Properties of Color: How Corporations Came to Own the Visible Spectrum
In person venue: Violet Laidlaw Room, 6th floor Chrystal Macmillan Building
Is it possible for a corporation to own a color? In this talk, I argue that the answer, however improbable, is yes. My research details how individual segments of the visible color spectrum—seemingly timeless and universal elements of nature and culture—came to be understood as objects that a corporation might own. This is at once an inquiry into color’s ontology—that is, how color is defined at different times and by different groups of people—as well as how property and aesthetics work in late capitalism. To demonstrate how the expansion of intellectual property rights is practically accomplished, I draw on the watershed case, Qualitex v. Jacobson, which established the eligibility of “color alone” as an intangible corporate asset. This is at once a study of color’s ontology—that is to say, how color is defined at different times and by different groups of people—as well as a study of how property and aesthetics work in late capitalism. The talk also presents a new conceptual framework for studying “propertization”—the social process by which unowned things are acquired initially as property, which I theorize as a form of resource accumulation transacted through moral justification rather than, for example, monetary exchange.
About the speaker:
Meredith Hall is a Teaching Associate in the Sociology of Media and Culture at the University of Cambridge, where her research focuses on the political economy of intellectual property rights and its implications for inequality, social justice, and the public good. Beginning with the invention of synthetic dye production during the Second Industrial Revolution and concluding with the U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting color trademarks in 1995, her book project, Properties of Color: How Corporations Came to Own the Visible Spectrum, offers a genealogy of color’s assimilation into intellectual property law and policy over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Before joining Cambridge, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Southern California. In addition to a Ph.D. in Sociology from the New School for Social Research, she holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University.
About the Sociology Speaker Series:
The Sociology Speaker Series presents the latest research by academic staff members at the University of Edinburgh and distinguished guests from across the United Kingdom and beyond. Registration is free and open to all University of Edinburgh students and staff.
- Meredith Hall