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TU Law copyright expert awarded Law and Public Affairs fellowship at Princeton University

The Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA) at Princeton University recently announced its 2020-21 fellows. Among the recipients of this prestigious fellowship is The University of Tulsa College of Law’s Chapman Distinguished Professor of Law Robert Spoo. This LAPA fellowship follows the Guggenheim fellowship he held three years ago.

University of Tulsa Law Professor Robert Spoo
Professor Robert Spoo

“On behalf of everyone at TU Law, I congratulate Bob on his well-deserved LAPA fellowship,” said TU Law Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “Bob is not only a wonderful colleague but also an outstanding scholar, teacher and mentor. We will miss him while he is at Princeton, but we wish him a healthy and productive year of research and writing.”

“Robert Spoo is a leader in several different fields,” noted Simon Stern, a professor of law and English at the University of Toronto. “These include literary modernism, copyright, and law and literature. A former editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, he went on to litigate a remarkable, precedent-setting dispute against the Joyce estate. Bob’s work has changed our thinking in all the areas he works on. Being a LAPA fellow will enable Bob to build on his influential research in Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain (Oxford UP, 2013).”

Lawful pirates and 19th-century U.S. publishing

The book to which Stern referred is the first sustained study of a practice in American book publishing called the courtesy of the trade, or trade courtesy. During his LAPA year, Spoo will further explore the courtesy norms that nineteenth-century American publishers fashioned to fill the U.S. copyright vacuum for foreign authors’ works.

These courtesy norms arose because, for much of the nineteenth century, foreign authors did not have copyright protection in the United States. As a result, publishers in this country could reprint and sell the works of non-American authors with complete impunity.

Cover of Lovell's Library pirated edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Lovell’s Library’s pirated edition of R.L. Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (ca. 1886)

“How maddening it must have been in 1870,” Spoo remarked, “to enjoy copyright protection in one’s own country – Britain, say – but to lack it entirely in the United States with its enormous English-speaking population and high literacy rate. Works by such famous, best-selling authors as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins were regularly and swiftly annexed by the world’s busiest, hungriest public domain. And nothing could be done about it. American reprinters were immunized as lawful pirates.”

Courtesy among pirates

While formal intellectual property (IP) rights did not exist in the United States for foreign authors, America’s publishing pirates recognized that unregulated competition among themselves would not be a healthy practice for their industry. More profit could be gained by self-regulated coordination.

“The result, emerging in the 1830s and 1840s,” explained Spoo, “was trade courtesy, a process by which publishers agreed to recognize informal property rights in literary texts that enjoyed no formal protections. Thus, if publisher A laid claim to a novel by George Eliot, publisher B would recognize that claim so long as its own association with Walter Scott went unchallenged. Turn-of-the-century publisher Henry Holt, whose extensive archive is held at Princeton, put his finger on it when he observed that trade courtesy was ‘a brief realization of the ideals of philosophical anarchism – self-regulation without law.’”

Cover of Seaside Library's pirated edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Seaside Library’s pirated edition of R.L. Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886)

For his LAPA project, Spoo intends to build on the foundation he laid in Without Copyrights by working on “a thoroughly empirical, archive-based study of American publishers who pioneered trade courtesy to achieve self-regulation and, at the same time, promoted affordable books, literacy and social change.”

But Spoo also intends his study to shed light beyond the publishing industry’s stage. A full understanding of courtesy and lawful piracy offers “valuable, unexpected glimpses into many other facets of nineteenth-century America, such as book manufacturing, the spread of foreign culture through cheap printing, economic protectionism and copyright isolationism in an age of expanding IP internationalism.”

Even more broadly, Spoo situates his upcoming explorations in conversation with other “negative IP spaces” that scholarship has uncovered in recent years. These include domains as diverse as fashion design, stand-up comedy and roller derby. “I hope that my study will also enrich our understanding of private norms and the ways they can be used to regulate ruinous competition and other selfish behavior along the lines that James Acheson has uncovered with lobster-trapping and Robert Ellickson has documented with regard to cattle trespass.”



Are you interested in intellectual property (IP) law past, present and future? TU Law offers first-class training in this diverse and vibrant field. In fact, in August we will welcome a new IP expert to our faculty. Apply to our JD program today to get your career underway.




Intellectual property expert set to join TU Law faculty

The University of Tulsa College of Law community is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new colleague this coming summer. In August, Elizabeth (Betsy) Rosenblatt will be joining the law school as a professor of law.

After receiving a JD from Harvard Law School in 1999, Rosenblatt – who grew up in New England – spent the next decade practicing law at a big firm in Los Angeles. Eventually discerning what she described as a “calling” to be a professor, from 2009 to 2018 Rosenblatt served as an associate professor of law at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, where she was also the director of the school’s Center for Intellectual Property Law. Currently, Rosenblatt is a visiting professor of law at UC Davis School of Law.

