Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why Intellectual Property Rights In China Don't Come Naturally

I was delighted to receive the learned paper of Charles R. Stone, published in the Marquette Law Review, Vol. 92, p. 199, 2008. It is called 'What Plagiarism Was Not: Some Preliminary Observations on Classical Chinese Attitudes toward what the West Calls Intellectual Property'.

It has 32 pages and I read it in just half an hour. And a splendid half hour it was.

In this paper Charles makes it plausible that the classical Chinese authors expected their readers to be erudite enough to know what and when they quote and how to interpret these often substantial quotes within the rest of the text. By comparing Chinese classical texts with a legal text that includes references to Supreme Court opinions and quotations, Charles gives his readers (especially the ones with a legal education) the chance to actually experience that the process of interpreting a legal text has in a way many similarities with interpreting a Chinese classical text, which is of course only possible if you have had a classical Mandarin education. Charles explains that in such a cultural environment, heavily influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism where the classical texts were made for the initiated, and communism, a different development of looking at intellectual property was inevitable in China.

Gaining power from the dharani

"The reproduction of religious texts is uniquely appealing to Buddhists because it is a tenet of that religion that the copying and distribution of its sutras is a way to receive the blessings of its founder. The Buddha, it is said, once remarked, “Whoever wishes to gain power from the dharani [charms] must write seventy-seven copies and place them in a pagoda.” The underlying “religious motivation is . . . confirmed by the earliest printings of the dharani discovered in Japan and Korea.”"

Fascinating. Thanks Charles.
Using the web as a pagoda here is a chanted version of (one of) the most famous dharani the Lotus Sutra.

Picture by Peter Nijenhuis can be used with the following Creative Commons license.

No comments: