.




Write down one or more scene(s) worth discussing, prepare for discussion (time code in pad)



11:00 -11:30 Talk with Uriel Orlow

Definitions of Traditional (Ecological) Knowledge



Aboriginal Art, Exploitation, Misappropriation, Copyright



Case one: the Ilma Dance and Roy Wiggan's Paintings

Additional Material:

Case two John Bulunbulun's Painting 'Magpie Geese and Water Lilles at the Waterhole'

Additional reading (not required)


Discussion: Aboriginal Art and Copyright

Intro: Shanzai



Han, Byung-Chul. Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese. Translated by Philippa Hurd. Untimely Meditations. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.




Xiang, Liping. 2015. Copyleft Appropriation Art in China. Exhibition (Aug 15-Nov 15, 2015), Shanghai: Power Station of Art. p. 38-78

Wang, Xiaowei. Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside. FSG Originals X Logic. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020. (Chapter 5, Made in China)

Material from the pad/discussion

COPY: lost in translation. need to make a glossary here.

  • 臨摹 /LIN MO/ ways of learning painting and calligraphy in traditional Chinese art: putting the original work in front of you, observing the work by eyes, and recreating the work by hands.
  • 複製 /FU ZHI/ remake, reproduction of the original
  • 仿製 /FANG ZHI/ imitation of the original, would never
  • 複印 /FU YIN/ copy machine copying
  • 拓印 /TA YIN/ copy-print making, robbing
  • 抄襲 /CHAO XI/ copycat, plagiarism
  • 山寨 /SHAN ZHAI/ a internet neologism for clumsy replica/fake products, later used in wide range of context. Term like "Shanzhaism" emerges.

Dafen Cun 大芬村

  • Shenzhen located adjoining to Hong Kong, and is now the 4th developed City in China (Beijing-Shanghai-Guangzhou-Shenzhen). Dafen Village is the world's largest oil-painting village, having over 10,000 oil painter-workers. Their job is to paint

“From there, a wildly creative ecosystem appeared. New shanzhai is open source on hyperspeed, an unapologetic confrontation with Western ideas of intellectual property. The designers and engineers of new shanzhai products build on each other’s work, co-opting, repurposing, and remixing in a decentralized way.”

Naomi 'SexyCyborg' Wu (Youtube, Instagramm)

Chinese rural influencers booming on the internet: *

Rural areas in different parts of China vary greatly in terms of customs, culture, and economic conditions. The blockchain chicken farm is located in Southeast China - a relatively developed area compare to other parts of China.




Beyond Copyright in digital culture. Copyleft, Commons, and Care

What is Free Software? Free Software Foundation, 1996

Creative Commons

Creating Commons, Research Projekt, 2017-2020

UbuWeb, //www.ubu-mirror.ch]], //monoskop.org/UbuWeb| Monoskop: UbuWeb], Happy birthday, Ubu.com!, 30 Nov 2016.


Writing a short essay /edit wikipedia

  • unlearning_copyright_2020.txt
  • Last modified: 2020/12/14 08:30
  • by fstalder