In this Q&A, we get to know a little more about Rosenblatt, her interests in and out of the law, thoughts about impactful teaching and what she’s looking forward to about living here in Tulsa.

You are an expert in several areas of the law, including intellectual property, copyright law, patent law and civil procedure. What drew you to these topics? What are some of your specific interests in these areas?

I was initially drawn to intellectual property law because of my own interest in the arts. My first degree was a BA in music and Russian from Williams College, and I was a musician all through college and law school. I played in all sorts of musical groups, conducted a jazz band and even wrote a symphony.

Well, I thought that practicing intellectual property law might be a little bit like being a musician. I was completely wrong! They are very, very different.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Rosenblatt in an office in front of bookshelvesBut I found myself loving intellectual property law for what it offers: constant opportunities to learn new things. For every patent case, there is a new kind of technology to learn about. For every copyright case, there is a new creative work to discover. For every trademark case, there is a new set of industry and market dynamics to explore. The law in these fields is young and constantly changing as the technologies of information transfer, creation and innovation transform our world. There’s always some new problem to solve, question to answer or beautiful possibility to explore.

Spending almost a decade as a litigator made teaching civil procedure a natural fit for me. As someone who loves thinking about systems, teaching civil procedure provides opportunities to think about the intimate relationship between our systems of civil dispute resolution and larger questions of justice and fairness. Students who litigate after they graduate come back to me and say, “I do civil procedure for a living now!” That makes me feel good.

Speaking of students, you include a good deal of experiential learning in your courses. Would you shed some light on your teaching styles and methods? What do you love about teaching?

My favorite times are those “light bulb moments” when students find connections between things they didn’t know were related. Those moments are incredibly empowering, and they demonstrate why “thinking like a lawyer” is such a versatile skill. I want my students to discover the analytical frameworks behind what they’re learning and recognize that law is not a monolith — it’s an ever-changing set of frameworks that they have the power and responsibility to improve. I want them to use those frameworks to find not only answers but also new questions they didn’t know they had.

Different people learn in different ways, and I’ve found that learning-by-doing is a crucial aspect of learning to be comfortable with legal reasoning and the skills that students will need in the world. I include simulations and assignments in my classes so that students can see the context of what they’re learning and apply it to real-world questions. I call on students so that everyone has the empowering experience of being right in public.

You have so many interests in and connections to the world beyond academia. Would you give us a glimpse of some of those?

I love teaching and being a scholar. One of my favorite things about being a professor is being part of a larger scholarly conversation among academics from around the world, so I go to a lot of conferences. But I don’t want my conversation to be just with other professors. So, I also participate in lots of other sorts of gatherings, such as fan conventions, game conventions, literary societies and San Diego Comic Con.

Professor Rosenblatt and fellow attorneys and law professors at San Diego Comic Con (July 2019)
Prof. Rosenblatt (second from left) presented “Comic Book Law School 3030: Super Lawyers Unite!” with a panel of fellow attorneys and law professors at San Diego Comic Con (July 2019)

I’m actually a big nerd. You name the nerdy interest, I probably do it. I love television, comic books, fanfiction, tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, watching football games and going to everything from Shakespeare to experimental theater. I also love making things; for example, I crochet, design games, cook and make cheese as a hobby. And I love hiking, gardening and other outdoorsy things. All of these interests end up informing my teaching and scholarship, sometimes in unpredictable ways. For example, being a lifelong fan of Sherlock Holmes has let me to write law review articles and other scholarly pieces on intellectual property ownership of Sherlock Holmes.

In the community, I volunteer as the legal chair of a nonprofit called the Organization for Transformative Works, which supports and advocates for fans, especially those who create and enjoy fanworks, such as fanfiction and fanart. Among other things, we do legal advocacy, support academic work in the field of fan studies, help preserve fan histories and operate a well-known site called the Archive of Our Own. I’m very proud of that work and feel privileged to have met and worked with so many amazing creative people, including the stellar group of volunteer lawyers and professors on our legal team.

What are you looking forward to about life in Tulsa?

I’ve been near the coasts for most of my life, and I definitely have a lot to learn about Tulsa. I am really looking forward to getting to know the faculty and students at TU Law and the university generally. In my visits to campus, I’ve gotten to meet with a few students and staff and a number of faculty members, and all have been tremendously welcoming. I can tell it’s a fantastic community, and I’m happy to be joining it.

As for Tulsa, I am excited to explore its bookstores, game shops, galleries, coffee spots and hiking trails. I am particularly looking forward to connecting with the vibrant creative and arts communities in Tulsa. I know there are fantastic things happening in the city and I look forward to discovering them!