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Dr. Anjali Vats to Deliver Talk on Taylor Swift, Copyright, and Black Intellectual Labor

Posted by on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 in News & Events.

Dr. Anjali Vats will deliver a talk to the Department of Communication Studies on December 1, from 4:15-5:30, in Commons Center 235. Vats’s talk, “Owning Your Masters (Taylor’s Version): Postfeminist Tactical Copyright and the Erasure of Black Intellectual Labor,” considers Taylor Swift’s decision to rerecord her master records, beginning with the acclaimed Fearless and Red, in the larger context of Black musicians’ struggles to own and exploit their creative works. It develops the concept of postfeminist tactical copyright to interrogate how, despite Swift’s success in reclaiming her intellectual property rights and resisting white patriarchal oppression, her white feminine privilege results in the minimization and erasure of decades of Black intellectual labor, including by many Black women. Taking an intersectional approach to reading her situation reveals that she was able to succeed because 1) of the efforts of Black artists that preceded her, 2) the composition/recording distinction enshrined in the Sound Recording Act of 1971, and 3) Swift’s postfeminist self-styling as an innocent, wholesome, and resilient but flawed all-American singer-songwriter who is a skilled entrepreneur. Vats trace these arguments through the history of master records, implications of copyright law, and, finally, Swift’s tactical postfeminist performances.

Vats is an Associate Professor of Law, with a secondary appointment in Communication, at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches courses in law, race, rhetoric, and media. She is also a Visiting Scholar in the School of Digital Arts (SoDA) at Manchester Metropolitan University. She identifies as a progressive educator, organization builder, and visual artist. She has spent two decades working with educational, governmental, and nonprofit institutions on designing and implementing social justice policies and programming. She is particularly interested in intersectional knowledge justice issues, specifically collaborating with diverse publics to reimagine copyright, patent, trademark, unfair competition, and right of publicity laws as more racially just and radically inclusive enterprises. Her award winning first book, The Color of Creatorship: Intellectual Property, Race, and the Making of Americans, published by Stanford University Press in 2020, explores how racial exclusion, colonial exploitation, and xenophobic nationalism have structured knowledge production for centuries in the United States. In addition to her research and teaching, she serves on the Board of Directors of the Organic Seed Alliance, where she advocates for sustainable and accessible food systems. Before joining the academy, Vats clerked for the Honorable Chief Justice A. William Maupin of the Supreme Court of Nevada. Her work has been previously recognized by the American Association of University Women, the Waterhouse Family Institute, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, and the Ford Foundation.